Blog from March, 2024

NIH-Wide Updates

NIH 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.

Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences

Fulfill your academic and professional goals with FAES courses and workshops! Registration is now open for Spring training workshops, with special tuition offers on course topics including introductions to R and Python as well as Python imaging. Also, summer courses begin June 12 and will be open for registration on April 15. Register for our information session on May 9 to learn more!

NIH UNITE: Ending Structural Racism (ESR) Activities

The NIH UNITE initiative identifies and addresses structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community.

The ESR Intranet includes various resources like the Toolkit, Newsletter, FAQs, and other information. The Co-Chairs Corner public webpage also provides regular updates on the initiative’s progress.

Graduate Student Elissa Moller Wins Best Speaker Award

Elissa Moller

Elissa Moller

Elissa Moller, a graduate student in the laboratory of Doreen Matthies, Ph.D., Stadtman Investigator in the Unit on Structural Biology, won the best student speaker award at the SMALP meeting

 on March 12, 2024. SMALP meetings bring together experts across the fields of biology, chemistry, and physics to discuss new tools and models for exploring membrane operation and manipulation.

Ms. Moller, who joins NICHD from her studies at the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at the University of Maryland, presented her work using cryo-EM and polymers to resolve structures of mechanosensitive channels.

Please join us in congratulating Ms. Moller on this outstanding achievement!


NIH-Wide National Minority Health Month Activities

April is National Minority Health Month (NMHM), a time to raise awareness about the importance of improving the health of racial and ethnic minority communities and reducing health disparities. The 2024 NMHM theme, Be the Source for Better Health: Improving Health Outcomes Through Our Cultures, Communities, and Connections, focuses on two topics critical to advancing health equity: Social Determinants of Health and Cultural Competency and Humility.

NIMHD is sponsoring events for NIH-wide participation:

  • Minority Health 5K Walk/Run/Roll: Thursday, April 11, 2024, 11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m. NIH Main Campus, Bldg 1 front lawn.
    Register at https://forms.office.com/g/7ygV0ANUDs.
  • SPONSOR a Water Station on the Minority Health 5K Route! Show your office/lab spirit and camaraderie by sponsoring a water station and supporting the race participants. For more information, email Seppi Sami at Seppideh.Sami@nih.gov.  
  • NIMHD Fireside Chat with the Honorable Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., President Emeritus, Morehouse School of Medicine and Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Monday, April 22, 2024, 1:30–2:30 p.m.
    Videocast only. Learn more at: https://www.nimhd.nih.gov/programs/edu-training/nmhm.

NIH'S 30th Annual Take Your Child to Work Day and Earth Day Celebration

Thursday, April 25, 9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
In-person and virtual activities for an educational day of discovery

The annual NIH-wide Take Your Child to Work Day (TYCTWD) event provides 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 is the primary sponsor of TYCTWD 2024.

For more information, please visit the TYCTWD website or email questions and comments to Take-Your-Child-To-Work@nih.gov


Save the Dates

Three-minute Talk (TmT) Competitions, May 31 and June 27

Every year, ICs across the NIH come together to host a speaking competition that showcases their fellows’ research in short format talks. The dates for our internal semi-final and the NIH-wide final competition are now set!

  • NICHD Three-minute Talk (TmT) Competition
    • Friday, May 31, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
  • NIH Three-minute Talk (TmT) Competition
    • Thursday, June 27, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Postbac Poster Days, May 1–2

Registration opens this month!

Postbac Poster Days provides an opportunity for NIH postbacs to discuss their research projects while simultaneously developing their communication and networking skills. To learn more and register, please visit the Postbac Poster Day website.

NIH Career Symposium, May 14–17 (All Virtual)

The NIH Career Symposium is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, through Friday, May 17. Mark your calendars now—this is a great event that highlights the diversity of career choices available to biomedical researchers!

Rep Report logoAs the current NICHD Basic Sciences Institutes and Centers (IC) Representative, I represent NICHD postdoctoral fellows at the NIH Fellows Committee (FelCom) monthly meeting 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, Hyo Won Ahn, at hyowon.ahn@nih.gov.


The Women Scientists Advisors (WSA) Scholar Symposium will be virtually held on Monday, April 29, 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m. The zoom link can be found here.

WSA Scholars are selected from a pool of all the female Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) award winners by a panel of WSA institute representatives. The FARE award honors outstanding scientific research performed by intramural postdoctoral fellows. This year’s awardees can be found here.

