#ASHG17 in the Shoes of a Trainee

Posted By: Monika Schmidt, Chair, ASHG Training & Development Committee

On any given day of the ASHG Annual Meeting, I find myself in a predicament: What’s next on the schedule? Should I attend the exhibitor talk in the CoLab theater, visit interesting posters, or seek advice at the Careers in Academia panel?

No matter how carefully I plan my schedule ahead of time, the meeting always has more to offer than I could possibly take advantage of: exciting talks, posters, trainee events, workshops, exhibitor presentations, and naturally, social events. This year’s meeting in sunny Orlando was no exception, and in my role as Chair of the Training and Development Committee (TDC), I hardly had a moment to sleep.

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TDC members Lauren Tindale, Monika Schmidt, and Julie Jurgens take a moment to enjoy Orlando’s non-genetics attractions. (courtesy Ms. Schmidt)

I kicked off my experience early on Tuesday, October 17, by presenting to ASHG’s Board of Directors all the fabulous work the TDC has done over the past year. Despite being a bit nerve-wracking, this was hugely rewarding – there is so much support for trainee professional development and mentorship from the ASHG community. These two themes reverberated over the rest of the meeting.

Professional Development and Networking at #ASHG17

Developing networking skills benefits from lessons and practice. Recognizing this, ASHG teamed up with The Jackson Laboratory to develop the multi-week Conference to Career Program, which included a dedicated section on networking skills for national meetings.

Following the Conference to Career in-person session, the TDC hosted Peer Networking Trivia – an ideal event to put networking lessons into practice. 2017 marked the third year the TDC hosted this event for trainees; it was rewarding to watch new friendships form as trainees commiserated over the challenging genetics trivia questions. Naturally, it’s much easier to get chatting when a topic is presented for discussion, and so the Tweetup, Opening Reception, and various evening exhibitor events presented new situations for trainees to practice their networking skills. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting trainees at these receptions, chatting about their vision for future initiatives, and of course, singing along with NIH Director Francis Collins on guitar.

Mentors at ASHG: Many Ways to Connect

Between scientific sessions in the mornings and afternoons, trainee mentorship became the focus of my lunch hours. The TDC hosted two panel discussions this year: Careers in Academia and Careers in Industry. The panelists’ responses to trainee questions were thoughtful and thorough, which meant that I and my TDC colleagues spent a lot of time live-tweeting the discussions using our newly-introduced hashtag: #ASHGtrainee. Panelists hung back after the sessions to answer questions one-on-one, providing another networking opportunity.

On Thursday, the TDC launched our inaugural myIDP (Individualized Development Plan) session, led by Philip Clifford. I was blown away by the incredible turnout and high level of engagement with the material presented. This session led trainees on an introspective journey aided by their peers, and asked them to examine their values, strengths, weaknesses, and interests. The goal of the session was to help trainees define career paths that suit their personalities, needs, and wants. With a room abuzz with discussion, 75 minutes was undoubtedly too little time, and the TDC will be looking to expand the session at future meetings.

While the TDC-led lunchtime sessions were happening, ASHG staff were hosting the Trainee-Mentor Luncheons and newly introduced Round Table Discussions. These events focused on establishing trainee-mentor relationships and providing a more intimate setting to ask advice of a successful genetics professional. I myself am still in contact with the mentor who shared lunch with me in 2014. On the note of keeping in touch with mentors or networking contacts: remember that the mentors and Trainee Leaders at ASHG really care for your success as a trainee – we want to hear from you! Your emailed question or LinkedIn request (with an introductory message, of course) are welcome. So, take 30 minutes today to thank the mentors who spent time with you for their advice – you might just get a better response than you expected, and you’ll be on your way to building a network of professional contacts!

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TDC members Douglas Dluzen (far left) and Monika Schmidt (far right) with speakers at a trainee-organized invited session on rigor and reproducibility in genetics. (courtesy Ms. Schmidt)

The final trainee event of ASHG 2017 combined the best of mentorship and networking in an evening reception, Career Paths in Genetics. As a mentor at the TDC table, I and other TDC members were thrilled to answer questions from trainees about what being an ASHG Trainee Leader entails, and how the position provides an opportunity to advocate for trainees within the Society and at a federal level via FASEB. I also took a break to just ‘be a trainee’ per se, and heard a thrilling story about patenting BRCA1 from the intellectual patents mentor, discovered a whole new potential career path in scientific administration, and was offered very sage advice by a mentor from academia on maximizing upon my abilities post-PhD.

