Blog from March, 2023

Thursday, April 13, 1–4 PM

NICHD DIR Tenure-Track Investigator Virtual Symposia Series
“Disentangling host-microbe interactions through the analysis of high dimensional multi-omics data”
Hosted by Jamie Morton, PhD

This series provides tenure-track investigators within NICHD the opportunity to organize a virtual mini-symposium to showcase their area of science to the NICHD DIR and larger NIH intramural community. These symposia are open to all faculty, trainees, and staff at the NIH.

Join the symposium at https://nih.zoomgov.com/j/1617965338.


Thursday, April 13, 2–3 PM

Virtual Discussion of Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation*
With book author Linda Villarosa, New York Times journalist

A former executive editor of Essence Magazine, Ms. Linda Villarosa is a member of the Association of LGBTQ Journalists (NLGJA) Hall of Fame and has been recognized with awards from the American Medical Writers’ Association, the New York Association of Black Journalists, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and many others. She teaches journalism, English, and Black Studies at the City College of New York. You can access her full biography to learn more.

Dr. Diana Bianchi will lead this virtual fireside chat with Ms. Villarosa about racism and the toll it has on individuals and health, with a particular focus on maternal and infant health. The discussion will also touch on mental health and environmental justice challenges that exacerbate public health problems. NICHD staff will be able to ask questions during a moderated session following the discussion.

Zoom information and other details will follow soon in a calendar invitation.

*Villarosa, L. (2022). Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation. Doubleday.


Monday, April 17, 1–2 PM (Virtual)

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) Division of Intramural Research (DIR) Webinar:
The Research of the NIMHD Intramural Program: Examples of Varied Career Paths and Methodologies

Registration required

Speakers to include:

  • Dr. Sherine El-Toukhy, Earl Stadtman tenure-track investigator and NIH Distinguished Scholar in the NIMHD Division of Intramural Research
  • Dr. Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez, Earl Stadtman Investigator in the Epidemiology and Genetics Research Area of the NIMHD Division of Intramural Research
  • Dr. Paula Strassle, health services researcher and Staff Scientist in the NIMHD Division of Intramural Research

For webinar-related questions, please contact dami.kim@nih.gov.


Wednesday–Thursday, April 19–20

Postbac Poster Day
(Hybrid event with in-person posters on April 20)

Postbac Poster Day provides an opportunity for NIH postbacs to discuss their research projects and at the same time develop their communication and networking skills. For more information, please visit https://www.training.nih.gov/postbac_poster_day.


Thursday, April 27, 9 AM–4 PM

NIH's 29th Annual “Take Your Child to Work Day”
Limited in-person events, along with virtual and prerecorded activities

This event will provide children grades 1–12 an opportunity to see how your efforts contribute to the NIH and inspire them to explore career paths in science and public service.

The Office of Research Services, Program and Employee Services is the primary sponsor of TYCTWD 2023. Please email any questions and comments to Take-Your-Child-To-Work@nih.gov.


Throughout April

Three-Minute Talks (TmT) Individual Coaching/Practice Sessions with Scott Morgan

Practice your talk and obtain feedback on oral presentation skills and speech development.

This event requires registration. For more information, please contact Katherine Lamb at katherine.lamb@nih.gov.

The NICHD and NIH TmT competitions are scheduled for early June and during the last week of June, respectively. Dates will be announced in the coming weeks.


Ongoing Events Around Campus

NIH-Wide Office of Intramural Training and Education Events
For more information and registration, please visit Upcoming OITE Events.

NIH Library Training and Events
For more information and registration, please visit the NIH Library Calendar.

We have our first “Former Fellow Follow-up” of the year! Dr. Zélia Worman, former postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Henry Levin, Section on Eukaryotic Transposable Elements, talks about the path she took to become Director of Researcher Engagement and Education for a private company. In this informative Q&A, fellows can follow how Dr. Worman explored several types of positions outside the lab before finding her perfect fit.

We also have a “Rep Report” that is packed with exciting opportunities for fellows. In particular, the NIH Fellows Committee (best known as FelCom) is filling several liaison and chair positions now. Don’t delay—letters of interest are due April 4! Serving in a leadership position on a committee is an excellent way to gain some of the communication and teamwork skills needed for many career fields.

For our pre-med trainees, the “Clinical Corner” column has returned after a brief hiatus. This installment includes a recap of the recent Q&A session on preparing a medical school application. If you weren’t able to make the event last month, this quick summary highlights the main points covered—including advice on letters of recommendation, prerequisite courses, and MCAT preparation.

