STEP Awardees become “Ova-achievers” at Intensive Reproductive Biology Course

By James Luyendyk posted 07-16-2015 13:32


By Jamie Moscovitz and Alisa Suen

Thanks to the financial support of  Supplemental Training for Education Program (STEP) Awards granted by the Graduate Education Subcommittee of the Society of Toxicology (SOT), we were able to attend the Frontiers in Reproduction (FIR) course held at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. FIR is often referred to as a scientific boot camp. It is an intensive six-week laboratory and lecture-based course for scientists-in-training seeking careers in the reproductive sciences. As graduate students in reproductive toxicology, we felt that enriching our knowledge of reproductive biology would enable us to more effectively approach knowledge gaps in our field.


Pictured above Jamie Moscovitz

FIR’s small class size (~20 "FIRbees" from around the world) brings together a diverse group of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, clinicians, and junior faculty to create an intimate environment for learning and idea sharing. FIR promotes the “see one, do one, teach one” method to encourage participants to both impact and benefit from each FIRbee's own research experience. The course is divided into three two-week sections consisting of lectures, discussions, informal seminars, laboratory exercises, demonstrations, and one-on-one tutorials. Sections are organized, directed, and team-taught by leading scientists in that sub-field and cover a broad spectrum of topics including:

  • Signal transduction in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis,
  • Gametogenesis, fertilization, and stem cells, and
  • Implantation, pregnancy, and reproductive tract development.

Most lecturers present current and ongoing research from their own laboratories to truly capture frontiers in reproductive biology. FIR concludes with a two-day symposium featuring student and alumni research presentations.


Pictured above Alisa Suen

Our goal for participating in this program was to learn concepts and techniques important to our training as reproductive toxicologists, but outside the scope of our current graduate research and unavailable at our respective institutions. Upon attending FIR, we quickly learned that the breadth and depth of advanced lecture material and laboratory techniques presented were not only unavailable at our home institutions, but also unparalleled by any other single university program. The intense and rigorous nature of the course allowed it to make a major impact on our abilities to conduct independent research in a relatively short amount of time.

FIR provided us with new techniques and protocols to bring back and initiate in our own labs. In addition, we now are more confident in conducting future research in different models than the ones we currently use, and expanding research to different male and female reproductive organs. Finally, FIR expanded our professional opportunities by enabling us to network with leaders in the reproductive biology field in both formal and informal settings.

The knowledge that we gained at FIR will impact the general public through our future research. By better understanding mechanism directing reproductive development and function, we can more effectively apply basic science to determining how environmental exposures influence human reproductive health.