Reflecting on ASHG 2017

Every year I return from the Annual Meeting with renewed motivation for my research and a reading list as long as my arm, as is to be expected of any stimulating conference. I also came home hopeful that fellow trainees heard the same messages that I did over the five days in Orlando: it’s always the right time to say hello and explore potential new connections, pursue a new experience to build your skills, learn about yourself, and see what the world of genetics has to offer.

Monika Schmidt, BSc, is the 2017 Chair of ASHG’s Training & Development Committee, and has been part of the TDC since 2015. She first joined ASHG in 2014, the same year she started graduate studies.

Interested in a leadership position like Monika’s? Apply for 2018 Trainee Leadership Opportunities by Monday, November 6. For questions about these opportunities and other trainee issues, contact Monika on Twitter using #ASHGtrainee or by email

Revamped for 2017: ASHG/FASEB Mentored Travel Awards for Underrepresented Trainees

Posted by: Kanika Pulliam, PhD, ASHG Educational Programs Manager

This year, ASHG and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) are offering a newly structured travel award for underrepresented* trainees who are full-time undergraduate, graduate, medical students, and postdoctoral/clinical fellows who attend ASHG 2017.

Applications are due August 31, 2017 at 5:00 pm U.S. Eastern Time. Email questions and completed applications to marcssm@faseb.org.

What makes this travel award unique is its goal is to provide engaged and structured mentoring for trainees attending the meeting. This is fostered by assigning each awardee a peer mentor based on common interest.

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Networking and mentoring are important parts of the revamped ASHG/FASEB travel awards. (credit: ASHG)

The mentorship process starts before ASHG 2017 and continues during and after the meeting. Peer mentors will begin communicating with awardees before the meeting through a series of activities, including helping awardees choose events and sessions to attend and establishing their career interests to customize the meeting experience.

During the meeting, awardees will practice their presentations with their peer mentors and receive feedback. Peer mentors will also help awardees identify Exhibit Hall booths to visit based on their career interests, attend a social event together to practice networking, view poster and platform presentations to learn how to ask questions, and critique presentations. After the meeting, peer mentors will follow up with awardees by continuing to provide professional development support.

Peer mentors are selected based on their experience attending the meeting and their proximity in career development to the trainee awardee, which makes the relationship more relaxed. We have selected a diverse group of mentors spanning academia, industry, medicine, science education, and non-profits.

Awardees are required to attend specific trainee events and visit the Career Center to advance their networking skills and professional development. Here are the required events:

Wednesday, October 18

  • Diversity Breakfast, 7:15-8:45am

Choose 1 of the following concurrent sessions:

  • Trainee Professional Development Program (Academic Career Panel), 12:30-1:45pm, OR
  • Trainee-Mentor Luncheon (1), 12:30-1:45pm

Thursday, October 19

Choose 1 of the following concurrent sessions:

  • Trainee Professional Development Program (Passion Won’t Pay the Bills: Planning for a Successful Scientific Career), 12:30-1:45pm, OR
  • Trainee-Mentor Luncheon (2), 12:30-1:45pm

Friday, October 20

Choose 1 of the following concurrent sessions

  • Trainee Professional Development Program (Industry Career Panel), 1-2:15pm, OR
  • Mock NIH Study Section Workshop, 1-2:15pm

The travel award provides up to $1,850 in reimbursable funds for registration and travel. Applicants are required to submit and present (poster/oral) at ASHG 2017. Eligible applicants must be United States citizens or permanent residents with legal status. Trainees can be from minority institutions and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or underrepresented trainees from majority institutions. Preference for the award is given to ASHG members.

* For the purpose of meeting the goals and objectives specified by the FASEB Diversity Resources Program, individuals from groups underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, and behavioral sciences include: 

  • Individuals from racial and ethnic groups shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research, including Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians (who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment) or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other U.S. Pacific Islanders (Guam, American Samoa);
  • Individuals with disabilities, defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; and
  • Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds [usually undergraduate students], defined as those from a family with an annual income below established low-income thresholds and those who come from an educational environment that has inhibited the individual from obtaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to develop and participate in a research career.

