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Blog from Dec 07, 2011

Happy Holidays! For many, December is about visiting with family, overeating sweets, and convincing young children that the chimney is a viable option for entering a house. For others (like postdocs, grad students, and PIs) the final weeks of the year also stand as a reminder that more work needs to be done than there is possibly time for. May I suggest that we take a few minutes to put down the pipette and reflect on the past year—because sometimes a quiet moment of creative contemplation will spawn more progress than 10 western blots ever could.

To help you ruminate your successes as well as trials and tribulations of 2011, The NICHD Connection offers a few thought-provoking articles about science as related to life in general. You will also find a review of this year’s NICHD Division of Intramural Research achievements and an introduction to Dr. Youn Hee Jee, our new Clinical IC Representative.

Inside, Jeremy Swan discusses, through a personal account, the importance of understanding the impact of social media on modern day-to-day life. For the scientists among us whose day-to-day life includes children, Silviya Zustiak’s article about the 10 ways motherhood helps professional development may be one of the most touching pieces you read in this newsletter. Her sincere and upbeat writing focusing on the benefits of motherhood (an aspect of life that is too often viewed as a hindrance) is the perfect way to round out the year.

And don’t forget: take a little time to enjoy the season!

Your Editor in Chief,
Shana R. Spindler, PhD

Please send comments, questions, or ideas to

By Jeremy Swan

In September of 1997, I left for basic training in the army. At that time, 70% of Americans lacked a basic Internet connection (compared to 20% today). To keep in touch with friends and family, my fellow trainees and I wrote letters every day, hoping someone would write back since we were completely cut off from all news and homesick. Mail was slow, and including photos required resources and effort. Even though packages containing cookies were highly valued (by us and the Drill Sergeant), the technological advances to come would drastically alter and improve the way soldiers, along with the world, would communicate.

I eventually left the army to raise my children here in Maryland, far from my home state of Minnesota. The grandparents always wanted photos, so I moved into the digital realm, where I promptly began filling their inboxes with large images of my small offspring. To ease the strain on my family’s email storage, I soon began emailing links to html-based galleries that I created.

Around this time, in basements and dorm rooms around the world, many people were experimenting with writing, installing, and running server-based applications that facilitated easy sharing of photos and videos. These “grassroots” applications pioneered the way for mainstays, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, which have evolved to become user-friendly and useful enough to support a user-base equal to the population of China.

But what does this mean for science?

Tomorrow’s scientists have many new ways of interacting with the world. The potential for open science is rapidly becoming reality. Online notebooks, high impact Journal of Visualized Experiments videos, and international Skype-based lab meetings are becoming the new norm. Scientists of the future have grown up with the Internet. The under 30 crowd who are “technology natives” don’t generally talk on the phone and watch TV much; instead, they post on Facebook and watch videos on YouTube.

I often hear Grandparents, my own included, bemoaning the fact that their grandchildren don’t interact with them anymore, opting to spend all their time on Facebook. Most new Facebook users are parents and grandparents coming to Facebook to interact and monitor the younger generations. This online youth will grow to fill our labs, bringing with them a penchant for online communication---a scenario that is not a possibility, but rather a reality.

We have already witnessed how blogging, the process of writing a web-based log, affects the way scientific findings are analyzed and interpreted. Reputable scientists are blogging about their thoughts on particular studies (both supportive and critical), and Twitter has allowed the viral spread of ideas via short “tweets.” Every public tweet, since March 2006, is now archived digitally at the Library of Congress. Micro-blogging sites, such as Twitter, should not be dismissed as fads.

This is our future, where blogging, commenting, tweeting, wiki posting, and sharing are all part of every day life. It’s easier than ever to share text, photos and videos with many people around the world, almost instantaneously. It’s a not a question of whether or not science will embrace this new form of communication, for the younger generation will naturally fill laboratories, public policy offices, and news outlets with social media-driven technologies. The question to ask yourself is whether or not you are prepared for the transition.

By Silviya Zustiak, PhD

We have all heard about the challenges of motherhood while maintaining a career, or about the lack of understanding that professional moms face every day at work. In this article, I want to focus on a more positive aspect of motherhood: how it teaches us to be better professionals. After talking to moms in research, industry, and academia, I came up with ten major ways in which we can apply our mothering skills to our profession.

