NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) staff who attended the annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 13-17 in New Orleans came back to North Carolina feeling both exhilarated and exhausted.
Mamta Behl, Ph.D., from NTP, and Ronald Mason, Ph.D., and colleagues from the Division of Intramural Research, started early by co-chairing continuing education sessions on Sunday, March 13. Both also gave presentations later in the week. The well-attended education sessions set the stage for Monday’s cutting-edge plenary talks on regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.
“It was such a great meeting,” said Cynthia Rider, Ph.D., from NTP. “There were so many interesting sessions, and people you wanted to catch up with, that it was hard to find time to do everything.” Rider co-chaired a symposium on complex mixtures, presented a poster, and attended sessions. The event drew more than 6,800 toxicologists from more than 50 countries, and nearly 350 exhibitors.
NIEHS director participated in several session
Monday was a busy day for Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and NTP. She started by joining Bernard Goldstein, M.D., from the University of Pittsburgh; Maureen Lichtveld, M.D., from Tulane University; and others for a regional interest session, The Toxicological Implications of the Gulf Oil Spill: Research Accomplishments and Research Needs. Besides Birnbaum, speakers included grantees funded through the NIEHS Deepwater Horizon Research Consortia, as well as others.
Birnbaum also participated in the popular Meet the Directors session, Monday afternoon, with SOT Vice President John Morris, Ph.D., and Pamela McInnes, Ph.D, deputy director for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Discussions focused on Tox21 efforts, funding opportunities, innovative ways to recruit new researchers, and the important role of program officers in helping researchers obtain funding or training.
The format provided plenty of time for questions, and Birnbaum reminded attendees that NIEHS program and review staff were available each day of the conference in a dedicated research funding room.
The annual meeting is popular with Ph.D. students, and many stopped by the NIEHS-NTP-Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) exhibit, where they meet Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development, as well as other staff, for face-to-face advice on training and career opportunities.
As in previous years, Birnbaum joined panelists from academia and industry to help postdocs develop a roadmap to navigate their careers. Each panelist referred to the NIH Biomedical Workforce Report as an example of how government agencies, universities, and industry are using career outcome data to make informed decisions about training and better prepare doctoral students for the workforce.
Birnbaum said statistics on NIEHS postdoc alumni were similar to those in the national report. Both show more than 40 percent of postdocs moving into academic-based positions. Two of the main differences, she said, are that more NIEHS fellows enter into careers within the government, and very few enter into nonscience-related careers.
All speakers emphasized that postdocs should make an individual development plan, network extensively, and get as much supplemental training as possible. It is also critical to be honest with lead researchers about what they want to do after training. “Whatever you decide to do with your career should be supported,” Birnbaum said.
Peer recognition and awards
Paul Foster, Ph.D., head of the NTP Toxicology Branch, was surprised and humbled to learn he was the recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the SOT Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology Specialty Section. “I was speechless when they called my name,” Foster said. “And anyone who knows me, knows that rarely happens.”
Foster acknowledged his current and former postdocs and accepted the award with them in mind. He also expressed pleasure that Vicki Sutherland, Ph.D., a toxicologist in his branch, will continue the NTP presence in the specialty section, as vice president-elect.
Other NIEHS and NTP staff, as well as grantees, were also recognized for contributions to the toxicology field.
(Robin Mackar is the news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)