SOT 2014 — packed with good science, energy, and enthusiasm
By Robin Mackar
When the 53rd annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) in Phoenix concluded March 27, there was a consensus among the NIEHS and NTP delegation that it fulfilled its mission of showcasing cutting-edge science and providing opportunities for people to network and form new collaborations.
Memorandum of understanding signed
Among the more formal collaborative events at this year’s conference was the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between SOT and NIEHS, at a preconvention ceremony Sunday afternoon, March 23. The signing set forth a framework for an alliance between NIEHS and SOT, to foster a shared dedication to provide global leadership toward creating a safer and healthier world, by increasing the impact of the science of toxicology.
“We’ve always had a very good working relationship with SOT, but this memorandum will provide us with even more opportunities to collaborate, as we both work to identify, characterize, and prevent diseases associated with the environment,” said NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., as she signed the document with SOT president Lois Lehman-McKeeman, Ph.D.
Enthusiasm for science
The sunny, warm weather at the meeting might be one factor that contributed to the enthusiasm for the meeting, but another was the presence of many talented high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students who were at many of the sessions asking forward-thinking questions.
The students were engaged during an undergraduate program offered Sunday, as Birnbaum talked about her own winding career path.
They were also very vocal at the Monday afternoon featured session, “A Conversation with the Director of NIEHS,” chaired by Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., of Michigan State University.
The format of the session was conversational and welcoming. With Birnbaum and Kaminski seated on stage, and about 200 people in attendance, there were no slides, creating an environment that encouraged audience participation.
A few questions from Kaminski about the NIEHS budget and strategic plan kicked off the conversation, which was soon followed by questions from the audience. Queries ranged from predictive toxicity efforts, arsenic, and droughts, to peer review of grants and the new collaboration between NIEHS and the World Health Organization. Birnbaum thoughtfully addressed each question.
“I’m thrilled to see so many undergraduates here,” Birnbaum said, as many made their way to the podium. One asked about some of the challenges Birnbaum faced as she developed her own career path and what advice she would offer to students.
“Always be willing to try something new,” she said. “Try working with a new collaborator, try out your crazy ideas, and don’t be afraid to fail. Failure can teach us valuable lessons.”
Birnbaum ended the informal session by announcing that NIEHS is searching for a new editor-in-chief for the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. (http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/) Hugh Tilson, Ph.D., who has held the position since 2007, recently announced his retirement.
Funding room and exhibitor hosted sessions
In addition to the numerous posters and talks by NIEHS and NTP scientists, the NIEHS resource funding room proved very popular. Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) program representatives staffed the room for two days, providing one-on-one-consultation for individuals interested in grants and training.
The two Institute exhibitor-hosted sessions were also a success. Mark Cesta, D.V.M., Ph.D., showcased the Nonneoplastic Lesion Atlas, the newest resource from NTP and Allen Dearry, Ph.D., NIEHS Office of Scientific Information Management director, led a session on “Advancing Environmental Health Data Sharing and Analysis.”
(Robin Mackar is news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)