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

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Telling Stories about Science: My experiences as a science writer


Could you be a freelance science writer? Read on to find out.

Many BCMB students have taken the elective course, taught by Jeremy Nathans, called Great Experiments in Biology. Year after year, students enjoy the class and recommend it to their peers. Why do we like it so well? Other than an appreciation and understanding for the great scientists who came before us, I think that we enjoy the class because Dr. Nathans focuses on the personal stories of the scientists: how they got interested in science, why they studied what they studied, how they reacted and felt and progressed along their path to these fantastic discoveries. In my experience, I always remember the science better when I understand the motivation behind the discovery; I loved discussing science with visiting lecturers and BCMB faculty not just for the academic part of the conversation, but also finding out the background and circuitous path they followed to get where they are today.

If you are finding yourself nodding and agreeing and connecting with what I just described, you might be interested in a career in science writing and communication. Here, I’ve “interviewed” myself; I hope this can stimulate some questions and discussion about our roles as scientists in the world of media and communication.

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Thesis-writing tips

It’s that time of year again – the thesis-writing deadline for the May graduation ceremony is approaching (29 March 2013). Like me, many of you will be writing your thesis. I’d like to take a moment from my writing to share with you some things that helped me.

1. Where to work

Apart from accessing data on lab computers and looking up methods in your lab notebooks (which are not allowed to leave the lab), thesis writing can take place in many locations: desk in lab, communal area in lab, Welch library or computer center, cafe… Sometimes it can help the creative process to to switch location. A few things about where you work are important, regardless of location:

  • Make lots of backups via internet and/or with external hard drives or USB thumb drives.
  • Sit comfortably and stretch your hands between long stretches of typing.
My desk in the Cole lab, where I do most of my thesis writing.

My desk in the Cole lab, where I do most of my thesis writing.

2. Making figures

Here are some applications and tools that I used to make some of my figures.

  • When writing out mathematical equationsLaTeX online editor allows you to export .gif files with nicely drawn equations.
Some equations I wrote describing my RT-PCR calculations

Some equations I wrote in LaTeX describing my RT-PCR calculations.


  • When making figures of protein structurePyMol wiki has instructions for how to replicate certain effects.
A figure I made in Pymol highlighting different aspects of a p300 crystal structure

A figure I made in Pymol highlighting different aspects of a p300 crystal structure.

  • When drawing the exon-intron structure of a gene, the Exon-Intron Graphic Maker lets you make and export nice simple diagrams.
One of several gene structures I made for a figure.

One of several gene structures I made for a figure.

  • When making graphs, I highly recommend Graphpad Prism, which has a free demo. When the demo expires, you may need to clean it off your computer (for example, by using CleanApp) before you can download the demo again.

3. Vocabulary

  • When providing recombinant DNA to cells, say “transformed” if it is bacteria, “transfected” if it is mammalian cells and you used lipids or electroporation, and “transduced” if it is mammalian cells and you used viruses. Note that “transformed” for mammalian cells means the conversion of normal cells to a cancerous state.
  • When using C. elegans, phenotypes are non-italicized 3-letter abbreviations with the first letter capitalized (e.g. Glo), genes are 3 italicized letters – hyphen – number (e.g. glo-1), and proteins are 3 non-italicized capital letters – hyphen – number (e.g. GLO-1). There are even more rules, available here.

4. Microsoft Word tricks

  • When you get revisions from more than one person on one Word document (with or without “track changes”) you can consolidate them by clicking Tools -> Merge Documents, and this preserves all the comments and edits and style changes. It does NOT work if you click Tools -> Track Changes -> Compare Documents.
  • If you embed a bunch of pictures in your Word document, they may stop printing when you go File -> Print. If that happens, try going File -> Print Preview and then print from there. Worked for me!
  • For figure legends and table titles, use Insert -> Caption. That way, you can make an automated “list of figures” and “list of tables” (by going Insert -> Index and Tables -> Table of Figures) and automated references to figures within your text (by going Insert -> Cross-reference). These automated features update the figure numbers as you add more, update the page numbers in the list, and embed hyperlinks that make it east to scroll back to the figure.
  • Making backups is key. Hopefully it goes without saying, but still worth mentioning! I use Google Drive (easy drag and drop, access anywhere online), external hard-drive Time Machine, and USB thumb drives religiously. I also print each chapter when it’s done so that I have a physical copy in case I ever need to re-write the text. Without these measures, I don’t think I could sleep at night!

Good luck to you when you write your thesis! I hope something in this article helps you.