Experience Career Growth Opportunities with SOT CDI

Submitted by Irene Abraham

Written by Kimberly Rivera Caraballo, University of Puerto Rico at Humacao

Last spring, I received the Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award, which is administered by the Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI), to support my attending the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) 77th Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon, July 20–23, 2018. It was my first time to attend a conference without knowing what to expect. It was my second time on the West Coast but the first time traveling there alone. I registered onsite the second date of the conference as my flight arrived late, so I didn’t attend the pre-meeting sessions. Although it is a small annual conference, it was international. Many European scientists had the opportunity to give oral presentations. Not many undergraduates were seen. I met some of the Choose Development! Fellows, undergraduate students who won travel awards and were conducting undergraduate research at various institutions funded by SDB.

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I met four Puerto Ricans at the conference. From left to right: Josean Reyes-Rivera (undergraduate student from UPR-Rio Piedras and 2018 Choose Development! Fellow), Erick Bayala (graduate student at University of Chicago), me, Dr. Edwin Traverso (professor at UPR-Humacao and my current PI), Dr. Eliezer Calo-Velazquez (professor at MIT and plenary speaker “Tissue Selective Effects of Nucleolar Stress and rDNA Damage in Developmental Disorders”), and Dr. Mónica Vega-Hernández (professor at UPR-Rio Piedras).

The SBD was a well-organized conference. I attended many concurrent sessions in which oral presentations were given on topics that included cell polarity, evo-devo, biology of cancer, and human genetic diseases. The animal models used were very diverse, from C. elegans and  Drosophila to butterflies and cephalopods. It was surprising seeing the modern technology used in current research such as live imaging in cells. After finishing my developmental biology class last spring, I felt comfortable understanding signaling pathways research on Wnt/β-catenin, BMP, and Hedgehog. Even as I tried to attend many topics being discussed, I had a bias to hear the biology of cancer and human diseases talks.

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Selfie with 2018 Developmental Biology Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dr. Eric Wieschaus, who is a revolutionary developmental biologist and 1995 Nobel Prize-winner. He was really humble and funny.

It was great that the conference held an “SDB Members Town Hall” session, during which all the attendees gave feedback to the organizers. I suggested to have a space for undergraduates because we were invited to many opportunities for trainees and career development for professionals, but no special session was focused on incoming developmental biologists. However, I took advantage of the attendees’ group breakouts into Theme Tables to learn more about work-life balance during PhD careers. It was really helpful to learn from different points of view how to manage stress, what to do with free time, how to manage time, and how to make decisions during graduate school. People from my table were really nice and gave advice for selecting a great mentor and lab in which to work.

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Lunch break in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in front of the Portland meeting hotel. The Willamette River is in the background.

Additionally, during the Job Corner I got to meet and interview two professors who were looking for graduate students to recruit: Dr. Ganz from Michigan State University and Dr. Nerurkar from Columbia University. The experiments consisted of studying the enteric nervous systems of Zebrafish and the gastrointestinal tract development in chick embryos, respectively. Attending SDB was an unmet need in my career because I strongly believed that as an undergraduate researcher in developmental biology, I had to attend a developmental biology conference. SDB strengthened my desire to study how environmental factors affect organisms development from gestation to adulthood. It also allowed me to see different animal models including and aside from Xenopus laevis. It gave me the time to explore career paths and meet potential graduate school mentors for studying toxicology with an emphasis in organism development outcomes.

The SOT Diversity Initiatives Endowment Career Development Award enables undergraduate and graduate students to engage in additional education and career development opportunities to enhance their personal development. Administered by the CDI, the award supports the aim of increasing and retaining individuals from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. Recipients of this award are chosen based on criteria that include quality of proposed experience, relevance of the proposed professional activity to a career involving the science of toxicology, academic achievement, and recommendation by an academic advisor. The next application deadline is April 10, 2019.

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