Enjoy the change in season, and see you next month!

Your Editor in Chief,
Shana R. Spindler, PhD

This newsletter is for NICHD fellows and by NICHD fellows. We want to hear from you! Please send your questions, comments, and ideas to our editor at shana.spindler@nih.gov.

Zélia Worman

Zélia Worman, PhD

Zélia Worman, PhD, is the Director of Researcher Engagement and Education for Velsera, Cambridge, Massachusetts, a precision-medicine focused company that empowers diverse biomedical research communities and accelerates medical breakthroughs to positively impact human health. At NICHD, Dr. Worman completed her postdoctoral training from 2016–2018 in the lab of Henry Levin, PhD, senior investigator in the Section on Eukaryotic Transposable Elements. There, she studied the contribution of polymorphic transposable elements in the development of mental illness and neurological disorders.

Researcher engagement and education wasn’t Dr. Worman’s first career move following her postdoctoral work. When she first joined Velsera (at the time Seven Bridges), she served as a program manager for the company. Prior to that, she was a support scientist and scientific program manager at the NASA-funded Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), Houston, Texas, a position she spoke about as a career panelist at the 15th Annual NICHD Fellows Retreat on May 31, 2019.

Curious about this unique career trajectory? Check out our Q&A with Dr. Worman to learn more about her work at Velsera and the winding path she took to get there:

What did you do as a program manager when you first joined Velsera?

At Velsera, a company formed from Seven Bridges, PierianDX, and Ugentec, and led Cancer Genomics Cloud and SPARK platforms for the National Cancer Institute and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), respectively. This means that I ensured the fulfillment of all contractual obligations for my programs and created and managed project roadmaps, while ensuring company priorities. I engaged with legal, engineering, product, marketing, and financial teams regularly.

Some of the things I do include talking to our government and non-profit clients (NCI and PanCAN) regularly to make sure the platform we are building (features, datasets, and tools we have) are in alignment with their vision and what the researchers need. I then use this information to discuss with internal teams in the engineering and product departments to understand when we can deliver to our client and check whether there are roadblocks I can help with. Once the tool or dataset is released, I help train researchers on how to make the most of it by teaching our users how to use the platform.

What do you do now as Director of Researcher Engagement and Education for Velsera?

Given my involvement in teaching as a program manager, my role at Velsera has evolved to leading all outreach and engagement activities for our team. In this role as the Director of Researcher Engagement and Education, I lead a team of community engagement staff who 1) provide support to researchers using our platforms, 2) educate students and investigators on how to use the cloud for their research, and 3) connect healthcare and life sciences to reveal the true promise of precision medicine—a continuous flow of knowledge between researchers, scientists, and clinicians around the world.

How did you decide when to make each career shift?

As a postdoc at NICHD, I always enjoyed the research aspect of the work, but I also enjoyed mentoring students and looking at the big picture. The more I worked on the project, the more I wanted to make a broader impact by leading big initiatives and engaging with researchers.

To see how I could do this, I volunteered and participated in extramural activities and classes across the NIH throughout my time as a fellow, including working as a detailee at NHGRI in the Office of Education and Community Involvement Branch. I knew for a while that I wanted to make a career change, but since I was not 100% sure on what that was, I explored a lot. My mentor, Dr. Henry Levin, was incredibly supportive and provided guidance and opportunities for growth throughout my time as postdoc. Once I was confident that I wanted to try program management as a career, I started applying for jobs.

At first, I was just getting a feel for what it was like to apply for jobs outside academia—for example how to build a resume. Then I received a couple of interviews and was eventually offered a position that was too exciting to refuse.

My next career step was to work for the NASA Research and Education Support Services (NRESS) as a support scientist. There, I supported the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) as a scientific program manager. I helped in programmatic development and portfolio analysis, and I became an essential member of both the Science and Operations teams.

In particular, I helped streamline the procedures for writing funding announcements and led the writing on several funding opportunities. I also helped develop outreach efforts at conferences aimed at informing potential proposers about TRISH’s mission and research objectives. One of my proudest achievements was leading the effort to start a young investigator’s award, “Go for Launch,” which resulted in two successful transitions to independent positions in the first year.

While with TRISH, I had the opportunity to participate in cross-cutting initiatives throughout the institute and learn about health technology companies and innovative research topics. In addition, I was honored to be one of the founding members of the TRISH Diversity initiative aiming to increase equality and access to space health funding to traditionally under-served communities.

