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Graduate and Postdoc Training Advice: Specialization is for Insects (thanks to Robert A. Heinlein)

By: Dr. Jack Lancaster (http://www.doctorno.org)

For those of you who are graduate students or postdocs, it might seem like you’ve been in school forever! However, consider the three major segments of the entire time span of a career as an independent investigator:

  1. 4-8 years doctoral studies
  2. 4-8 years postdoc
  3. 40-50(?) years as director of a lab and the pursuit of whatever interests you

Check out the time differences of training compared to independence: ≈ 8-fold. So as a foundation for your future, what do you want to develop during this initial critical 12% training time?

As much as you can, eschew specialization. In spite of what your institution may have embedded in its training program, the best and most rewarding path is to, as the Biochemist and writer Isaac Asomov advocated, cultivate “A View from a Height”.

Don’t sell yourself short!

So during this critical 12% training period, challenge yourself in the most rigorous pursuits in Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry you can find because this will equip you with the tools to truly understand phenomena on the most defining (molecular) level.

Then, throughout your long career you can apply to any Biological query all these wonderful universal physical concepts that must apply to all of Biology. And the more fundamental and interdisciplinary your skillset, the more puzzles you will be attracted to to solve, and the more significant they will be. And that’s a pretty good description for the successful career of a lifelong “lover of knowledge” (i.e., PhD).

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Category: Education


Why SFRBM Membership Matters

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Top 5 Reasons Why Social Media Has Become Essential for Scientists

By: Rick Domann, University of Iowa, SFRBM President-Elect, @RickDomann

 

As scientists we spend an enormous amount of time and effort promoting our findings and their relevance to the rest of the world. We are competitive, and like journalists, we don’t like to get scooped on a story. Whether you’ll admit it to your friend in a neighboring lab, we are regularly vying against one another for limited funding resources, space in top tier journals, speaking engagements, and prestigious awards. So it’s no surprise we, as scientists, are skilled at promoting our work and research. Besides merely promoting your jargon-laden work to peers, it is also useful to actively engage the public to teach facts and dispel myths. Social media provides just such a vehicle to do so, and to build your professional network at the same time.

Many prominent scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson have already caught on and promote their “brand” through social media to their millions of friends and followers. They don’t need to publish a peer reviewed paper or book, or attend a conference to instill us with grains of good humored wit; now we can follow them, like disciples, in real time. If academics don’t already get it, then here are the top 5 reasons that scientists should embrace social media:

  1. Promote your work – Use a tweet to draw attention to a recently accepted paper or an appearance at a conference. This publicity can lead to increased views, downloads and citations of your work. I recently tweeted about a paper that our group published late last year and that simple action yielded at least 7,000 impressions. You shouldn’t be surprised when one of your papers receives more than the expected number of literature citations solely because of this added real time exposure of the work to a relevant audience.
  2. Control the message –Don’t depend on third party journalists to put the message out there. Say it in your own words in a way that resonates more deeply and in a way that anyone in the public can understand.
  3. Become a news source for hot and trending topics – You’re an expert, and social media lets you show the rest of us you have a pulse on up and coming topics in your field. Besides original content, this kind of curated content can be extremely valuable to your audience.
  4. Engage the public – Your followers will include other scientists as well as people who have no idea what the details of your latest paper mean. Social media is just that – social – and gives you a chance to tell people why the work you’re doing should be meaningful to them. This is also a great way to help you boil down your message and see what resonates before applying for that next round of competitive funding.
  5. Network worldwide with breadth and precision – Your reach through social media really knows no boundaries. Imagine the benefits that can result if social media can help bring together international teams of scientists to collaborate to solve some of the greatest mysteries of science. In addition to its broad reach, the tools can be used to seek out individuals or groups that can potentially support your work.

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Categories: Education, Redox Biology


Oxidative Stress: A Concept in Redox Biology and Medicine

By: Helmut Sies

Published in the journal Redox Biology. Click here to view the full article.

