SOT: A Graduate Student's Perspective

v2Forgacs2013_5x7_300dpi.jpgAs a student interested in pursuing a career in toxicology, the Society of Toxicology (SOT) has helped me tremendously to achieve my goals. Joining SOT as a first year graduate student was common place among the toxicology students at Michigan State University. I naively thought it simply meant having the chance to travel, meet “celebrity scientists,” and of course to present my work. But the SOT Annual Meetings are a great opportunity to meet toxicologists, and participation in awards programs has helped me gain valuable experience and lead to future research opportunities. I’m writing to share my SOT experience as a graduate student in hopes of inspiring other students to take advantage of all that SOT has to offer.

As a young grad student, my first SOT meeting was overwhelming. It was hard to navigate such a large meeting with so many talks, posters, and people, and wanting to go see everything. Admittedly, I was feeling lost during most of my inaugural SOT experience. That all changed when I decided to get more involved my second year. I attended several events including the Student/Postdoc Mixer and Lunch with an Expert as well as Regional Chapter, Special Interest Group, and Specialty Section events. Most importantly, these events were great opportunities to network. These smaller venues are full of people with whom you have something in common. Realizing a common interest facilitated introductions to other scientists, helping me gain confidence in my ability to network.

Specifically, participating in my Specialty Section poster contest had the greatest impact for me during my second year. Practicing presentation skills in this smaller venue was great. The feedback and the discussions I had with the three judges at my poster were very helpful. I became friends with students who had posters next to mine and have met with them since annually. In fact, my participation in this poster contest resulted in advice from one of the judges to participate in another meeting that I would not have known about otherwise. I have participated in the poster contest every year since.

In my third year, I was the recipient of the Colgate-Palmolive Award for Student Research Training in Alternative Methods. This award supported me to go to the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, for two weeks to learn about high-throughput screening programs in toxicology. It was coincidence that the International Life Sciences Institute North America (ILSI NA) posted a fellowship announcement (via SOT!) by their Technical Committee for Food and Chemical Safety to work for a project involving the Tox21 high-throughput screening initiative. My experience from the Colgate-Palmolive Award made me an ideal candidate for the ILSI NA fellowship. Furthermore, the network of scientists whom I had met at previous meetings led to collaborations during the fellowship opportunities.

As my PhD defense came and I was searching for job opportunities, all the experiences from fellowships and networking at SOT opened doors for me. I was able to reach out to those I had met and/or worked with and was able to discover great opportunities for my future.

All these experiences with SOT have reaffirmed to me that the more people you get to know the more possible resources you have. In my experience, most people will make time to help you. Additionally, the more experience you have the better off you are. It is not about winning the poster contest necessarily, because meeting people and receiving feedback are just as valuable. I strongly recommend participating in SOT-sponsored events and applying for SOT awards to all trainees (not just at the Annual Meeting but also through the SOT website)—you never know just how much you will gain from the experience!

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