Although I loved my job with NRESS and TRISH, a new opportunity arose with Seven Bridges, for which I would have opportunities to interact and manage projects with and for the NIH. The exciting world of cloud computing and the amount of publicly available health data made me want to change my career from NASA to Seven Bridges (now Velsera).

What is the job application and hiring process like for program management?

The job application requires a resume (maximum of two pages) and a cover letter explaining why you’re interested in the job and why you’re a great match for the position. I went through several rounds of interviews.

The first interview was with the recruiter to make sure my expertise and salary expectations aligned with the job. The second interview was a team interview, where I presented my NICHD research. Following that, I had three individual interviews (with my future manager, the department manager, and a future colleague). After a total of five interviews, I was offered the position.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?

The most challenging moments as a program manager (or director!) are when there are competing priorities for the same resources. We must maintain the delivery of milestones within the requested timelines of our multiple stakeholders. This requires coordination between me, other program managers, and leadership from different teams (product, marketing, technology, and others). This can be quite difficult to manage. Communication and organizational skills are especially important, as is maintaining the big picture of what is best for our customers, researchers, and the company.

What do you find the most rewarding?

The most rewarding moments for me are when we deliver above and beyond what the costumer was expecting within time and budget, and we can teach researchers how to take advantage of a new product, using our platforms. During the training and engagement sessions we provide to universities and NIH staff, watching researchers and students discover something new is incredible. For those who have taught a class before, it’s the equivalent of seeing students “get it,” and they can then build their own ideas on how to make their next project succeed.

What type of career progression is available in program management?

Depending on the company, there are several career paths one can take in program management. At Velsera, you can grow into a leader and participate in strategic development of a particular disease area to support research and precision medicine. You can also change your career path to focus on other areas, such outreach and engagement (which was the case for me!), or you can become a principal investigator and write grants that are exciting to you and the company.

Since program management touches most areas of the company, you get a high-level view of how a whole organization operates (with some specificity to your area). The growth possibilities are numerous.

What skill sets are helpful for people who’d like to enter a program management career path?

For program management, outstanding communication and organization are a must. The ability to give a great presentation is very useful, since program managers interact with stakeholders on a regular basis. You should also be comfortable prioritizing work (your own and your team’s) and managing the needs and concerns of internal and external stakeholders. Understanding how to manage a budget is also helpful.

Some companies require or prefer a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, but it’s not always needed if you can demonstrate the equivalent skills.

Were there any workshops or programs at NIH that helped you prepare for your career transitions?

I took the introduction to PMP at Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES), which was very helpful to understand some key concepts, such as “milestone,” “deliverable,” and “critical path.” If those words mean nothing to you, a project management course would be great to take! FAES doesn't seem to have the exact offering anymore, but this Project Management Essentials course is similar.

I also volunteered a lot during my time at NIH. I was part of FelCom as the Co-chair of Service and Outreach (a passion of mine!), and I wrote for The NICHD Connection and participated in organizing the NICHD fellows’ retreat. These activities provided a way to explore opportunities outside the lab, and they helped me in my research as well, as I was able to keep the big picture in mind throughout my postdoc.

Do you have any final tips for fellows who are thinking about a career path similar to yours?

Try things outside of your comfort zone! There are lot of cool things out there—inside and outside the NIH—that are interesting, engaging, and need your expertise. Start by looking at detail opportunities, ways to volunteer, and explore how your interests could become your career.

Above all, have fun! Being a fellow at NIH has a lot of benefits, including enjoying your time as a researcher while learning what your next career move could be.

Rep Report logoAs the current NICHD Basic Sciences Institutes and Centers (IC) Representative, I represent NICHD postdoctoral fellows at the NIH Fellows Committee (FelCom) meeting every month and share the latest news with you here. Do you have a concern or question that you want brought up at the next meeting? Contact me, Dr. Hyo Won Ahn, at hyowon.ahn@nih.gov.


