Penn Hosts 12th Annual Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Symposium
By Liisa Hantsoo
The 12th Annual Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Symposium. Photo Credit: Liisa Hantsoo
November fourth saw the fruition of a year of planning, the research efforts of over eighty Penn postdocs, and over three hundred attendees at the Annual Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Symposium. Adam Walker, Chair of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC) Symposium Committee that organized the event, was enthusiastic about this year’s Symposium. “Organizing the symposium was a lot of work, but seeing it all come together on the day made it well worth the effort.” The Symposium included research from postdocs enrolled in the Biomedical Postdoctoral Program across eight different institutions; most were from the School of Medicine, representing over 25 departments. Research topics were diverse, ranging from transplantable tissue-engineered nerve grafts to genetic influences on human body odor. The event was a full-day affair, starting with a series of platform presentations in the morning. This was followed by a poster session, and lunch that enabled networking. The afternoon included more oral presentations and a second poster session, and was capped with the Kumar Memorial Lecture and a keynote address by Dr. Bruce Alberts. Awards were presented, and postdocs and faculty ended the day with a reception.
The Kumar Memorial Lecture. Photo Credit: Liisa Hantsoo.
One of the highlights of the day, The Kumar Memorial Lecture is dedicated to Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, who was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Penn. Dr. Kumar was passionate about research, and about communicating science to others. He also “thrived on the collegial collaborations and scientific discussions fostered by the research environment at Penn,” and the Kumar Memorial Lecture is selected based on that spirit of research pursued by Dr. Kumar. This year’s presenter was Zachary Gerhart-Hines, a postdoc in the School of Medicine’s Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism. Gerhart-Hines presented research that he recently published in Nature with faculty member Mitchell Lazar, M.D., Ph.D., on the transcriptional repressor Rev-erb alpha’s circadian regulation of brown adipose tissue function.
Postdocs present their research at the symposium poster sessions. Photo Credits: Liisa Hantsoo.
Postdoc Joshua Jackson, Ph.D., presents his research in a platform presentation. Photo Credit: Liisa Hantsoo.
Katharine Prokop-Prigge, Ph.D., gives a platform presentation. Photo Credit: Liisa Hantsoo.
The Symposium keynote speaker, Dr. Bruce Alberts, is a prominent biochemist and Chancellor’s Leadership Chair in Biochemistry and Biophysics for Science and Education at UCSF. He has served as Editor-in-Chief of Science and as President of the National Academy of Sciences. He is also recognizable as an original co-author of the classic textbook The Molecular Biology of the Cell, which many postdocs may have on their bookshelves from their undergraduate cell biology courses. His lecture focused on science education and the idea of “science for all,” making science accessible to those beyond academia. He also gave a few gems of advice from his own research career, noting that scientists are wise to learn from their failures, reading widely across the literature is a smart move, and that having a good strategy is the key to scientific success.
Keynote speech by Dr. Bruce Alberts. Photo Credit: Liisa Hantsoo.
“Having Dr. Alberts attend, and for him to be so enthusiastic about our work, was a great honor. And it was inspiring to meet someone who has been a name in biochemistry who most of us would have known from early undergraduate times,” said Symposium Chair Adam Walker. Charlotte Hiu-Yan Chung, a member of the Committee who hosted Dr. Alberts during his day at Penn, expressed that “he was such an inspiration and a fun person to talk to. You can tell he’s truly enthusiastic in science education and genuinely interested in learning about our research. He gave great input to everyone.” Walker appreciated that Dr. Alberts’s talk acknowledged the “plight of postdocs in the modern biomedical sciences, given how rapidly our work environment, expectations and opportunities have changed over recent years.” Walker noted that Dr. Alberts encouraged advocacy work for the future of scientific research.
How did this event come together? It was the result of over a year of planning by the BPC Symposium Committee. The Committee included a volunteer core of twelve biomedical postdocs, who were charged with judging the submitted abstracts, contacting vendors and potential guest speakers, administering the image competition for a cover image, compiling the abstract booklet, and many other small tasks. Chung, who has served on the Symposium Committee twice, enjoyed the experience, saying “All the members of the committee were efficient and easy to work with. We worked really well as a team. Also, Mary Anne Timmins and Seth Freeman in the BPP office were great help with the logistics of the event. I highly recommend other postdocs to get involved with the committee for future symposia.”
