ASCB Annual Meeting Preview: Developing talent

In addition to high-level educational fare, ASCB looks to step up professional development offerings at its annual meeting

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NEW ORLEANS—With the research community already suffering from the funding squeeze caused by the sequester and then hammered further by the 16-day government shutdown, the run-up to this year’s annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) might not suggest a rush of people ready to fly out to New Orleans or a satisfying set of registration numbers for the society. But while he didn’t cite comparative figures, Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi, ASCB’s executive director, expresses pleasure at what is expected right now to be approximately 6,000 attendees and 220 exhibitors.
As the premier international meeting in the field of cell biology, the ASCB Annual Meeting is intended for scientists and students in academia, industry, government and higher education, and it will offer more than 100 scientific sessions and 2,500 poster presentations covering a variety of scientific areas within the discipline. With opportunities to learn about the latest research and network with peers, the ASCB Annual Meeting aims to appeal to the diverse interests of the international cell biology community.
Bertuzzi notes that last year, two new threads were introduced at the annual meeting, one being cell biology and medicine and the other cell biology and biophysics. This year, career development has been added as well.
“On the science side,” Bertuzzi observes, “symposia tend to be high-level talks from leaders in the field. Last year, we felt the schedule was too compressed, so this year, we’ve reduced the number of speakers so they will have more time to explain complex thoughts.” Bertuzzi adds that a “bubble-up from the base” approach has also been adopted that was designed to encourage the cell biology community more broadly to participate in determining topics that are of the most interest.
On the professional development side, the society has hired former producers of “Good Morning America” to conduct a “Stop Boring Us!” seminar on Saturday during the conference. Some 150 people are expected to attend the seminar, which producers will record to help participants evaluate their performances and help them learn how to more effectively deliver PowerPoint presentations. A related session will challenge participants to “explain your science in two minutes” (see sidebar, “Stepping up your game”).
In a separate set of sessions the next day, for which participants pay an extra fee when registering for the meeting, there will be one-on-one, 45-minute coaching sessions on the topic of delivering PowerPoint presentations. The professional training consultants involved with the “Stop Boring Us!” presentation will position themselves in two separate breakout rooms with a videographer and playback monitor. Participants will come prepared to deliver a brief presentation, with PowerPoint if possible, and learn to evaluate and improve spoken and visual content; critique body language, gestures and timing; improve vocal delivery and cadence; how to relax and slow down, if necessary; and how to better handle Q&As. Each participant will leave with a DVD of their on-camera work and copies of the presentation preparation worksheets for further practice.
Also on the professional development side, there will be workshops such as Sunday’s program, “Foundational Cell Biology: Making Cell Biology Accessible to All,” where moderators and panelists base their discussion on the premise that “most ASCB meeting attendees are continually amazed and astonished at the intricacy and beauty of cells, but how do we best communicate this excitement to students of all ages and backgrounds?”
The workshop is geared toward sharing strategies for making cell biology exciting and accessible to students at institutions of all resource levels who may or may not have an interest in developing a career in cell biology. The session will begin with panelists sharing tested strategies for making cell biology accessible, including inquiry-based labs, service learning, use of Internet resources in classroom assignments and identification and reinforcement of core concepts. Panelists will also address how to assess the effectiveness of these strategies.
A question-and-answer and discussion session will follow the panelists’ presentations, and workshop attendees will then have the opportunity to join facilitated breakout groups to discuss further the nuts and bolts of implementing several approaches to increasing the accessibility of fundamental cell biology concepts, such as engaging undergraduates in scientific outreach, using interdisciplinary courses as a gateway to the biological sciences, implementing active learning by using the flipped classroom strategy, incorporating web resources and interactive technology, modeling concepts through case studies and designing investigative labs with low-cost materials.

Another new feature this year is e-poster talks that will help ensure there are opportunities to present everyone’s science, Bertuzzi explains. The presentations will be selected by program chairs and comprise three-to-five minutes “blitz talks,” with eight presentations in each session running over a three-day period. Prior to the poster presentations, there will be a 30-minute opportunity for attendees to review the e-posters.