FelCom has six open positions—check them out! For additional information, please use the contact details below:

Position

# of Open Positions

Contact
Recreation & Welfare and Health and Wellness Council Liaison1 positionOutgoing Liaison Manami Bhattacharya (manami.bhattacharya@nih.gov)
Social Committee Co-Chair2 positionsOutgoing Social subcommittee Co-chairs, Nick Madian (nicholas.madian@nih.gov) or Anthony Yerabham (antony.yerabham@nih.gov)
Animal Research Advisory Committee Chair1 positionFrancesca Barone (francesca.barone@nih.gov)
Service & Outreach Subcommittee Co-Chair1 positionContinuing Co-Chair, Alex Vendola (alex.vendola@nih.gov) or outgoing Co-Chair, Kristin Warren (kristen.warren@nih.gov)
Women Scientist Advisor Committee Co-Chair1 positionContinuing Co-Liaison Rebecca Voglewede (rebecca.voglewede@nih.gov) or outgoing Co-Liaison Agnes Karasik (agnes.karasik@nih.gov)

Please submit a statement of interest by COB Tuesday, April 4, to both FelCom Co-Chairs: Vasty Osei Amponsa (vasty.oseiamponsa@nih.gov) and Marja Brolinson (marja.brolinson@nih.gov) if you are interested in running for one of the above positions.

The Visiting Fellows Committee has two open positions:

Position

# of Open Positions

Contact
VFC Brown Bag Seminar1 positionPlease contact harrison.daly@nih.gov and aditi.chaurasia@nih.gov for details.

Science Voices from Home1 position

Mentor a Summer Intern! This year, the NIH Summer Internship Program (SIP) will be in-person! Most “front-line” mentors for summer interns are graduate students and postdocs. If you are interested in mentoring a summer intern, talk to your advisor about selecting one together through the SIP portal, which is the huge database of almost 2,000 applications.

If you’ve never mentored a summer student and have concerns about how to be an effective mentor, OITE offers a workshop on mentoring a summer intern. If you have questions, please reach out to the director of SIP, Dr. Yewon Cheon (yewon.cheon@nih.gov).

Interested in a teaching opportunity during the summer? Consider being a Summer intern summer journal club leader! The registration deadline is Friday, April 14, at 5:00 p.m. Submit your journal club description here. Please do not hesitate to contact Ms. Alexis Schirling (schirlingam@mail.nih.gov) if you have any questions.


The Fellows Safety Committee has resources to connect you with the ergonomics department at the NIH to have a free ergonomic assessment done both in the lab and at their computer workstations. Virtual assessments of home computer workstations are also available. If anyone is interested in these services, please contact co-chairs Dr. Anna SantaMaria (anna.santamaria@nih.gov) or Dr. David Mallick (david.mallick@nih.gov).

The Outreach Liaison invites research fellows and postdoc fellows to share their research and experiences with the wider community in the popular I am Intramural NIH blog. If you would like to be considered for a profile, please send a brief description of yourself and your research (no more than a few sentences) to Dr. Anindita Ray (anindita.ray@nih.gov).

The Service and Outreach Subcommittee noted that the Maryland bioGENEius competition, hosted by Learning Undefeated, is looking for science judges in their virtual event on April 10–14. Please note that they are looking for scientists with graduate degrees, preferably a PhD. A registration link can be found here.

The Women Scientists Advisors (WSA) committee would like to invite you to the following events:

  • The 2023 WSA Scholar Symposium recognizes three women fellows for their outstanding research. The symposium will be held on Thursday, April 13, from 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. by Zoom. Please consider joining to support NICHD graduate student Ms. Zoe Piccus (Le Pichon lab), one of the WSA Scholars for 2023!
  • The WSA 30th Anniversary Seminar Series are held monthly until May. Check the link for more information.

Did you know that there are several ways to stay informed on postdoc activities and events?

Affinity Group Meetings

To promote interactions between groups, the Affinity Group Heads recently decided to share information about their meetings. Please consider dropping into another Affinity Group’s meeting to hear what your colleagues are up to in their labs. The details on when each group meets, along with a point of contact for the meetings, can be found in the monthly OSD News Bulletin.

Looking for a particular lab? This chart (PDF) lists the labs associated with each Affinity Group.


The NIH Fellows Editorial Board Offers Free Editing Services

The NIH Fellows Editorial Board (FEB) offers all NIH and FDA fellows a free, fast, and confidential scientific document-editing service. This all-volunteer Board composed of NIH fellows edits various documents, including manuscripts, book chapters, and grant proposals for grammar, form, and clarity. The editors also review essential elements pertinent to the document, such as figures and figure legends (editors do not comment on scientific merit!). Authors generally receive written feedback in 10 to 12 business days.

For more information and submission requirements please visit the FEB website at: https://ccr.cancer.gov/trainee-resources-editorial-board.


Save the Date: NIH Career Symposium To Be Held May 8–10 (All Virtual)

The NIH Career Symposium is scheduled for Monday–Wednesday, May 8–10. Mark your calendars now—this is a great event that highlights the diversity of career choices available to biomedical researchers!


