September 2023 Issue Now Available!
Download the September 2023 edition of The NICHD Connection here:
“If somebody is going to be [an] expert scientist in years to come, even if they are not going to specialize in bioinformatics, they need to be fluent in it.” This advice was given by former NICHD Director Alan E. Guttmacher, MD, during a 2011 interview about scientific trends and training. Over a decade later, it seems to me that his insight was, and remains, prudent.
In the years since that interview, we’ve published several articles about bioinformatics. These include Former Fellows Follow-ups with those who have entered bioinformatics-related careers as well as articles about the complexities of collecting, managing, and sharing big data. This month, we add to that list with advice on bioinformatics training as a biologist, summarized from a recent talk by Ryan Dale, PhD, senior scientist and head of the NICHD Bioinformatics and Scientific Programming Core.
And what issue of The NICHD Connection would be complete without honoring a few fellows for a job well done? This is, after all, a fellows’ newsletter.
First, congratulations to all NICHD recipients of the 2024 Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE). I look forward to announcing this list every year to recognize the breadth and depth of the institute’s research projects conducted by fellows.
Second, our summer interns also deserve applause for their hard work this summer. Their projects—which most likely included a bit of bioinformatics—were featured during the in-person NIH Summer Poster Days last month. Check out a few pics from the event in this month’s Life Outside Lab column.
Whatever your main interests, be they bioinformatics or bioengineering, Dr. Guttmacher also said to “pay attention to the fact that the future of science is interdisciplinary work.” You’re at one of the best places in the world to explore as many fields of science as possible. You’ll find ample upcoming workshops and learning opportunities in this month’s announcements and events, and don’t forget to read The Rep Report, which now includes a new page for highlighting selected same-month FelCom activities.
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 email@example.com.
Ryan Dale, PhD
What is bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics is a field of science that uses computational methods and different computer programs to store, organize, analyze, and understand biological data from many sources, including research studies, clinical trials, scientific journals, patient medical records, and biospecimens. Sometimes, bioinformatics is referred to as computational biology.
NICHD fellows gathered on July 17 to learn from Ryan Dale, PhD, who directs the NICHD Bioinformatics and Scientific Programming Core (BSPC), as he shared his experience starting as a marine biology researcher and moving into bioinformatics while completing his doctoral studies. His talk, which was part of the NICHD Careers, Challenges, and Connections series, included advice for NICHD scientists on ways to learn more about bioinformatics. Dr. Dale broke down his guidance into six simple points, which are summarized below:
#1: A formal background or bioinformatics degree is not required.
Many practicing bioinformaticians have not taken bioinformatics, programming, or computer science classes. Plus, formal classes might not exist for every application. The internet has plenty of free, high-quality content that can be effectively utilized.
#2: Learning bioinformatics is a lot like learning to play piano.
Piano playing and bioinformatics contain technical and creative components, and time must be spent practicing both. In addition, much like learning to play the piano (or any instrument, or even any language), the learning process for bioinformatics training will be slow at the beginning and will require lots of practice in between lessons.
#3: Bioinformatics lessons can be highly effective.
In addition to short-term, intensive workshops, bioinformatics lessons can accelerate learning more efficiently. Instead of personal one-on-one lessons like for piano, online tutorials can be used as lessons for bioinformatics training. Most importantly, scientists should make the time to practice bioinformatics skills on their own in between lessons. It might not be reasonable to expect progress after completing a workshop and then setting bioinformatics aside until you “need it.”
#4: Persistence is key.
To become proficient at bioinformatics, you will fail a lot; and then you will learn through the process of fixing your failures. Often, not everything is spelled out in online resources or textbooks. Necessary information may need to be more creatively accessed, for example, by combining information from multiple resources or by adapting one resource for a slightly different application. Debugging and troubleshooting is greater than 80% of coding, but if you enjoy puzzles, you will have a lot of fun.
#5: Learn how to learn.