In addition to being able to see companies in the exhibits, one of them will be outside. All day Saturday on Julia Street, adjacent to the Convention Center, Beckman Coulter will have a customized, small semitruck that has been transformed into a full demonstration lab designed to share new technologies and innovations with educators and researchers. Instruments will include those for liquid handling, centrifugation, flow cytometry, capillary electrophoresis and particle characterization.
Strong pair featured in Presidential Keynote Symposium
NEW ORLEANS—Two renowned scientists will headline the Presidential Keynote Symposium on Saturday, Dec. 14 at the ASCB annual meeting: Elaine Fuchs of Rockefeller University in New York City and J. Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI).
Fuchs will address the meeting on “Stem Cells in Homeostasis: Wound Repair and Cancer.” Well-respected for her work in dermatology, Fuchs notes that skin stem cells are constantly replacing and repairing the body’s surface. She says figuring out how this happens is a “delight,” and she studies how stem cells in the skin maintain their orderly but complicated cycle of skin renewal, how they adjust so effectively to heal wounds and what goes wrong in disease. She is also a leader in the broader stem cell research field and an advocate of women in science.
Venter will speak on “Life at the Speed of Light.” Widely regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century for his numerous contributions to genomic research, he is the founder, chairman and CEO of JCVI, a not-for-profit research organization with approximately 300 scientists and staff dedicated to human, microbial, plant, synthetic and environmental genomic research, as well as the exploration of social and ethical issues in genomics. He is also founder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately held company dedicated to commercializing genomic-driven solutions to address global needs such as new sources of energy, new food and nutritional products and next-generation vaccines.
Meet the Nobel Laureate
NEW ORLEANS—Also on Saturday during the annual meeting, conference attendees will have the opportunity to meet Martin Chalfie of Columbia University, who in 2008 shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his role in the discovery and development of green fluorescent protein (GFP), which was first observed in certain jellyfish in 1962. Since that time, this protein has become one of the most important tools used in contemporary bioscience. With the aid of GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain and the spreading of cancer cells.
The story of the discovery and development of GFP also provides a good example of how scientific progress is often made: through accidental discoveries, the willingness to ignore previous assumptions and take chances, and the combined efforts of many people, the ASCB notes. During the Meet the Nobel Laureate event, Chalfie will tell the story of how he made the discoveries that led to his receiving the Nobel Prize.
Stepping up your game
Do you think it doesn’t matter how you present your science? ASCB wants you to think again. Improving in this area, the society notes, could help you take your science to a whole new level, and to help people better handle presentations, especially those featuring PowerPoint, the ASCB is offering a session titled “Stop Boring Us!”
In this session, participants will learn to:
  • Establish the three key points that form the backbone of the presentation
  • Develop a powerful opening and closing
  • Find stories and images that exemplify and enhance the core information
  • Answer the “what’s in it for me?” concerns of the audience
  • Avoid “death by PowerPoint”
The presenters for this session are professional training consultants who are former producers of “Good Morning America.” Tapping into their own experience and connections, they will show prerecorded videos of famous people giving good and bad presentations, and will have a few volunteers stand and deliver portions of the content they’ve created to give the whole group tips on body language, gestures and voice projection.
“Stop Boring Us!” will be followed the same day by another session with the same presenters, titled, “Explain Your Science in Two Minutes: Deliver a Killer Elevator Speech.” In this related presentation, participants will learn how to develop and deliver a concise two-minute explanation of their work so that they can deliver it winningly in a short conversation with a superior, a prospective employer and a nonscientist such as a legislator or in an educational and outreach setting.
Worksheets will help participants crystallize their ideas into a tight narrative, and the presenters will also discuss “elevator etiquette,” explaining when to speak, when to listen and when to ask a question.
The program will begin with a short video that shows a young woman getting on an elevator with her company’s CEO. In the first scene, she stares at her feet and the ceiling, too nervous to say a word. In the second scene, she babbles on meaninglessly. In the third scene, she gets it right, speaking with confidence, asking good questions and leaving the CEO impressed and wanting to know more about her.
As part of the interactive element in the “Explain Your Science” presentation, there will be an “elevator” in the room so that volunteers can deliver their pitches to a “CEO” and share performance tips with the whole group.
Why should you attend?