NIH UNITE: Ending Structural Racism (ESR) Activities

The NIH UNITE initiative was established to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community.

The ESR Intranet includes various resources like the ToolkitNewsletterFAQs, and other information.

UNITE Milestones and Progress and the Co-Chairs Corner (public ESR webpages) are other avenues to stay informed on UNITE efforts.

Clinical Corner logoErin Walsh, PhD, director of the NICHD Office of Education, led a virtual Q&A session last month for postbacs who are putting together medical school application packages. Participants asked several important questions about the process, recapped here for those who couldn’t attend.

What are the general guidelines for requesting recommendation letters?

Dr. Walsh suggested visiting the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) main website every application cycle to review updated instructions on recommendation letters. For general guidance, she discussed when recommendation letters should be requested and by whom they should be written.

When: Applicants should contact all recommendation writers several months in advance in order to have application packages complete by June, at the latest. Always be sure to check in with your undergraduate pre-med advising committee, as applicable, since they may have specific deadlines and instructions.

Who: When selecting your recommenders, consider who can speak to your career-relevant experiences and ask if they are willing to write a strong letter that highlights your competitiveness. If appropriate, provide recommenders with information about yourself that you would like to emphasize in your application, so that they can shape their letters to match your goals after medical school.

How can postbacs complete necessary coursework and/or boost their academic credentials?

Dr. Walsh recommended that course deficiencies can be completed at an accredited institution. She added that trainees who want to boost their GPA can consider an academic postbac, a master's program, or a suite of courses at an accredited university.

For trainees who would like to gain more background knowledge in a particular area, Dr. Walsh noted that FAES is a fantastic resource. She added that the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) website offers additional information on postbac opportunities outside the NIH.

What’s the best way to study for the MCAT?

Dr. Walsh noted that courses designed to help people learn how to take the exam (test taking strategies) tend to be the most helpful. Some resources to consider can be found on the AAMC website and through the OITE. She added that practice exams provided by AAMC often correlate well with actual test performance.

When taking the practice exams, Dr. Walsh urged trainees to pretend it’s the real test to most accurately reflect later on areas that need improvement. “Consider saving the AAMC practice exams until you’re ready to prove that your studying has been sufficient,” Dr. Walsh emphasized.

A meeting attendee mentioned that MCAT-specific study cards are available through flashcard apps, and a quick online search will reveal potential plug-ins for making practice tests mirror the look of the actual MCAT exam.

For additional questions about applying to medical school, please contact Dr. Walsh (erin.walsh@nih.gov) or reach out to Ms. Veronica Harker (veronica.harker@nih.gov) to be added to the next Q&A session.


Related Content

Congrats to NICHD Graduate Partnership Program (GPP) Graduates

Every year, GPP graduates are recognized at the annual NIH-wide Graduate Student Research Symposium. At this year’s Graduate Ceremony event on February 16, 2023, NICHD graduate students Connie Mackenzie-Gray Scott and Ondrej Uher, received certificates for the successful completion of their dissertation research.

  • Dr. Connie Mackenzie-Gray Scott studied under the mentorship of Dr. Chris McBain, NICHD, and Dr. Andrew Trevelyan, Newcastle University.
    Thesis title: “Feedback mechanisms in the interactions between cortical interneurons and pyramidal cells”
  • Dr. Ondrej Uher studied under the mentorship of Dr. Karel Pacak, NICHD, and Drs. Jindrich Chmelar and Jan Ženka, University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice.
    Thesis title: “Study of cancer immunotherapy mechanisms in pancreatic adenocarcinoma and pheochromocytoma murine models”

Wei-Lun Huang Wins Graduate Student Elevator Pitch Competition

Congratulations to NICHD’s Wei-Lun Huang, graduate student researcher in the Gandjbakhche laboratory, on his Elevator Pitch Competition award at the 19th Annual NIH Graduate Student Research Symposium on February 15.
 
Wei-Lun studies “skin lesion matching and correspondence localization in total body photography” under the guidance of Amir Gandjbakhche, PhD, NICHD Section on Translational Biophotonics, and Mehran Arman, PhD, Johns Hopkins University.
 
This was the 7th annual elevator pitch competition. Graduate students from across NIH were assessed on their ability to describe their research to a general audience in less than two minutes, and a total of three students were selected to receive the award.


The Porter Book Club is Hosting its Inaugural Event on March 10

The Porter Book Club is a new literary series at NIH to get people thinking and talking about interesting books covering science, health, and society. All are welcome to join the book club on March 10 at 1 p.m. in GG607, Building 35, for the inaugural event.