Bioinformatics is always evolving. Fellows can take many steps to continue learning bioinformatics, including:
- Reading tool documentation
- Using the right search terms to fill in any gaps in your current understanding of a language or process
- Critically evaluating answers from online coding forums, for example from StackOverflow and Biostars, before using them
- Deciphering methods from papers
- Reading other people’s code to understand its function
#6 Time to practice is the limiting factor.
Practicing bioinformatics only when you go home after a full day in lab will not be very effective. Discuss a training plan with your advisor to establish expectations about balancing bioinformatics training and other lab responsibilities.
If you’d like to learn more, visit the BSPC Training website, where you’ll find various tutorials to get you started, including information on Python, R, and RNA-Seq. Dr. Dale encourages any fellows who are considering bioinformatics training to access and use this resource.
Want to learn more?
Check out some of these NIH bioinformatics resources
- NICHD Bioinformatics and Scientific Programming Core
- NICHD Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Branch
- NIH Bioinformatics Support Program
- NIH Bioinformatics Scientific Interest Group
- NIH Intramural Research Program Scientific Focus Area – Computational Biology
- NIH Library Bioinformatics Classes
- High-performance Computing at NIH
- The Foundation for the Advanced Education in the Sciences Bioinformatics and Data Science courses
Congratulations to all fellows who received the annual Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) for the 2024 competition. FARE is an NIH-wide competition that recognizes the important research of intramural fellows. We extend sincere congratulations to our 11 winners as well as a special thanks to all NICHD fellows who submitted an abstract and shared their research with the intramural community.
Announcing this year’s NICHD FARE recipients and their research:
Rilee Zeinert, PhD
“Cryo-EM of Magnesium Transporter MgtA reveals a Dimeric P-type ATPase”
Laboratory of Gisela Storz, PhD, Section on Environmental Gene Regulation
Nathan William, PhD, MS
“Water exchange rates measure tissue viability and homeostasis”
Laboratory of Peter Basser, PhD, Section on Tissue Biophysics and Biomimetics
Yingbiao Zhang, PhD
“Wdr59 promotes or inhibits TORC1 activity depending on cellular context”
Laboratory of Mary Lilly, PhD, Section on Gamete Development
Jinho Park, PhD
“Modification of a conventional deep learning model to classify simulated breathing patterns: A step toward real-time monitoring of patients with infectious diseases”
Laboratory of Amir Gandjbakhche, PhD, Section on Translational Biophotonics
Natalia Cestari Moreno, PhD
“Human DNA polymerase eta is a new substrate of the NEDD8 ubiquitin-like conjugating pathway”
Laboratory of Roger Woodgate, PhD, Section on DNA Replication, Repair, and Mutagenesis
“Protein arginine methyltransferase 1 regulates adult intestinal proliferation and enteroendocrine cells differentiation”
Laboratory of Yun-Bo Shi, PhD, Section on Molecular Morphogenesis
Shreeta Chakraborty, PhD
“Robust enhancer-promoter interactions ensure faithful gene regulation during embryonic development independently of CTCF”
Laboratory of Pedro Rocha, PhD, Unit on Genome Structure and Regulation
Yuen Yan Chang, PhD
“Manipulation of the human ubiquitination by a novel virulence factor in Legionella pneumophila”
Laboratory of Matthias Machner, PhD, Section on Microbial Pathogenesis
Geoffrey Vargish, PhD
“A novel evolutionarily conserved inhibitory circuit selectively regulates dentate gyrus mossy cell function”
Laboratory of Chris McBain, PhD, Section on Cellular and Synaptic Physiology
Louis Tung Faat Lai, PhD
“Stepwise lipid transport mechanism of MFSD2A revealed by cryo-EM”
Laboratory of Doreen Matthies, PhD, Unit on Structural Biology
Megan Parker, MS
“An experimental study of the effects of cognitive fatigue on youth’s energy intake: Interaction of cognitive fatigue with reported dietary restraint”
Laboratory of Jack Yanovski, MD, PhD, Section on Growth and Obesity
NICHD summer interns presenting their research at the annual NIH Summer Poster Days
Natcher Conference Center, Bethesda Campus
Friday, August 4
Photos by Dr. Erin Walsh, unless otherwise noted
NICHD Office of Education Director Dr. Erin Walsh with summer intern Jayashree Balaraman of the Matthies laboratory, Unit on Structural Biology. Photo courtesy of Dr. Doreen Matthies.
