After a month of online voting by ASCB members, Peter Walter of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), was voted 2015 President-Elect. Walter, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, will serve on the ASCB Executive Committee next year before becoming President in 2016 and continuing on as Past President in 2017.
Forget the Super Bowl. If you want to draw a HUGE crowd, throw a science and engineering open house in the Washington, DC, convention center. But get ready to stand back. This weekend, the USA Science & Engineering Festival attracted over 325,000 fans. Yes, you read that correctly—325,000 kids and adults turning out for a science event. Inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, they loaded up on gumdrop molecules or paper mutant Drosophilae. They wore Eppendorf tubes of precipitated DNA around their necks or carried plastic condiment cups filled with soil and germinating seeds. Some had "infection" stickers on their shirts, part of a Virus Tracker game to illustrate disease transmission. Fortunately for the massive crowd the event had more than 3,000 science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) activities inside the cavernous center waiting to soak up their attention.
The Kaluza Prizes to honor the best in graduate student bioscience research are growing. In announcing the opening of the 2014 Kaluza Prize competition, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), in collaboration with Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, said that the awards will increase to $5,000, $3,000, and $1,000 in ranked order for the top three winners.
ASCB Women in Cell Biology committee member Ora Weisz, of the University of Pittsburgh, was inducted last week into Johns Hopkins University's (JHU) Society of Scholars. The Society recognizes accomplished former JHU postdoctoral fellows or visiting faculty who have gained marked distinction elsewhere. Just over 600 people have been inducted into the society since 1969. Weisz joined distinguished academics from around the world for an induction ceremony at JHU's Peabody Institute on April 7.
Calling it "a recipe for long-term decline," four of the nation's most distinguished cell biologists describe the present U.S. system of biomedical research as "unsustainable" and "hypercompetitive," calling for a sweeping rebalancing of bioscience education, funding, and direction. In a "Perspective" just published in PNAS, Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman, and Harold Varmus advocate reforms in the scientific workforce with a gradual reduction in the number of students accepted into biomedical PhD programs and an increase in compensation for postdoctoral fellows but limits on the length of fellowships. Alberts et al. propose a reordering of government research funding priorities, using sunset provisions to rein in large, ongoing research programs while favoring proposals from young investigators that "emphasize originality and risk-taking, especially in new areas of science." They support the recent controversial decision by NIH to look at the total grant portfolio of laboratories receiving more than $1 million a year when evaluating any new proposals.
It isn't your imagination. The recent ups and downs in biomedical research funding have made for turbulent times in academic laboratories across the US. Jennifer Couzin-Frankel points out in her overview article to an imaginatively reported "News Focus" section last week in Science on the work force and funding crisis in biomedical science that the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003 from around $14 billion to $27 billion but remained essentially flat for the next five years. The 2009 federal stimulus package created a bump in spending of an additional $10.4 billion but the "regular" NIH budget continued to lose altitude as inflation ate away at the actual value of flat funding. Then came last year's heart-stopping federal shutdown and the sickening 5% across the board sequester nose dive. The net result is that the number of R01 principal investigators (PI) has remained virtually static over the last 13 years: NIH funded 20,458 PIs in 2000 and 21,511 PIs in 2013.
There is this awesome technology site called The Verge. How awesome, we can barely tell you although we can reveal a recent The Verge top story: "'Captain America 3' to hit theaters on May 6th, 2016." Save the date. What makes The Verge so additionally awesome, according to the New York Times, is that The Verge belongs to Vox Media, the General Motors conglomerate of the New Digital Media Age. "Vox Takes the Melding of Journalism and Technology to a New Level," says the Times. (Our "snark" meter is broken. Is that headline ironic or puff?)
It was an all-or-nothing moment. Titia de Lange, a newly hired assistant professor at the Rockefeller University, had months of prep work and her entire grant's supply budget in hand as she waited to cross York Avenue, the busy north-south street on Manhattan's Upper East Side that separates Rockefeller from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where a collaborator was waiting to sequence de Lange's protein distillate. "We walked with all the protein we had from 1,500 liters of HeLa cells," de Lange recalled. "If we had tripped it would have been a problem. "It was a potentially self-destructive experiment, but it worked."
Supposedly, 200 million people are out there blogging. Unsurprisingly, many of them are working scientists, some are even cell biologists. It's one of the encouraging features of the evolving science writing ecosystem that scientists can write directly about their lives and their work. Some scientists use their blogs as podiums, some as pulpits, and some as stand-up mikes for riffs on the day-to-day research world of dirty glassware, shaky funding, and bad behavior.
It's not a corsage but ORCID is a way of pinning your scientific identity firmly to your scientific chest. ORCID is, of course, an acronym. It stands for Open Researcher and Contributor ID but ORCID is also the tiny organization with global reach that issues unique alphanumeric identifiers for contributors to the world's scholarly and scientific literature. ORCID, the organization, refers to the identifier as the ORCID ID, which both makes sense and sounds redundant. As children, we all believe that we are what the British call a "one off" because it's self-evident that there is only one you, even if "you" are half a set of twins or have a common surname like Wang, Kim, Smith, Garcia, Müller, Murphy, or Rossi. But in research, convincing the wider world that you are THE one who published THIS paper is not trivial. Thus comes ORCID: one researcher, one 16-digit number (that is also a unique URL).