The Career Development Committee is organizing an event focused on “Medical Writing in Pharmaceutical Companies” in April. Details will be announced through the Fellows Listserv (Fellow-L)


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

Megan Bohn, Ph.D.

Megan Bohn, Ph.D.

Like most of you reading this article right now, I was once an NICHD fellow trying my best to do significant research while simultaneously trying to figure out my career trajectory. In 2015, I completed my postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Karl Pfeifer, Ph.D. (Senior Investigator, Section on Epigenetics). I proceeded into a large career shift to academic administration, first at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, followed by a few years of intensive work on predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowship programs at the NIAID Training Office.

After eight years of devoting myself full-time to advancing biomedical trainees' careers and professional development, I now find my journey coming full circle back to NICHD, where I have just joined the Office of Education as its new deputy director. I've learned quite a bit along this journey, and this introductory article is an excellent time to share a few truths I've discovered that shape how I help fellows reach their dreams.

“I should be there by now” is a false belief that holds you back.

I've met hundreds of fellows over the years as they sought career coaching or even a friendly ear. I repeatedly hear fellows express the feeling that they're behind the curve—that they've failed to achieve some crucial milestone and that they're just hopelessly behind. This is simply not true, and it's certainly not helpful. When I work with fellows, I meet them exactly where they are and work with them to define their challenges and to align their career goals with the job market.

There are so many options available to today's young biomedical workforce. It can look like a huge, insurmountable mountain. The key is to climb the mountain one step at a time, always looking for ways to get to the next step. First, you should seek out people with the wisdom and support to help you take one step at a time.

Accurate self-awareness is key to improvement, but it's harder than you think.

This seems self-evident, but the ability to accurately self-assess interests, strengths, and weaknesses is key to any type of success. Some thought leaders on workplace satisfaction and productivity have proposed that relatively few of us are truly outstanding at self-awareness.1 The people who succeed in this skill perform better in the workplace, often leading to more creativity and job satisfaction.2 The first thing I do with fellows when they come to me for career coaching is to get to know them and get them to talk about their challenges and the problems they're trying to solve. We focus on three things:

  1. Skills (What are you good at?)
  2. Values (What’s important to you?)
  3. Interests (What motivates you?)

Paradoxically, I have often found that fellows feel compelled, perhaps even obligated, to pursue goals that don’t match their inner wishes. In a friendly conversational environment, we identify and discuss potential blind spots, false beliefs, and wrong assumptions. We work together to find paths that match the person.

Networking is important, and it's easier than you think.

Yes, many of us in science tend to be introverts, and the idea of going out and “working a room” might sound awful. The good news is that effective networking can look different from that. It's about systematically, consistently, and habitually creating small connections with people in your area of expertise or interests and being genuinely curious about what they know. For instance, if a fellow is interested in science policy, I'll work with that fellow to find ways to identify people in their larger peer network to contact for coffee chats or informational interviews. We don't try to network all at once over a short period. That's overwhelming. We make small goals of regularly reaching out to people every week and learning over a sustained amount of time. It adds up!

From my reflections above, you may notice that there is a method I use in working with fellows. It begins with getting to know them and figuring out what they perceive as their challenges and weaknesses. It moves next into identifying skills, values, interests, and exploring ways for those three attributes to work in unity to create a productive, meaningful professional life. In this method, we always work to find ways to break the journey down into manageable steps, setting specific goals that align with an overall larger objective.

I know this method works because it served me well when I was a postdoc myself. Using the resources from the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) and the NICHD Office of Education, I learned that my interests lie in improving aspiring scientists' training and career outlook and building on my existing skills such as organization, program management, teaching, and mentoring. I didn't do this alone, and I certainly didn't do it all in one day. My career breakthroughs have always come when I break down my challenges into manageable steps and seek guidance and mentorship along the way. I think you'll find that it will be similar for you, and my door is always open to help with the journey.

References

  1. Talesnik, Dana. “Eurick Explores Why Self-Awareness Matters.” NIH Record. June 28, 2019. https://nihrecord.nih.gov/2019/06/28/eurich-explores-why-self-awareness-matters.
  2. Eurich, Tasha. “What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It).” Harvard Business Review. January 4, 2018. https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it.

Self-Assessment Resources for All Training Levels (and Beyond!)

NICHD fellows are always welcome to schedule a time with the NICHD Office of Education staff to discuss self-assessments. Please reach out to Dr. Erin Walsh (erin.walsh@nih.gov) or Dr. Megan Bohn (megan.bohn@nih.gov) to schedule an appointment.