As 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve created a new page on the Fellows Wiki for Selected FelCom Events. Near the beginning of each month, we’ll post same-month events that are announced during the monthly FelCom meetings. Check in regularly!
The NIH Research Festival is back in person after a three-year hiatus. The event will take place September 18–22, 2023! Please visit the NIH Research Festival website for the General Schedule of Events.
This year’s Postdoc & Fellow Appreciation Week is the week of September 18–22, 2023. OITE is organizing several social events, careers seminars, and networking events in honor of the week (keep an eye on your email for days, times, and locations). For more information, or if you are interested in helping out, please contact Emily Summerbell (email@example.com).
The Fellows Safety Committee is planning to host an open house focused on celebrating International Biosafety and Biosecurity Month in October. Keep an eye out for more information as the date approaches! The committee is looking for more participation in their events, so please help spread the word. Various leadership positions within the committee will be open soon. If you are interested, please reach out to Anna SantaMaria (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Did you know that there are several ways to stay informed on postdoc activities and events?
September 18–22 is National Postdoc Appreciation Week
The fourteenth annual National Postdoc Appreciation Week will take place the third week of September this year. To learn more, visit the National Postdoc Association website, and don’t forget to show appreciation for your fellow NICHD postdocs!
Are you looking for teaching experience?
Many NIH postdocs are unaware of the resources available to them for gaining teaching skills and experience. Check out the upcoming online training through OITE and visit their Teaching and Mentoring website for additional insight and resources.
Are you curious about the fundamentals of effective teaching? Whether you're contemplating a career in education, seeking to understand modern pedagogical techniques, or eager to expand your knowledge in the field without formal training, this opportunity is designed for you.
These interactive workshops will be conducted ONLINE ONLY.
Please note: The same workshop is being offered on two different days, and attendees are invited to register for one session only. Choose the date that best fits your schedule:
Date: Thursday, September 7th, 2023
Time: 2:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
Date: Friday, September 8th, 2023
Time: 2:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
For more information on the Scientists Teaching Science program as well as other mentoring and teaching resources that OITE has to offer, please visit our Teaching and Mentoring webpage.
For postdocs and graduate students in the DIR, there are also opportunities for leading guest lectures and workshops as part of our Annual Postbac Seminar Series. Email Dr. Erin Walsh (email@example.com) to discuss.
Due This Month: Intramural Research Fellowship (IRF)
Funding opportunity for all NICHD fellows
In 2017, DIR launched the Intramural Research Fellowship (IRF), a competitive research funding opportunity for NICHD postdoctoral, visiting, and clinical fellows. Its main objective is to promote grant writing among our intramural trainees, while enhancing awareness of the various components of an NIH grant application.
The IRF submission date is Friday, September 8, 2023.
Due This Month: PRAT Program Applications Due October 3
Fellows in the NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate Training (PRAT) program receive three years of stipend support to conduct independent, mentored research in an NIH intramural laboratory. The PRAT application process is like the F32 Postdoctoral NRSA, and applicants who are already in the NIH intramural program may apply if they began postdoctoral training on or after July 1, 2022, and are a US citizen or permanent resident.
If you plan to apply in this application cycle, please contact Dr. Erin Walsh (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as possible, as your application submission will be through the NICHD Office of Education.
The PRAT program is especially interested in ensuring the applicant pool reflects the diversity of the biomedical PhD talent pool, and strongly encourages applications from scientists in groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. For more information about the program, eligibility, and the NIGMS mission, please visit the PRAT website.
NICHD Annual Postbac Seminar Series: Professional Development and Career Exploration
The next cycle of our Annual Postbac Seminar Series begins next month!