  1. Motherhood gives us authority
    Just think about all the times your toddler has tried to get the better of you or the numerous times you have heard a stubborn “no” from his cute little mouth. No matter how soft or insecure you are by nature, eventually you learn to deal with an unruly child at least most of the times. In fact, you become so used to being the authority figure that this new identity manifests itself in all other aspects of your life, including work, gaining you a well-deserved respect from your colleagues.
  2. Motherhood teaches us to let go
    I have heard multiple stories of new professors, who in their eagerness to be successful, become controlling of every aspect related to their work, including micromanaging their students and re-checking grades assigned by their assistants. Then comes the first maternity leave when this exhausting-for-all routine has to be put on hold. Despite all odds, the lab and the university still run smoothly after the leave, and as a bonus, the students in the lab have ideas of their own. Then comes the realization that simply managing may be easier and more efficient than micromanaging.
  3. Motherhood teaches us about priorities and balance
    In fact, keeping your priorities straight is the only way to balance both professional and personal life. Even if you were a workaholic prior to having a baby, once you have the little one onboard, things change dramatically. It suddenly becomes important to go to the park, to actually take the weekend off, to spend the evening reading a book over and over to your child, or just to sit and watch her play.
  4. Motherhood teaches us discipline and multi-tasking
    Now that you have duties 24/7 it is important to get your work done by 5 p.m. and to utilize every minute efficiently. You can no longer procrastinate thinking that you will catch up later. You can still work weekends and evenings, but you need a well-justified reason to withhold the attention your child craves.
  5. Motherhood teaches us creativity
    There is so much to learn from babies: the way they take in the world around them, the questions they ask, and the little things that can entertain them for hours. If you allow yourself to become a part of your baby’s world, you can feel life slowing down. And once you forget about the urgent needs, you can dip in the quieter part of you that is responsible for your creativity. Just let your baby teach you.
  6. Motherhood teaches us patience
    After going through night-time nursing, I don’t-know-why-the-baby-is-crying-for-hours episodes, to I-want-this-candy-right-now tantrums, you quickly learn how to enter a Zen state of mind on demand.
  7. Motherhood helps us deal with rejection at work
    This doesn’t mean that moms are immune to failure and rejection. It just means that they have something positive to focus on, to help them overcome the negative feelings. And, as one distinguished professor put it: “Even if everything else fails, I will always have my children.”
  8. Motherhood helps us unwind in the evening
    What faster way to unwind than trying to fulfill the needs of a child. I used to be one of those people that would wake up in the middle of the night, after some restless sleep, to start working on a paper or jot down ideas or plan my day so that I don’t forget all the things I needed to do. I am still the same when I don’t have my baby around. The first time I went to a scientific meeting alone, I spent half of the night tossing around. It is amazing how beneficial it is to have somebody in your life who is more important to you than you yourself.
  9. Motherhood teaches us compassion
    Would the world be a better place if we all become compassionate and sensitive to other people’s feelings? Would you like the people at your work place to be more compassionate and understanding? As Gandhi says, you should be the change you want to see in others. So, instead of being coveted about your new status, open up to it, embrace all the changes it brings with it, and be an example for others.
  10. Motherhood makes us happy
    Isn’t that what we really want from our lives? It is also easier to perform at our best when we feel happy and satisfied with our personal lives and ourselves.

The bottom line: If you can focus on the positive aspects of being a professional mom, you could make others see it positively and help bring forth a long-awaited change in attitude in the professional environment.

The NICHD Connection is pleased to introduce Dr. Youn Hee Jee, our new NICHD clinical institutes and centers (IC) representative*.

Youn Hee Jee Youn Hee received her M.D. at Dankook University College of Medicine, South Korea. After completing a five-year training in pediatrics, she moved to State University of New York for a second pediatric residency. Youn Hee joined the NICHD on a pediatric endocrinology fellowship, in part because she appreciates the fact that NICHD guarantees time for research during the clinical fellowship.