You also have access to a large array of self-assessment resources and related activities through the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), including:

Updated Resource! OITE has recently updated their online career guides on informational interviews, cover letters, CVs, and interviewing. All updated guides are available for download at this link.

Outside the NIH: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) provides an online Individual Development Plan called myIDP. This career-planning tool begins with a skills, values, and interest assessment, which guides and helps establish potential career goals. 


If you’ve had a chance to meet Megan Bohn, Ph.D., the new deputy director for the NICHD Office of Education, then you’ll know why I’m so excited about her introduction article in this month’s issue. Dr. Bohn joins the office with a skill set honed to the unique needs of biomedical research trainees. Just check out the subtitles of the article she wrote:

  • “I should be there by now” is a false belief that holds you back
  • Accurate self-awareness is key to improvement, but it's harder than you think
  • Networking is important, and it's easier than you think

After you finish reading Dr. Bohn’s article, we invite you to check out a few self-assessment resources inside and outside NIH. And don’t forget to browse The Rep Report and April announcements for a healthy list of activities that might align with your self-identified values and interests (read Dr. Bohn’s article to see what I’m talking about).

I’ll keep my words brief so that you can get to it!

Your Editor-in-Chief,
Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D.

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.

Thursday, March 14, 1–2:30 PM (Virtual)

Overview of NIH Grant Writing
Led by Dennis Twombly, PhD, Deputy Director, NICHD Office of Extramural Policy

The NICHD Office of Education (OE), the Office of Extramural Policy, (OEP) and the Office of Health Equity (OHE) are collaborating to offer “Overview of NIH Grant Writing” led by Dennis Twombly, PhD, Deputy Director, NICHD Office of Extramural Policy, with invited extramural speakers.

The purpose of this workshop is to educate fellows about the extramural program, various funding mechanisms, and the application cycle (submission and review).

Specific topics include:

  • Applying for Extramural Grants: Process Overview, Tips & Strategies
  • The Role of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) and the NICHD Scientific Review Branch (SRB)
  • The Role of the Program Officer (PO)
  • Opportunities for Intramural Fellows (e.g. K99)
  • Opportunities for fellows once they secure positions in the extramural community

Registration required. Email Veronica Harker (veronica.harker@nih.gov) for the registration link. If you will be applying for the K99 in 2024, please provide your estimated submission date.


Wednesday, March 20, 1 PM

Personal Statement Discussion and Feedback Session
Building 35, Room 620/630

Are you applying to medical school soon? Join Drs. Erin Walsh and Megan Bohn (Office of Education) for an opportunity to ask all your personal statement questions and receive feedback from us and your peers.

Email Veronica Harker (veronica.harker@nih.gov) for the registration link.


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.

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 15, 2024, NICHD graduate students Zoe Elizabeth Piccus, Jeremie Oliver Piña, and Daniela Marta Roth received certificates for the successful completion of their dissertation research.

Dr. Zoe Elizabeth Piccus, a graduate of Brown University, studied under the mentorship of Claire Le Pichon, PhD, Unit on the Development of Neurodegeneration, NICHD.

Thesis title: “Mouse Models of Motor Neuron Disease Stemming from Unrestrained Sphingolipid Synthesis”

Dr. Jeremie Oliver Piña, a graduate of University of Utah, studied under the mentorship of Rena D’Souza, DDS, MS, PhD, Section on Molecules and Therapies for Craniofacial and Dental Disorders, NICHD, and David W. Grainger, PhD, Biomedical Engineering, University of Utah.

Thesis title: “Multi-omic Spatiotemporal Resolution of WNT-Mediated Signaling during Normal and Abnormal Palate Formation” 

Dr. Daniela Marta Roth, a graduate of University of Alberta, studied under the mentorship of Rena D’Souza, DDS, MS, PhD, Section on Molecules and Therapies for Craniofacial and Dental Disorders, NICHD, and Daniel Graf, PhD, Biomedical Oral and Maxillofacial Research Unit, University of Alberta.

Thesis title: “Revealing Physiology of Craniofacial Growth Zones Through Pathology”


FARE 2025 Travel Award Competition

The NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) competition is NOW OPEN. FARE recognizes outstanding scientific research by NIH intramural postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. Abstracts will be evaluated anonymously, and the top 25% of applicants will receive a $1,500 travel award to present their exciting and novel research at a scientific meeting during FY2025 (October 1, 2024, to September 30, 2025).