Jill Kolesar is both a member of the Symposium Committee and Editor-in-Chief of the Penn Postdoctoral Editors Association (PEA), which edited the Symposium abstracts. Through her involvement in the Symposium Committee and PEA, she was impressed with the quality of work of Penn postdocs. “The caliber of research being done by BPP postdocs is truly outstanding. Throughout the entire process, I was impressed time and again with the excellence that infused the science presented at the symposium, and with the professionalism of the postdocs and administrative staff who organized the event. The people and the research environment at Penn truly make this a top-notch place to be!” In fact, the Symposium is becoming more competitive, with an approximate 30% increase in abstract submissions. Walker reflected on the importance of engaging the community to increase visibility of this high caliber research. “We’d like to encourage everyone at Penn and the surrounding institutes to attend — the event is focused on postdoctoral research, but everyone is invited to learn about the great work that postdocs are doing.”
The winner of the Biomedical Postdoctoral Scientific Image Prize, by Dr. Charlotte Hiu-Yan Chung. Photo Credit: Charlotte Hiu-Yan Chung.
Walker also acknowledged the support of vendors, including Affymetrix, Cedarlane, Charles River Laboratories, Cell Signaling Technology, EMD Millipore, GenScript, Illumina, Integrated DNA Technologies, Life Technologies, New England Biolabs and Slidemakers, who exhibited booths at the Symposium. “Their support is very important to help BPC, which is a volunteer organization.”
Vendors provide information on scientific products. Photo Credit: Liisa Hantsoo.
Following the Symposium, the committee went to work soliciting feedback from the Penn community. Based on survey results, attendees’ favorite part of the symposium was the keynote lecture by Bruce Alberts. Attendees also cited the opportunities to network, hear about fellow postdocs’ research in fields to which they would not normally be exposed, and to gain experience in presenting, as positive aspects of the Symposium.
Walker brings his tenure as Symposium Chair to a close. “I’ve handed over the reins to new co-chairs for 2014 – Tom Bebee and Sarah McLoughlin – and I wish them all the best in putting together the 13th annual Symposium next year. If the Symposium continues to grow, we may need to shift to a bigger venue in coming years! I’d like to thank everyone who made the Symposium possible – the volunteers, editors, judges, vendors, the BPC and BPP office. It really was a group effort, and we hope that the participants learned something new, expanded their networks, and enjoyed the experience. I think it’s important for postdocs to get out of the lab now and then, and the long-running annual Symposium is a great way to do that which we’re lucky to have at Penn.”
When asked about what to expect for the 13th Annual Symposium next year, incoming co-chair Bebee highlighted a few key areas. Bebee noted that this year’s Symposium was the largest to date. “As the symposium continues to expand, so too does the demand for judges.” He and the committee plan to work on building a larger panel of faculty and postdoc judges. “We would also like to see more involvement from the faculty mentors. We intend to encourage faculty who have postdocs presenting from their labs to volunteer as judges for both posters and talks.” He also noted that to maintain focus on quality science while accommodating the growing number of abstracts submitted, “We intend to increase the length of the poster sessions but keep the number of oral presentations the same. As the symposium has grown we may have outgrown our current location, next year we may have to move to a larger venue to allow for better access to the posters.” The 2014 Symposium Committee has already begun the process of selecting a keynote speaker. “We take great pride in selecting high-quality speakers for our symposium, and we know it is a great draw for the research community at Penn. We are committed to providing a platform to highlight both the excellent research performed by the BPP postdocs at Penn and the research community at large.”
The Symposium in Numbers
8 15-minute oral presentations
1 30-minute Kumar memorial lecture
1 1-hour keynote lecture
Symposium Prize Winners
Kumar Memorial Postdoctoral Lecture Award – Dr. Zachary Gerhart-Hines
AUM LifeTech Science & Innovation Award for Best Oral Presentation – Dr. Mindy Ezra
AUM LifeTech Science & Innovation Award for Best Poster Presentation – Dr. Imran Mohammed
Charles River Laboratories Award for responsible use of animals in research – Dr. Brandy Pickens
Biomedical Postdoctoral Scientific Image Prize – Dr. Charlotte Hiu-Yan Chung
Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs Distinguished Mentor Award – Dr. Klaus Kaestner
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