Currently there are approximately 80 postbacs conducting clinical and basic science research in our intramural laboratories. During your one or two years of training here at the NICHD, we want you to have an enriched research experience, while at the same time growing more prepared and excited about your chosen career path.
The year’s series will take place on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. The intent is to create a comfortable environment within a small group of peers to help postbacs improve their analytical skills as scientists, while expanding their knowledge of biomedical research and its relevance to human health.
This course also focuses on professional development:
- Learning how to present your science
- Exploring different career trajectories
- Meeting physicians and scientists from various clinical or research settings
- Preparing for the medical or graduate school application cycle (including interviews!)
Upcoming sessions (to take place from 1 to 2 p.m. unless otherwise indicated):
|To Be Announced||Public Speaking Coach, Scott Morgan||Speaking About Science: Giving Scientific Presentations|
|To Be Announced||Public Speaking Coach, Scott Morgan||Interviewing for Professional School|
Additional sessions will be announced in upcoming newsletter issues, and via email.
If you are interested in joining the class, please email Ms. Veronica Harker (email@example.com) to receive the Google Doc link for registration.
Save the Date: 18th Annual Fellows Retreat
Our 18th Annual Meeting for Postdoctoral, Clinical and Visiting Fellows, Graduate Students and Postbacs will take place on Friday, October 27th. Do join us—this will be an in-person event!
The main feature of our event will be all of YOU! And there will be three different formats by which you can present your work. You can participate in all three if you’re interested.
- Traditional Scientific Poster (individual or group)
- Lab Showcase Presentation: fellows are invited to present an exhibit individually, or with other trainees in their lab, that showcases an exciting concept, development or overall research topic in the lab; or bring a model/device/equipment for a demonstration.
- Five-minute Talk Presentations: Oral presentations (with PowerPoint slides) appropriate for a broad scientific audience, in the spirit of the “elevator pitch” or the “science slam.”
Also featured in our program:
- Morning keynote presentation
- Exhibit booths from industry and NIH facilities/resources
- Career panel and roundtable discussions with professionals from academe, industry, teaching, government administration, science communications, science policy, and grants management.
Registration will be opening very soon, so keep an eye out for more emails to come. Feel free to begin planning, if you wish to present in any format.
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.
Monday, September 11, 11 AM–Noon
Trainee Career Discussion with James Gagnon, PhD
Building 35A, Room 610 (Rear)
Dr. James Gagnon, Assistant Professor from the University of Utah, will briefly discuss his career trajectory and then answer questions from fellows. Come with your questions about work/life balance, navigating career challenges, how to determine which future jobs might be right for you, and anything else you want to discuss. Anyone at NIH is welcome to join.
The following day, Dr. Gagnon will give a seminar entitled “How Zebrafish Defend Against Ecological Challenges.” You are welcome to join that as well! Details below:
- Date: September 12th, 2023
- Time: 1:00–2:00 PM
- Location: Bldg 45, Room C1/C2 (or virtual)
Thursday, September 21, 1 PM
NICHD Postbac Orientation Session
Location to be announced (on NIH campus)
Our institute has approximately 100 postbacs conducting both clinical and basic science research. The Office of Education would like to bring our postbacs together to meet each other and discuss opportunities for service and leadership, along with the various resources and services available to you at NICHD and NIH-wide.
We aim to enrich fellows’ NIH experience with career development, outreach, and social activities. Learn about:
- The Annual Postbac Seminar Series
- Opportunities for enhancing your science communications skills
- NICHD Office of Education Services & Resources
- The Office of Intramural Training and Education and its resources
- Medical & Graduate School Application Support
- NIH Library resources
- And more!
The NICHD Postbac Orientation Session is mandatory for all postbacs who started on or after January 2023, but all NICHD postbacs are welcome. To register, please contact Ms. Veronica Harker (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the Google document link.
Tuesday, September 26, 9 AM–4 PM
NICHD Intramural Scientific Retreat
Porter Neuroscience Building
We strongly encourage all NICHD intramural researchers—PIs and lab members—to attend as we celebrate our research achievements and spark new ideas and collaborations. Check your email for registration information.
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.