Kenneth C. Catania, PhD, Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, will speak about his book Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels, and Other Tales of Evolution's Mysteries Solved,* which chronicles his life’s research into the specialized sensory systems, brain organization, and behavior of unusual animals.

If you are interested in meeting with Dr. Catania, please email donaldiain.macdonald@nih.gov. Fellows and anyone with an interest in science communication are encouraged to reach out.

* Catania, K. (2021). Great adaptations: Star-nosed moles, electric eels, and Other tales of evolution's mysteries solved. Princeton University Press.


Expand Your Clinical Research Knowledge Base in 2023

If you’re interested in learning more about clinical research, please consider the following opportunities:

Introduction to The Principles and Practice Of Clinical Research (IPPCR) Course

This free, self-paced, online course (40 lectures, ranging from 15 to 90 minutes each) is open for registration until June 30, 2023. Graduate students, clinical fellows and post-doctoral fellows are encouraged to enroll now.

If you have any questions, please contact ippcr2@mail.nih.gov.

Principles of Clinical Pharmacology (PCP) Course

The PCP course is a free, self-paced, online lecture series covering the fundamentals of clinical pharmacology as a translational scientific discipline focused on rational drug development and utilization in therapeutics. The course will be of interest to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and clinical fellows interested in expanding their pharmacology knowledge base.

For additional information on the course, please visit the website above or contact odpcp@mail.nih.gov.

Clinical Research Curriculum Certificate (CRCC)

Are you interested in a career in clinical or translational research? Do the “Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Clinical Research” and “Principals of Clinical Pharmacology” courses sound intriguing to you? If you answered yes, consider the NIH Clinical Research Curriculum Certificate (CRCC) program.

The NIH Office of Clinical Research will issue a formal certificate to those who successfully complete the required components of the Clinical Research Curriculum. If you have any questions about fulfilling the requirements for the certificate, please email crcc@mail.nih.gov.


SAVE THE DATE: Postbac Poster Days (Hybrid)

Postbac Poster Days provides an opportunity for NIH postbacs to discuss their research projects and at the same time develop their communication and networking skills. For more information, please visit https://www.training.nih.gov/virtual_postbac_poster_day.

The in-person poster day is scheduled for April 20. More information coming soon!


NIH UNITE: Ending Structural Racism (ESR) Activities

The NIH UNITE initiative was established to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community.

The ESR Intranet includes various resources like the ToolkitNewsletterFAQs, and other information.

UNITE Milestones and Progress and the Co-Chairs Corner (public ESR webpages) are other avenues to stay informed on UNITE efforts.

Last night I volunteered at my local elementary school’s Family Science Night. I was assigned to the simple machines table. Levers, ramps, wheels, and pulleys were prepared for the curious hands of children. There was just one problem. After years of not-so-careful play, some of the simple machines—as simple as they were—were failing.

The pulley, in particular, was in rough shape. I nearly set it aside, tired of fixing it from one child to the next. But then I had an idea. Rather than relegate the pulley to the plastic bin under the table, I made an announcement that we had a problem. I told the large group of children that we needed to redesign the pulley to make it stop falling apart.

The atmosphere changed immediately. The children shifted from apathetic stares into focused engagement. One child grabbed the pulley, and a small group huddled around shouting out potential changes to the design. Just like that, they were working in a small team, stepping through attempts to improve the system, observing each outcome, and then trying again with a slight change when it wasn’t quite right. In the crowded room full of chattering children, I said as loudly and clearly as I could: “Now this is science!”

What a beautiful experience. I have to imagine that’s what an investigator feels like on a daily basis. Young minds, eager to solve frustrating problems, pass through a PI’s care and then out into the world to build their own careers in science and other sectors of society.

I tell this story in honor of Dr. Chris McBain’s designation as the new scientific director of the NICHD Division of Intramural Research. This year marks 30 years, exactly, since Dr. McBain joined NICHD and began shaping the minds of trainees as an intramural investigator. We’ve followed up with a few of those trainees (from the famous Pinky and the Brainslicers NIH relay race team) to see where their careers have taken them and to find out their most important lessons learned while in the McBain lab.

The science at NICHD is a bit more complicated than pulleys, levers, and ramps—just a bit. But the scientific process—so innocently demonstrated by a group of excited school children—now that, that’s exactly what NICHD training is about.