“Oxidative stress” as a concept in redox biology and medicine has been formulated in 1985; at the beginning of 2015, approx. 138,000 PubMed entries show for this term. This concept has its merits and its pitfalls. Among the merits is the notion, elicited by the combined two terms of (i) aerobic metabolism as a steady-state redox balance and (ii) the associated potential strains in the balance as denoted by the term, stress, evoking biological stress responses. Current research on molecular redox switches governing oxidative stress responses is in full bloom.

The fundamental importance of linking redox shifts to phosphorylation/dephosphorylation signaling is being more fully appreciated, thanks to major advances in methodology. Among the pitfalls is the fact that the underlying molecular details are to be worked out in each particular case, which is bvious for a global concept, but which is sometimes overlooked. This can lead to indiscriminate use of the term, oxidative stress, without clear relation to redox chemistry. The major role in antioxidant defense is fulfilled by antioxidant enzymes, not by small-molecule antioxidant compounds. The field of oxidative stress research embraces chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology, physiology and pathophysiology, all the way to medicine and health and disease research.

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Category: Redox Biology


The Critical Role Senior Scientists Play in Development of Young Researchers

By: Artak Tovmasyan, Duke University School of Medicine

So many young researchers around the country are doing amazing work in their fields, but too often they face challenges taking their discoveries to the next level. This is a story of how SFRBM and my mini-fellowship made all the difference.

Redox-active therapeutics, which have been designed to modulate the imbalance between reactive species and endogenous defense systems, have been aggressively developed and are proceeding toward clinical trials in diseases that have an oxidative stress component. These therapeutics are readily engaged in redox reactions. Besides direct scavenging of reactive species, their impact on cellular redox-sensitive pathways seems to be implicated in their mechanism(s) of action. Our lab at the Duke University School of Medicine (@dukemedschool) has been in the forefront of development of one of the most powerful class of SOD-mimics - Mn porphyrins. These compounds have shown therapeutic potential in protecting various organisms affected by factors/mediators of oxidative stress. Yet, as our knowledge grew, several other mechanisms indicating the role of thiol-related pools in their mechanism of action emerged. It was in 2012, at the San Diego SFRBM meeting, that I had the great pleasure to listen to Dr. Dean Jones’s lecture on “The Cysteine Proteome.” After a brief discussion with my supervisor, Dr. Ines Batinic-Haberle, and after receiving Dr. Jones’s kind agreement, I decided to apply for SFRBM mini-fellowship award program.

I was thrilled to be awarded this fellowship, which afforded me a great opportunity to study the emerging mechanisms of actions of Mn porphyrins in a leading laboratory. The preparations followed, i.e. setting up the most appropriate start time, collecting samples for analyses, purchasing required chemicals, assuring the availability of appropriate instruments, etc. I would like, however, to stress another benefit of the fellowship: the experience with a new supervisor and new research environment, which is critically important in the development of young scholar as an independent scientist. As such, this scholarship offered not only the possibility to learn and employ novel techniques in my Institution, but also to enhance my professional interpersonal skills and expertise in a research atmosphere which would facilitate their efficient implementation in my career. Even though I have experienced a phenomenal training throughout my postdoc studies, experiencing a new research environment is always a challenge and impacts self-confidence of many young scholars. Dr. Jones and his research personnel, the wonderful people that I had the pleasure to work with, Young-Mi Go, Michael Orr, Joshua D. Chandler, created a truly scientific and all-positive atmosphere for me to advance rapidly with my studies during my short stay.

As we are pursuing scientific successes and happiness, each one of us tries to accumulate knowledge, skills and experience. Along the journey of our life we begin to realize that passing skills on to younger colleagues and students is a superior goal that a human can achieve. Here it is appropriate to cite Aristotle’s principal idea: Everything is done with a goal, and that goal is "good"; search for the “good” is a search for the “highest good” – happiness. In line with such thoughts, communicating the knowledge from one generation to another is an outstanding “good” that humanity could exercise to achieve happiness; fortunately, SFRBM knows how to facilitate the process that leads to such a goal.

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Category: Education