Kanika Pulliam, PhD, is ASHG’s Educational Programs Manager. Learn more about ASHG’s programs for trainees, including programs at ASHG 2017.

An ASHG Fellow’s Perspective on Conference Prep, Part 2: Conference Events

Posted by: Teresa Ramírez, PhD, 2016-17 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow

See Part 1 of Teresa’s guide, which focuses on networking

Conferences offer a variety of networking events you should fully take advantage of, but keep in mind that scientific sessions and visiting the exhibit hall can also provide new opportunities.

Before attending a conference, it is always a good idea to glance at the agenda and mark workshops of interest. Identify speakers whom you would like to meet. Each conference is unique because each offers various workshops, resources for different career levels, and receptions that allow you to network in a safe space. There is no need to feel shy or stay quiet at a conference; you can always ask questions. Use this time to explore, learn, listen, and communicate.

Use Presenting as an Opportunity

Each conference I’ve attended has provided me with great opportunities that I would have never imagined. I have learned to feel more confident while presenting my research. Was I nervous? Of course, but the more I practiced, the more comfortable I felt. Constructive feedback from people who visited my posters or talks has helped me improve my presentation skills. I was asked questions that provided me with great ideas about what to do next in my research project.

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Teresa Ramírez presents her research at the 2017 Japan-NIH Joint Symposium on Advances in Biomedical Research (courtesy Dr. Ramírez)

Presenting a poster or an oral presentation at a conference can also be a good way to interact with people at various career levels, which may lead you to discover similar interests. Be ready with your elevator pitch about your research (a minute or two) and your own branding statement (a simple statement). No need to be arrogant but in simple terms, describe who you are and your interests.

Remember the Exhibit Hall

Most conferences have an exhibit hall with vendors, institutions, resources, and career centers. Take advantage and visit them. This can help improve your networking skills or spark ideas for the next step of your career. By strolling around conference exhibit halls, I have learned about summer internships, scholarships, fellowships, post-baccalaureate programs, and graduate schools. Now, I learn about new job opportunities or professional/leadership training opportunities.

Relax and Enjoy the Experience

You never know whom you will meet or what you can learn from a conversation with a stranger. So make sure you have a plan but also go with the flow and enjoy every minute of your conference experience. Don’t stress about it. At conferences, I have met people who became life time friends and wonderful mentors who have been instrumental in my career through their advice and support.

Please check out the ASHG website for more information on trainee opportunities, resources, and ASHG 2017.

Teresa Ramírez, PhD, is the 2016-2017 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow. Learn more about the Genetics & Education Fellowship.

An ASHG Fellow’s Perspective on Conference Prep, Part 1: Networking

Posted by: Teresa Ramírez, PhD, 2016-17 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow

Attending national conferences can be intimidating or exciting. The first one I attended was quite overwhelming. Do you remember how you felt at yours? Did you ask yourself questions like: why is it important to attend a national conference? How do I prepare? How can I make the most of it? What should I do and how do I network? These thoughts can be nerve-wracking, but don’t worry: these tips will help ease your nerves and guide you to prepare for the next one.

Meet People and Follow Up

As an undergraduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, I participated in the NIH-funded Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program, where I learned about the do’s and don’ts of attending conferences. First, look and dress professionally because first impressions make a difference.

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Teresa Ramírez at a recent meeting of SACNAS (Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science) (courtesy Dr. Ramírez)

Second, be sure to have business cards. It might seem outdated, but business cards can help break the ice and start conversations. I know that reaching out and introducing yourself might be uncomfortable, but it will all be worthwhile even if you end up feeling dead tired and drained. Make sure your business cards include your full name, degree/title, organization, contact information, LinkedIn URL, and something that can grab people’s attention in a positive way. One of my tips is to immediately write on the back of each card collected the date you met that person, key words to help you remember the conversation, and the name of the event/location. These notes are helpful because, believe it or not, you will start collecting tons of cards and by the end of the day, you will forget which card belongs to whom. Nurture these new relationships by writing follow up emails; showing interest and professionalism can set you apart.