Your Editor in Chief,
Shana R. Spindler, PhD

This newsletter is for NICHD fellows and by NICHD fellows. We want to hear from you! Please send your questions, comments, and ideas to our editor at shana.spindler@nih.gov.

Rep Report logoAs the current NICHD Basic Sciences Institutes and Centers (IC) Representative, I represent NICHD postdoctoral fellows at the NIH Fellows Committee (FelCom) meeting every month and share the latest news with you here. Do you have a concern or question that you want brought up at the next meeting? Contact me, Dr. Hyo Won Ahn, at hyowon.ahn@nih.gov.


FARE2024 is here!
Abstracts due by March 15

The Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) recognizes the outstanding scientific research performed by intramural postdoctoral fellows. Winners of FARE awards will each receive a $1500 stipend to attend a scientific meeting at which they will present their abstract, either as a poster or an oral presentation.

Register for the FARE application seminar: “Tips for Successful Abstracts,” led by FARE co-chairs, on March 2, from 1 to 2 p.m.

The Visiting Fellows Committee is planning an online Division of International Services/Visiting Fellows Committee Immigration Symposium event later this month. Join the Visiting Fellows listserv to stay updated on exact dates and times. Symposium topics will include:

  • Immigration updates and international travel
  • J-1 to H-1B – including a focus on J-2 dependents
  • G-7 Program Overview
  • A Q&A session

There were two important updates from the NIH Child Care Board. There is ongoing work to include fellows in childcare subsidy support. Importantly, new enrollments to the NIH Northwest Child Care Center are paused during a management transition. More information can be found on the Child and Family Programs website.

The Women Scientist Advisors Committee (WSA) reported on issues that were discussed during the listening session hosted by WSA in January, including:

  • Lactation room availability and conditions across campus
  • Loan repayment program (LRP) eligibility policy for intramural fellows on an IRTA or CRTA and General Research-LRP eligibility policy for research fellows. 
  • Questions about potential variability in parental leave for research fellows.
  • Current policy on childcare subsidy eligibility for IRTAs, CRTAs, and visiting fellows.
  • Potential discrepancies in the pursuit of research-intensive careers between women and men, specifically the need for resources and training focused on the unique barriers that women face when navigating the job market after NIH.

Did you know that there are several ways to stay informed on postdoc activities and events?

Chris McBain

Chris McBain, PhD

Chris McBain, PhD, senior investigator in the Section on Cellular and Synaptic Physiology, has been designated as scientific director and director of the NICHD Division of Intramural Research (DIR), after serving in the role as the acting scientific director since 2021.

In this position, Dr. McBain will oversee all intramural research programs, units, and sections of NICHD. He will support the DIR with its objectives to understand the basis of human development and reproduction and to optimize the health of children and women.

The official announcement of Dr. McBain’s designation can be found at the NICHD Newsroom. For a closer look at his professional journey, check out “Get to Know: Chris McBain, PhD.”

As this is a newsletter for and by fellows, we thought it might be fun to tag up with a few fellows from Dr. McBain’s 30 years at NICHD. And who better to reach out to than members of the “Pinky and the Brainslicers,” the McBain lab racing team from the 30th NIH Institute Challenge Relay, held September 19, 2013.

Read on to learn about several post-training career paths and several important lessons gained from time in the McBain lab.

Pinky and the Brainslicers: Where They Are Ten Years Later

The McBain lab relay team wearing pink t-shirts and skullcaps that look like brains

McBain lab "Pinky and the Brainslicers" running team for the NIH relay race, September 19, 2013. From left to right (titles from 2013): Mick Craig (postdoc), Chris McBain, April Johnston (grad student), Libby Barksdale (postdoc), David Collins (postbac).

Mick Craig, PhD

Mick Craig in the lab wearing a formal Scottish kilt outfit

Mick Craig, PhD, attending a graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy of Dr. Craig.

Dr. Mick Craig was a postdoctoral visiting fellow in the McBain lab from 2011–2016. During this time, Dr. Craig studied how inhibitory interneurons coordinate electrical activity in the brain. “If you think about the brain’s electrical activity as music, my research examined how these cells act as the conductor,” Dr. Craig explains.

Today, Dr. Craig is a senior lecturer (the UK equivalent to an associate or tenured professor) at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

“Dr. McBain is a truly outstanding mentor. The most important lesson that I learned from Dr. McBain was that the success of a group leader is not in the amount of grants they get, or the number of papers they publish. Dr. McBain taught me that the success of a PI is measured by the success of their trainees, and if I can look after my people even a fraction as well as Dr. McBain did, then I will have done my job exceptionally well.”