How to Apply:

Submit your abstract online via https://www2.training.nih.gov/transfer/fareapp until noon on March 14, 2024 (12:00 PM ET).

Who is eligible:

  • Intramural postdoctoral fellows (e.g. IRTA, CRTA, Clinical, Research, and Visiting Fellows) with less than six years total postdoctoral experience in the NIH intramural research program as of March 14, 2024 
  • Postdoctoral-level Special Volunteers (e.g. NRC, NRSA, or Jane Coffin Childs fellowships etc.)
  • Pre-doctoral IRTAs currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program and conducting their doctoral dissertation research at an NIH lab
  • Graduate students currently registered in the GPP (Graduate Partnerships Program) with the NIH

For more information, go to http://www.training.nih.gov/felcom/fare/faqs. For questions and concerns, contact the FARE 2025 committee at FARE@mail.nih.gov.


Save the Date: Postbac Poster Days, May 1–2, 2024

Registration opens this month!

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 the Postbac Poster Day website for more information and to register.


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

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, Hyo Won Ahn, at hyowon.ahn@nih.gov.


The Office of Intramural Training and Education welcomes Laura Marler, PhD, as the new director of Office of Postdoc Services!

The FARE2025 Travel Award Competition is now open! Submit an abstract for a chance to win a $1,500 travel award to present your exciting and novel research at a scientific meeting during October 1, 2024, to September 30, 2025. Check out this month’s announcements and events for more information about the FARE competition and how to submit your abstract online.

The FelCom Outreach liaison is looking for stories from fellows. The training page on The Catalyst is going to address mentorship in the March/April issue and is currently seeking stories about mentor-mentee relationships at NIH that can be shared in the article. Whether your mentor is a supervisor, postdoc, or staff scientist, the stories will showcase the diverse experiences within the NIH community. Share your stories, both the triumphs and challenges, and let your voice be heard. If you're interested in sharing your story, reach out to Stacy Liang (shen-huan.liang@nih.gov).

The Service and Outreach Subcommittee will host a Science for Kids Day event on Saturday, March 23, and is asking for volunteers at this time. This outreach event is a collaboration with the Washington Center for International Education and aims to spark curiosity, foster creativity, and lay the foundation for science in kids in 4th and 5th grade of elementary school. If you are interested or need more information, please reach out to Alex Vendola (alex.vendola@nih.gov) or Rachel Keith (rachel.keith@nih.gov).

The Women Scientist Fellows Committee announced the following:

  • Save the date for Women Scholar Symposium: Monday, April 29, 2–4 p.m. (virtual).
  • Subscribe to our mailing list at WOMEN-FELLOWS@LIST.NIH.GOV.

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

Lab notebooks can’t communicate your research findings to the world—but you can. As an NICHD trainee, you have access to an abundance of opportunities to practice sharing your project ideas, results, and conclusions with your NIH colleagues. For your convenience, we’ve listed many of those opportunities below!

NICHD Intramural Annual Scientific Retreat

Every year, the NICHD intramural program organizes an annual retreat for intramural researchers—PIs and lab members—to celebrate achievements and spark new collaborations. In recent years, many of the Scientific Retreat presenters have been NICHD fellows!

NICHD Annual Meeting for Postdoctoral, Clinical and Visiting Fellows, Graduate Students and Postbacs

The main feature of the annual fellows' retreat is YOU! There are several formats to share your research findings and ideas—such as poster sessions, feature oral presentations, and short five-minute talks.  

SciBites

Want to talk about your research in a professionally produced short video? Check out SciBites, a series of easily digestible, “bite-size” videos about NIH Intramural Research Program (IRP) research. For example, former NICHD graduate student Dr. Jeremie Oliver Piña (D’Souza lab) made this short video about his research on “cultivating clues to combat cleft palates.”

Three-minute-Talk (TmT) Competition

The TmT competition is an annual science communication program at the NIH. The competition fosters an environment for fellows to convey their research in a concise way to a broad scientific audience. This is a terrific opportunity for you to learn (and practice!) how to explain your research in a way that’s meaningful to scientists outside your specialized field—a skill that’s become increasingly important.

Summer Poster Day

Summer Poster Day is a chance for summer interns at NIH to present their research to a broad scientific audience. This exciting day offers an excellent opportunity for networking with colleagues and building critical science communication skills. 

Postbac Poster Day

Postbac Poster Day is an opportunity for early-career trainees to share their NIH research projects and at the same time develop communication and networking skills. All NICHD postbacs are encouraged to present at this annual event! 