If you’re not sure yet that you are going to the ASCB annual meeting, or are trying to weigh whether to go to a future one soon, the society wants you to know that the ASCB annual meeting is the place to:
  • Hear and communicate cutting-edge science
  • Meet the leaders in the fields of cell biology, biophysics, stem cells and genomics
  • Participate in discussion tables to learn from leaders in the field where science is going and how you should position yourself
  • Learn how to improve your presentation skills with media and presentation professionals
  • Take advantage of training opportunities, such as onsite curriculum vitae review
  • Visit more than 300 commercial and nonprofit exhibits offering new products and services
  • Look for a job, fellowship, postdoctoral position or new collaborator
  • Improve teaching knowledge and skills
  • Interview and recruit job candidates
  • Attend sessions of special interest to students, minorities and women
  • Learn where and how to apply, as well as advocate for, research funding
Some sessions of note
There is plenty for drug discovery, development and diagnostics professionals to enjoy and learn from at the ASCB annual meeting, but here is just a sampling of a few notable offerings:
The Cellular and Molecular Basis of Invasive Metastatic Cancer
This workshop will focus on understanding the important and widespread process of how tumor cells actively remodel the surrounding microenvironment through a combination of migration and matrix degradation during the metastatic process. The program will feature experts in protease biology, cytoskeletal dynamics, in-situ live cell imaging, mouse and other genetic model systems and human pathology to provide a state-of-the-art update on new findings and technologies to both understand and curtail metastatic disease.
Deconvoluting the Complexities of Cancer through Physical Sciences-Based Single-Cell Approaches
Decades of work have elucidated the complexity and heterogeneity of cancer. The recent explosion of tumor sequencing projects has highlighted the impact of genomic heterogeneity; however, the heterogeneity of cancer cell phenotypes extends to phenomena such as transcription dynamics, signaling activity, growth and metabolic rates, morphological features and physical properties. Understanding these multiple layers of cancer complexity and heterogeneity has been facilitated by recent advances of single-cell approaches and the application of physical sciences perspectives. This session will focus on employing physical sciences-based single-cell approaches to explore and “deconvolute” the complexities of cancer, with the ultimate goal of fostering the improvement of cancer detection and treatment.
Frontier Symposium 1: Cell Biology and Medicine
Cell biology has never been more important to advances in medicine. Recognizing this, this symposium will cover efforts at the frontier of cell biology and neurologic and metabolic disease.
Huda Zoghbi of the Baylor College of Medicine will describe her pioneering research, which has unraveled the genetic underpinnings of debilitating neurological disorders, such as spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder caused by a mutation in the gene encoding methyl-CpG-binding protein 2. Her efforts have revealed that these are diseases involving multiple cell types and have uncovered some molecular pathways that are driving the disease phenotypes. Additionally, beginning from a developmental mutation identified in flies, she has uncovered a “master gene” that is critical to fundamental processes of neuronal development including the development of conscious and unconscious proprioception.
Bruce Spiegelman of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will discuss how the pursuit of basic questions in cell biology has produced fundamental insights into metabolism. Long taught in the textbooks as if everything was known, our understanding of cell metabolism is now changing in major ways, he notes. Spiegelman has identified potential targets for drug discovery that could “burn” fat and even turn fat into muscle. Spiegelman’s discovery in 2012 of irisin—a hormone released by muscles that increases energy expenditure without changes in movement or food intake—has promise to offer powerful approaches for combating the ever-increasing worldwide problem of obesity.
The ASCB on TV
ASCB TV is a daily news update service provided by the WebsEdge commercial film and broadcasting company. In partnership with ASCB, it features daily video updates on the annual meeting, in addition to prerecorded clips from labs and university departments that can be viewed on hotel cable television, convention center monitors and YouTube. ASCB TV reportedly drew enthusiastic comments from attendees in 2012 and will feature sponsoring institutions again this year.
“We are pleased to partner with WebsEdge. They do an excellent job producing ASCB TV, both in terms of the quality of their video production and their understanding and delivery of ASCB’s message,” says ASCB Executive Director Stefano Bertuzzi.