April Johnston, PhD

Headshot of April Johnson wearing a navy blue blouse

April Johnston, PhD, high school biology teacher. Photo courtesy of Dr. Johnston.

Dr. April Johnston worked on her graduate thesis in the McBain lab from 2013–2014 as a visiting graduate student from Karolinska Institute in the NIH Graduate Partnership Program. She studied how activating or silencing serotonin and dopamine receptor subtypes affects a rhythm, called gamma oscillation, in the hippocampus. Today, Dr. Johnston teaches high school biology.

“The most important scientific lesson from the McBain lab: surround yourself with competent, likeable people. Dr. McBain is a brilliant scientist, and he's also really good at finding, recruiting, and retaining good scientists. [He also taught me] to be systematic in your approach to experiments. Try simple experiments first before making your life overly complicated.”

Libby Barksdale, PhD

Libby Barksdale taking a selfie on the beach with sand and surf behind her

Libby Barksdale, PhD, on a run in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Dr. Barksdale.

Dr. Libby Barksdale was a postdoctoral fellow in the McBain lab from 2011–2015. During her studies, she designed and contributed to multiple projects investigating the impacts of altering the excitatory/inhibitory balance in the developing hippocampus on interneuron number and function.

Now, Dr. Barksdale is Director of Regulatory Affairs and Scientific Policy for a lung cancer patient advocacy group called LUNGevity Foundation. There, she works with the FDA, drug companies, clinical investigators, and patients to identify and address challenges affecting cinical trial systems. Dr. Barksdale notes that “it's a pretty far cry from developmental neuroscience, but it's very satisfying!”

“The most important lesson I learned in Dr. McBain's lab was not to be afraid to try something new. I didn't know anything about interneurons when I started and didn't know many of the techniques I would come to use. But sometimes you have to jump in and trust that your training has prepared you to handle the unknown.”

Dr. McBain wearing pink shirt and brain hat as he begins his leg of the relay

Dr. McBain beginning his leg of the NIH Relay Race on September 19, 2013.

Wednesday, March 8, 1–2 PM

Postbac Seminar Series: Medical School Application Guidance
Led by Erin Walsh, PhD, Director, NICHD Office of Education

This will be an open Q&A discussion session (via Zoom) for anyone interested in additional guidance on putting together a medical school application package. Please email Ms. Veronica Harker to register (veronica.harker@nih.gov), and a link will be sent a few days prior to the session.

Additionally, please let Ms. Harker know if you would like to be added to our Medical School Application Support Teams Channel. This will be a dynamic, evolving platform for you to ask questions and raise discussion with your postbac peers.


Thursday, March 9, 1–4 PM

NICHD DIR Tenure-Track Investigator Virtual Symposia Series
“Bedside to Bench in Vascular Anomalies”
Hosted by Sarah Sheppard, MD, PhD

This series provides tenure-track investigators within NICHD the opportunity to organize a virtual mini-symposium to showcase their area of science to the NICHD DIR and larger NIH intramural community. These symposia are open to all faculty, trainees, and staff at the NIH.

Join the symposium at https://nih.zoomgov.com/j/1617965338.


Friday, March 24, 1–5:30 PM

“Polycomb, Transcriptional Control, and Development”
A symposium honoring Dr. Judy Kassis upon her retirement

Building 35, Room 620/630

Dr. Kassis has led the Section on Gene Expression since 1999 and headed the Genetics and Epigenetics of Development Affinity Group from 2015-2022. Symposium speakers will include:

  • Dr. Patrick O’Farrell, University of California, San Francisco
  • Dr. Mitzi Kuroda, Harvard Medical School
  • Dr. Robert Johnson, Johns Hopkins University
  • Dr. Karl Pfeifer, NICHD
  • Dr. Judy Kassis, NICHD

A full agenda with additional details has been sent out via email.


March and April

Three-Minute Talks (TmT) Individual Coaching/Practice Sessions with Scott Morgan

Practice your talk and obtain feedback on oral presentation skills and speech development.

This event requires registration. For more information, please contact Katherine Lamb at katherine.lamb@nih.gov.

The NICHD and NIH TmT competitions will be held in early June and during the last week of June, respectively. Dates to be announced in the coming weeks.


Ongoing Events Around Campus

NIH-Wide Office of Intramural Training and Education Events
For more information and registration, please visit Upcoming OITE Events.

NIH Library Training and Events
For more information and registration, please visit the NIH Library Calendar.