During her pediatric residency, Youn Hee studied hypoxic brain damage using a technique called the Vannucci model, a method applied in rat pups that combines blockage of the carotid artery blood supply to the brain with exposure to hypoxia for several hours. She also has experience isolating mitochondria from immature brain tissue and measuring the respiration. Youn Hee is currently a second year fellow in the lab of Dr. Jeff Brown studying child growth.

Youn Hee’s primary goal as the clinical IC representative is to increase communication between clinical and basic science colleagues. When she’s not working at this goal, in the clinic, or at the bench, Youn Hee enjoys playing the piano and watching movies. In fact, she admits to watching a movie at least every Friday!

Whether it’s to suggest a good flick or offer a comment about the NICHD clinical fellow community, send Youn Hee a note at
*Editors Note: IC representatives are postdoctoral-level fellows who serve on the NICHD Fellows Committee on behalf of the institute’s fellow population. They attend scheduled meetings, disseminate information to the fellows in the IC, communicate fellows’ concerns to the Committee, and coordinate the distribution of information via subcommittees. NICHD representatives also work closely with the Director of the Office of Education to plan events specific to our trainees.

Representative appointments last for 12 months and can be renewed for an additional year. If you would like more information about serving on the NIH Fellows Committee, please contact Brenda Hanning at

The Leadership

Dr. Constantine Stratakis was designated Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research at NICHD.

Brenda Hanning was named Deputy Director of Liaison & Training.

Publication Record

NICHD intramural investigators published over 100 articles during fiscal year 2011—impressive!

NICHD Events

NICHD leadership organized the Scientific Vision Series, a compilation of workshops and meetings arranged to identify upcoming scientific opportunities and establish an agenda that meets the needs of the NICHD mission over the next decade.

NICHD Fellows had the opportunity to attend over 10 workshops designed to promote professional development in the areas of writing, abstract preparation, career selection, public speaking, networking, teaching, interviewing, and team science development---to name just a few.

NICHD leadership treated our postdocs to a pizza party extravaganza in honor of National Postdoc Appreciation week in September.

NICHD Fellows gathered for lunch, organized by the NICHD Fellows Committee, four times this year, including two outings to downtown Bethesda and two brown bag lunch meetings on campus. The brown bag lunch and “Wiki Workshop” lead by Jeremy Swan and Nichole Jonas was a huge success!

The Seventh Annual NICHD Fellows Retreat went off without a hitch! Fellows gathered at the beautiful Airlie Center in Warrenton, VA for two days of inspiring seminars, world-class science, and a little humor from Marc Abrahams, organizer of the Ig Nobel Prizes!

Fellow Awards and Honors

The NICHD had a whopping 22 FARE (Fellows Award for Research Excellence) winners – see The NICHD Connection July 2011 issue for a full list of recipients

Hiro Wake, MD, PhD, was selected as a Society for Neuroscience symposium speaker.

Beth Stevens, PhD, was selected as a Society for Neuroscience symposium speaker.

Melissa K. Crocker, MD, received the Pediatric Endocrine Society travel grant, the 19th Advanced Postgraduate Course on Growth and Growth Disorders travel grant, and the Endocrine Society Clinical Fellows travel grant. Her abstract was also selected for the Endocrine Society Presidential Poster Session.

Anna Kane received the Best Proposal Poster award at the NIH Graduate Student Research Festival.

Lauren Waters, PhD, was named 2011 NICHD Fellow Mentor of the Year.

Investigator Awards and Honors

Irwin Arias, MD, received the American Liver Foundation Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award.

Jeffrey Baron, MD, NIH Fellows Committee Distinguished Clinical Teacher Award

Juan Salvador Bonifacino, PhD, was elected vice-chair of the Pan-American Association of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Harold Burgess, PhD, received the Director’s Challenge Innovation Award for his work titled "Volumetric Imaging of Neuronal Dynamics in the Developing Zebrafish Larvae," in collaboration with Dr. Hari Shroff (NIBIB).

Mary Dasso, PhD, was awarded distinguished alumnus recognition by Robert D. Clark Honors College.

Angela Delaney, MD, was an Endocrine Society Presidential Poster Competition nominee. She also received the Endocrine Society Clinical Fellows Travel Grant and the Pediatric Endocrine Society Travel Award.