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In 2016, Dr. Ramírez presented on STEM careers to a group of high school interns, a talk she was invited to give by a contact whom she met at a dinner. (courtesy Dr. Ramírez)

By networking, you never know who you can meet and what the outcome can be. You can meet your next mentor, find out about a new opportunity, or start a new collaboration. You might even get invited to do a research talk or share your story with K-16 students, like I did. Keep reminding yourself to be open-minded and network with new people during meals. Attendees usually feel comfortable sitting with people they know, but this is the right time to try sitting with unfamiliar faces to start a conversation. During this time, you have the opportunity to network, introduce yourself, and even use your scientific elevator pitch. I have sat in tables with total strangers feeling a little uncomfortable at first but at the end, had wonderful conversations and met new friends.

Please check out the ASHG website for more information on trainee opportunities, resources, and ASHG 2017.

Teresa Ramírez, PhD, is the 2016-2017 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow. Learn more about the Genetics & Education Fellowship.

The View from Constitution Avenue

Posted by: Douglas F. Dluzen, PhD, ASHG Training & Development Committee

It’s fitting that the March for Science shared the spotlight with Earth Day. During the slow march down Constitution Avenue, I saw several signs sticking out from the crowd reminding the world that there is no Planet B, no other options. It was also fitting that the day in Washington, D.C. was cloudy and soggy, paralleling the concern millions around the world have for the future of science and its role in our society.

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Doug Dluzen and his wife in front of the Washington Monument (courtesy Dr. Dluzen)

My wife and I, along with friends, took the MARC train from Baltimore down into D.C. We were encouraged to see so many others commuting with us, and so early in the morning. The rain didn’t suppress our spirits and the excitement in the air was palpable. It took the conductor almost the entire duration of the ride to finally make his way into our car to collect our tickets.

We poured out into Union Station with hundreds of others and walked towards the Washington Monument. On the way, I caught more glimpses of the enthusiasm and support science can and should always enjoy. The diversity of the crowd, including the languages I heard to the age range of people I saw, from newborn to the elderly, proved that the march’s message resonated with those from all walks of life.

My group was no different. There was me, a human geneticist; my wife, a neuroscience graduate student; a dentist; a speech therapist; a chemical engineer; a Middle Ages historian; and a recent retiree from public service in the Department of Education. Other groups of friends and families joined with us as we walked down the National Mall and already we could hear chants of ‘Science After Peer Review’ echoing off the Smithsonian museums.

I’ll admit, I wondered if the rest of the world, particularly those who control such things as funding and informed policy, also heard their voices.

Before the march itself, we ducked into a pub to warm up and dry off, and every chair inside was filled with someone else doing the same thing. We were joined by more friends – students studying infectious disease and traumatic brain injury, a programs coordinator for a cystic fibrosis non-profit, and a bacteriologist working to prevent the next superbug. Inside the restaurant, I heard engaging conversations by people sharing lessons learned in the lab, trials and failures of their most recent experiment, or how long it would take to hear back about the latest grant applications. But we also listened to families and individuals from outside of the laboratory, individuals who supported the movement of the march and wanted to come make a difference.

I think it’s their voices that matter the most. They went home that day, outside of the research community bubble, and shared their experiences with their own community. It’s their voices that will be the most powerful moving forward.

We left and joined everyone else next to the Washington Monument. After the march began, it took a while for the crowd to funnel onto Constitution Avenue, at which point the rain had grown steadier. It was shoulder to shoulder the rest of the way to Capitol Hill – an impressive sign of the support for this movement. We managed to center ourselves on the street and we chanted along with others during our walk. Only the tallest of the signs could be seen in the distance. My favorite was: “I like my men tall, dark, and vaccinated!”

I admit I had goosebumps every time a fresh roar of the crowd emanated from somewhere in front of us and rolled down the street through us like the wave at Camden Yards or Nationals Park. Unlike the march, the train ride back to Baltimore was quiet. Everyone, including myself, was worn out. I spent time thinking about the impact the day may have had. For me, although the march answered the question of who still supports science, it left me with even more questions. What happens next? How did we get to the point where a march was even necessary? And what can we do, can we learn from this?

Thankfully, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. As I write this, Congress has announced an additional $2 billion for the NIH this year in the new budget. To me, it sounds like some people heard those voices on Constitution Ave on Earth Day.

Now it’s our job to put that momentum and funding to good use.

Douglas F. Dluzen, PhD, is a postdoctoral research fellow and a member of ASHG’s Training & Development Committee. Learn more about ASHG’s programs for trainees.