Andrew Holland talks ASCB

Andrew Holland talks ASCB

BCMB faculty member Andrew Holland is a member of the American Society for Cell Biology. Here’s why he thinks you should be a member, too!

Professional societies like ASCB are a valuable resource for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty.

“The science of life, the life of science.” That’s the motto of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), a professional organization founded in 1960 and headquartered in Bethesda, MD. There are many options for those who want to join a professional society, and ASCB membership is a great investment if your research is related to cell biology. Besides famously hosting one of the largest annual meetings in the United States, ASCB has many programs in place for science advocacy, education, and professional development. Many BCMB faculty are members of ASCB, including MBG professor Andrew Holland. “I believe in the work they’re doing,” says Holland, speaking admirably of ASCB’s policy and professional development efforts. “For ASCB it is all about their members and they will do anything they can to build a strong and successful community of cell biologists. In these times of diminishing funding it is more important than ever to have a strong voice advocating for basic research. ASCB is that voice and they work tirelessly on our behalf. I believe we all need to show our support.”

BCMB faculty member Andrew Holland

Holland is part of ASCB’s membership committee, and spoke frankly about the difficulty facing ASCB (and many other professional societies) when it comes to supporting this community of cell biologists. There are around 8,000 ASCB members, but the challenge for the future is how to maintain membership as funding in many laboratories shrinks. Many scientists join to gain reduced registration fees for the annual meeting, but do not renew the membership once the year passes. This, says Holland, is a mistake. “There are tremendous benefits [to membership] that these scientists aren’t aware of! Moreover, if you believe in what ASCB stands for then you need to be supporting the societies efforts even if you don’t plan on attending the annual meeting that year.” ASCB Director of Public Policy Kevin Wilson agrees. Wilson works at the ASCB offices in Bethesda, and spoke about how ASCB membership supports many life science-driven policy efforts, especially on Capitol Hill. “There’s no one else that’s going to advocate for science,” he says. Science advocacy impacts us all, and ASCB’s efforts have shaped many aspects of life science research over the past 50+ years.

Cell Biology professor Andrew Ewald is also an ASCB member, and has been for over a decade. “I have been a member of ASCB continuously since 2000, which was midway through graduate school,” Ewald says. His lab and students have benefitted enormously from participating in ASCB events, particularly the annual meeting. “Three members of my lab presented talks at the ASCB 2013 meeting.  In each case they were presenting to several hundred people in their field, ranging from fellow graduate students through to senior professors.” BCMB students and faculty should note that ASCB’s 2014 meeting will be held nearby, in Philadelphia, PA – easy travel from Hopkins!

Opportunities also exist at the annual meeting for those who do not present their work. True to their strength as a science advocacy powerhouse, ASCB’s annual meeting includes many interactive programs for those interested in getting involved in policy efforts. Students and postdocs can attend seminars with tips on communicating their work to the public, and at the most recent meeting, ASCB sponsored a contest for students to give their best “elevator pitch” on their research – two minutes to explain your work to a panel of public information officers using layman’s terms. The winner for best speech was rewarded with an iPad!  “I strongly encourage students and postdocs to join and attend the annual meeting if they primarily identify as cell biologists,” says Ewald. “The ASCB national meeting is a venue for established professors to identify new talent to recruit as postdocs or junior faculty.” Ewald credits mini-symposium talks that he gave as a postdoc at the ASCB meeting with helping to establish his national reputation in the field of breast cancer research.

ASCB’s annual meeting poster from 2013. The 2014 meeting will be held in Philadelphia, PA.

Besides the national meeting, ASCB provides the opportunity for scientists to host local meetings as well. Holland, Ewald, and Wilson all spoke favorably of these local meetings, saying that they were an opportunity to connect to specific areas of interest in a more intimate way than the larger annual meeting. These meetings can even be organized by graduate students and postdocs – ASCB will provide the funding. Organizing a meeting is a great way to meet scientists you admire, reaching out and connecting to them, and presenting an opportunity to learn more about their work.

Last year, ASCB launched a new research prize for graduate students. The ASCB Kaluza prize, sponsored by Beckman Coulter, includes $5,000 in cash to an ASCB member graduate student, awarded at the annual meeting in recognition of their outstanding science. Holland said that 92% of the applications for the first annual Kaluza prize were new ASCB members who joined solely for the chance at receiving this honor. The top ten finalists also received free travel to the annual meeting, ensuring their ability to network and connect with other ASCB members. Tina Han, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF, won the first-ever Kaluza prize this year (click here to read her entertaining account of winning the prize). Initiatives like the Kaluza prize exemplify the benefits ASCB membership gives to graduate students.

Graduate students can also participate in ASCB by joining COMPASS, the Committee for Postdocs and Students. COMPASS chair Jessica Polka explained that this was a community-driven effort. “We formed in Spring of 2013 in response to a desire from ASCB leadership to involve young scientists in the society. My co-chair Ted Ho and I represent the interests of graduate students and postdocs at the ASCB Council meetings, and the entire committee works together with senior members of ASCB on existing projects and our own new initiatives.” There are many additional benefits to joining COMPASS on top of those received for ASCB membership. “COMPASS members interact with ASCB leadership, speakers, and representatives from other organizations, so this is a tremendous networking opportunity,” says Polka. “As a grad student, your bench can become your universe, so seeing perspectives from other aspects of the scientific enterprise (publishing, funding, policy) has been eye-opening to me. I’ve gotten to know a fantastic group of my peers from across the country I wouldn’t have met otherwise!” COMPASS also sponsors a travel award to support attendance of their members at the Annual ASCB meeting.

Ultimately, getting involved in any professional society for an extended period of time can open doors and afford new opportunities to grow your career as a scientist. “ASCB is trying to encourage the next generation of scientists,” says Holland, which is the key reason he believes membership is worth the annual graduate student fee of $42. If you’re a cell biology junkie, consider signing up for ASCB to become part of a great community of scientists, writers, policy makers, and science advocates.

For more information on ASCB, visit their website. To check out the Kaluza prizemembership benefits, or tips on policy, click on the appropriate link.

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