Graduate Student Research Symposium

All graduate students performing their doctoral dissertation research at NIH are eligible and encouraged to participate in this annual event that showcases graduate student research through talks, posters, and networking.

NIH Research Festival

The Research Festival is an annual showcase of NIH intramural research. This event brings together researchers from across all NIH institutes for a multi-day opportunity to share research findings and form new collaborations. All members of the NIH Intramural Research Program are encouraged to participate. 

You might occasionally see NIH leadership in the news—like Anthony Fauci, MD, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaking with CNN during the COVID-19 pandemic or new NIH Director Monica Bertagnolli, MD, in an interview with The New York Times. Their media appearances help the public understand NIH’s mission and build more trust in what NIH does. 

Media 101: Defining the Media Landscape, a training course from the NICHD Office of Communications (OC), was offered to NICHD fellows on January 18, 2024, to provide more information about the process of reporting science in the media.

Paul Williams, Director of Communications at NICHD, kicked-off the course with his talk, “Why speak to the press?” As we all experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, science can be easily misunderstood. It is therefore crucial that NICHD communicates clearly and confidently about the public health significance of NICHD research, and speaking with the media helps NICHD gain access to large audiences. 

At the institute level, the OC issues news releases and other articles that highlight NICHD research findings, and they publish stories about individual NICHD researchers. NICHD also uses various social media platforms and newsletters to reach wider and more diverse audiences. 

But what is the procedure if a reporter requests an interview with someone at the NICHD? As a first step, always contact NICHD’s OC (nichdpress@mail.nih.gov or 301-496-5133) before proceeding. If you are interested in doing the interview, OC will help coordinate. If you aren’t interested and/or the request falls outside your area of expertise, OC can decline on your behalf and refer the reporter elsewhere.

If you accept the interview request, you will want to understand who reporters are and what they want to get out of the interview. For this, Elizabeth McMahon, MS, a writer and editor in the OC, led a session titled, “About reporters and newsrooms.” She introduced daily news cycles, deadlines, and the types of reporters you might meet. 

In terms of scientific knowledge, reporters are often representative of the general public, and usually hold non-STEM degrees. A reporter would want fast responses to their inquiries, meaningful quotes, and information for the takeaway message. Typically, a reporter will not submit questions in advance and prefers responses that avoid scientific terms, jargon, and passive voice.

To help you prepare to explain your science to reporters, Robert Bock, Press Officer in the NICHD OC, presented, “Explaining science to reporters,” during which he shared essential points to remember. He suggested that for an interview, you should:

  • Omit details and focus on the “big picture” 
  • Use simple words and active voice 
  • Replace commonly used medical terms with those that are easier to understand, such as saying “long-term” in place of “chronic” 
  • Relate scientific concepts to familiar ideas with metaphors and analogies  
  • Prepare 3 or 4 key messages or talking points that you want to get across 

As a wrap-up exercise, participants of Media 101 wrote a press release headline using the abstract of a recent publication from an NICHD intramural lab. After the exercise, the actual headline was revealed and compared to what participants suggested. Summarizing a research study in one sentence, using only general terms, was more challenging than it sounds!

This was an informative course that is ideal for those  interested in learning why and how NICHD communicates with the media, the role of the OC in this process, the media environment, and how to make your story easy to understand for general audiences.

Have you ever tried to explain the importance of your research to a non-specialist? It’s not an easy task. But next to the research itself, it’s one of the most important skills you can learn as a scientist. 

In serving as a science communicator for the past decade or so, I’ve made a fun observation about my interviews with highly specialized researchers. Often, some of the best quotes about their findings happen when the interview is over—after we’ve finished the “shop talk” and start chatting about life and shared interests.

Inevitably, after the formal part of the interview, researchers re-initiate talking about their work but in relation to a fun anecdote or something surprising about their research. They begin storytelling, and that’s when the meaningful communication happens. It’s in those moments that their work becomes captivating, relatable—and clearly impactful.

During a recent workshop on how to communicate with the media as a fellow, the NICHD Office of Communications shared tips about explaining your science to the media. Many of their tips align with storytelling: use simple words and active voice, relate concepts to familiar ideas, and have a few key ideas to get across. Check out Dr. Hyo Won Ahn’s recap for more guidance on talking about your work and what to do if a reporter contacts you!  

But you don’t need to wait until your work makes the news to talk about your research with others. You have many opportunities to share your ideas and findings with a broad audience without leaving the NIH campus. We’ve listed several programs that are exclusive to NIH fellows here. Do take advantage!

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.