ASCB TV consists of a combination of onsite interviews and news around key conference themes, alongside prerecorded documentary-style reports featuring academic institutions that choose to participate in the program. Videos produced by WebsEdge featuring an organization are available to sponsors to post on their website or any other media outlet.
Last year’s videos highlighted topics such as interdisciplinary research collaborations, approaches to pharmacology, the discovery of new mechanisms in biology and advances in understanding disease. Material was provided thanks to a wide range of institutions, including Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the Whitehead Institute and the University of California at Irvine. ASCB TV also featured interviews with E.B. Wilson Medalist Susan Lindquist, Science magazine Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts and 2012 ASCB President Ron Vale.
Prof. Scott T. Brady, head of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), thanked “ASCB TV and WebsEdge for an excellent film that UIC’s Office of Development is using to promote their department and attract funding for initiatives such as student scholarships, student travel to conferences and grants for graduate research projects.”
Brady said the WebsEdge staff was “very professional and responsive; they worked closely with us to ensure that we were happy with the final version of the film.”
WebsEdge received similar kudos from Penelope Duerksen-Hughes, professor and associate dean of the Division of Biochemistry at Loma Linda University.
“We thoroughly enjoyed working with WebsEdge. Their team was experienced, enthusiastic and cooperative, and they made the process look effortless. It was a pleasure working with them,” she said.
Celldance plans to be ‘really useful’
The ASCB’s cell biology video contest known as Celldance returns this year, and this year, as ASCB says, Celldance 2013 is “determined to be really useful.”
As noted on the ASCB website, “We want to make cell biology perfectly clear, especially for those who teach at the AP biology level, through undergraduate introductory course level, and for the public prowling the web.”
To that end, ASCB put out the call for very short microscopy videos “that instantly illustrate basic cell mechanisms and processes.” The plan to make the winning Celldance individual video segments “really useful” is by editing them together into “Celldance 2013, ASCB’s Really Useful Cell Biology Video,” which can be used in its entirety or in parts to be suitable for classroom use.
Celldance 2013 will also continue with its separate Public Outreach Award, ASCB notes.
Appropriate contest subjects include videos that show mitosis, meiosis, cytokinesis, cell motility, or similar classic cell biology likely to be covered in an “intro” course. For the “Really Useful” videos, the primary judging criteria will be the quality of the video imaging, how well it illustrates the mechanism/process and how useful this video might be in the classroom.
For the best “Really Useful” video, the Celldance judges are awarding a cash prize of $500 and a non-transferable complimentary registration for this year’s annual meeting in New Orleans. There will be a “Really Useful” second prize of $250 and a third prize of $150. In addition, the Celldance Public Outreach Award will be a single cash prize of $250 for a short video of strong artistic or general educational merit that communicates the excitement or importance of cell biology to a public audience. Humor and/or creative artistry are especially welcome in these videos, according to ASCB.
Where it all happens
The freshly renovated New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is an essential component of what makes the city’s major business events successful. With 1.1 million square feet of contiguous exhibit space, the convention center is the sixth-largest convention facility in the nation, and it consistently ranks in the country’s top 10 of facilities that hold the most conventions and tradeshows annually.
The New Orleans facility has been ranked as the second largest expo hall in the South, by the editors of ConventionSouth magazine, a national multimedia resource for planning events that are held in the South.
“Often, facilities publish varying numbers for their exhibit space. Therefore, ConventionSouth editors researched, to their best of their ability, how much exhibit space each facility offered on one level and within adjoining or adjacent rooms,” says the publication’s editor, Marlane Bundock. “Editors also made their selection and ranking based on their total meeting space a well as the type of conventions and trade shows that they can accommodate,” she notes.
Earlier this year, the center debuted The Great Hall, a 60,300 square-foot, divisible, column-free ballroom with 25,400 square feet of multiuse pre-function space, the 4,660 square-foot Rivergate Room, a 3,420 square-foot rooftop terrace and hotel-like appointments throughout. The building’s renovated main entrance and new pedestrian plaza are designed to welcome attendees and serve as a more seamless connection to New Orleans’s walkable hotel packages.
Other features of the new convention center include 140 meeting rooms located directly above 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space, a 4,000-seat theater and on-site business center, three restaurants and a VIP dining suite.

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