Melvin DePamphilis, PhD, received the NIH Director's Challenge Award for his "siRNA screen for genes that regulate genome duplication in human cells.”

Joan Han, MD, received the NIH Bench to Bedside Award and the Merit Award for NICHD.

Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, PhD, was named a Fellow of the Biophysical Society ¿for groundbreaking advances in optical highlighter fluorescent protein technology and impact on the field of superresolution microscopy.

Maya Lodish, MD, was elected a Member of the Children’s Oncology Group.

Y. Peng Loh, PhD, received the 2011 NIH Director's Award.

Karel Pacak, MD, PhD, DSc, received a Gold Medal from the Slovak Medical Society, Slovakia.

Roberto Romero, MD, was awarded the John Dingell Hero for Babies Award by the March of Dimes.

Gisela Storz, PhD, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Constantine Stratakis, MD, DSc, was named NICHD Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research.

Heiner Westphal, MD, received the NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine (NCRM) Award for "iPS cells for the analysis and treatment of SLOS, a rare childhood disorder."

Erin Wolff, MD, was named Scholar of the Reproductive Scientist Development Program, Phase II and appointed Assistant Clinical Investigator.

Roger Woodgate, PhD, was named 2011 NICHD Investigator Mentor of the Year.

Jack Yanovski, MD, PhD, received the NIH Bench to Bedside Award for “Fat Metabolism and Function-Altering Polymorphisms in MC3R” in the Minority Health category and the NIH Bench to Bedside Award for “Depression and Insulin Resistance in Adolescent Girls” in the Behavioral & Social Sciences Category.

Staff Awards and honors

Alicia Armstrong, MD, was a finalist for the ASRM Scientific Program Prize Paper at the Annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Victor Chernomordik, PhD, was awarded the designation of Senior Member of the Optical Society of America.

Pamela Stratton, MD, received the Distinguished Service Medal from the United States Public Health Service for her significant career accomplishments as a gynecologic surgeon and researcher.

Jeremy Swan and Nichole Jonas received the OD Honor Award for their outstanding accomplishments as part of the Animal Welfare and Scientific Research Symposium Team.

Congratulations to everyone on such a successful year!

Join Your Fellow Fellows at the NICHD Holiday Party!

Stop by for a sweet treat or festive beverage at the 2011 Annual NICHD Holiday Party. Merriment will be had for all on Wednesday, December 7, 3:30-5 p.m in Building 31, Room 2A48. If you have a knack for ornament creation, try your hand at the annual ornament competition. Use whatever you find around the lab, but only what you can find around the lab, to create the perfect science ornament!

Save the Date: March 26, 2012, Teaching Workshop

Please save March 26, 2012, for a full-day workshop about creative teaching techniques with Dr. Brian P. Coppola, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Michigan. Dr. Coppola is an energetic instructor who writes the book about teaching—literally! His chapter in “McKeachie’s Teaching Tips” offers relevant advice about making laboratory learning more interactive. Save the date!

Your Questions About Team Science Answered

Team science is a huge topic around the country right now, at universities engaged in scientific research and also at NIH.  And “team” is a key word for anyone who has plans to work in industry, too.  A lot of questions come to mind in conversation with fellows about the challenges of working successfully in a team, how authorship issues are sorted out, the benefits of collaboration, and answering the question about why people even need to work more in teams these days. 
On Friday, December 9 from 12-1:20 PM, Samantha Levine-Finely from the NIH Office of the Ombudsman will lead a lunchtime discussion to establish a framework for thinking about team science.  This first meeting will also introduce a second part of this professional skills series, which involves online training modules in team science offered by Northwestern University’s “Science of Team Science.” You will be able to take the training modules independently; a certificate will be awarded to those who complete the three modules successfully. 

For more information, please contact Brenda Hanning at


DIR Holiday Open House
Stop by for holiday beverages and sweets!
Bldg 31, Room 2A46


Part I: Team Science: Concepts & Resources
With Samantha Levine-Finley, NIH Office of the Ombudsman
Please sign up with Brenda Hanning at