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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

December 2018

Science Days features grants session and awards

The second day of NIEHS Science Days began with an award ceremony led by Science Days Committee Chair and NIEHS Assistant Scientific Director Hans Luecke, Ph.D. Following a brief opening, he invited Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows’ Career Development, to the podium.

"I’m happy to present the seventh Fellow of the Year Award, which recognizes an outstanding fellow who demonstrates excellence and qualities that are important for a successful, independent, well-rounded research career," Collins said.

After keeping the audience in suspense for a few extra seconds, Collins announced that Monica Pillon, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Nucleolar Integrity Group, headed by Robin Stanley, Ph.D., stood out among the other candidates. Beaming with pride, Stanley explained to the audience why Pillon deserved to be the 2018 Fellow of the Year (see video in sidebar).

Robin Stanley and Monica Pillon Stanley, left, said, "Monica is absolutely spectacular at everything she does." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

"The first time I ever spoke with Monica was during a phone interview, and I had never talked with anyone quite so excited about science," Stanley said. "I knew immediately that I had to have this person join my group."

Collins said that the Fellow of the Year receives a travel award to attend a conference of their choice and was chosen by a committee made up of scientists from the NIEHS Intramural Research Program and the National Toxicology Program. Nominees were evaluated on six qualities.

  • Passion and dedication to research.
  • Demonstration of leadership excellence.
  • Service.
  • Collegiality.
  • Science communications aptitude.
  • Mentoring ability.

Awards for presentations

Hans Luecke and Ru Pin Chi Luecke posed with poster winner Chi, an IRTA fellow in the Pregnancy and Female Reproduction Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

After Pillon and Stanley were seated, Luecke prefaced his announcement of the best poster and oral presentation awards by saying his committee wanted to acknowledge the best of the best.

As he called their names, each awardee walked to the front of Rodbell Auditorium to be recognized. As Fellow of the Year, Pillon was already delighted. She would soon find out that she received a second honor — Best Oral Presentation (see text box below)

After the awards presentations, Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., announced that he increased the amount of the Fellow of the Year, best talk, and top nine poster presentation awards to $1500.

Fund my science

What better way to help the future careers of all of the young researchers at Science Days than to hold a grants workshop? After the awards, staff from the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training and Division of Intramural Research talked about how to write and submit an NIEHS grant (see sidebar).

Molly Puente Puente said if your university claims it submitted your grant and you do not see it listed, you should follow up. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Michael Humble, Ph.D., a health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Genes, Environment, and Health Branch, talked about the many National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NIEHS funding opportunities available for researchers, from high school students to scientists starting their own labs.

Superfund Research Program Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., led one of the interactive sessions. Six volunteers joined her at the front of the auditorium for a role-playing exercise. Advisor Professor X had scheduled meetings with graduate students and postdocs to give career advice, and the audience chimed in on whether his guidance was accurate and beneficial.

One of the gems that Grants Management Team Lead Molly Puente, Ph.D., shared was that if the entity that receives grants, the National Institutes of Health Center for Scientific Review, shuts down due to a hurricane or ice storm, it will publish a notice on its website giving applicants extra time to submit their grants.

"The number of days closed usually matches the number of days for the extension," Puente said, "but you should have your application prepared well in advance in the event your area is struck by a natural disaster."

Although the grant workshop provided valuable information, the presenters stressed that NIEHS program officers, who are the ones that shepherd grants through the review and beyond, are available to help. Applicants who have questions about the procedure, regardless of their grant score, should contact their Program Officer to talk about it. The 2018 NIEHS Science Days had something for everyone.


Mike Humble Humble said that although the university submits the grant application, such as a postbaccalaureate fellowship, the funds support the individual, not the institution. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Abee Boyles Boyles, from the NIEHS Population Health Branch, laid the foundation of the workshop by providing an overview of the grants process. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Cindy Lawler Lawler, head of the Genes, Environment, and Health Branch, offered tips on how to bounce back after a bad grant review. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Laura Thomas Thomas, from the NIEHS Scientific Review Branch, broke down the review steps a grant undergoes, including the final approval from the NIH. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Fellows’ awards

Mentor of the Year was announced during Day One, and the next day revealed the Fellow of the Year, and the best poster and oral presentations. The top nine poster winners received travel awards to attend the scientific conference of their choice. The best postbaccalaureate poster was included among the top 10.

Best Oral Presentation

Monica Pillon, Ph.D., visiting fellow in the Signal Transduction Laboratory — "Structure of the Essential Multi-Enzyme RNA Processing Complex Grc3/Las1 Reveals the Molecular Basis for Catalysis."

Best Poster Presentations

  1. Gregory Whitehead, biologist in the Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory (IIDL) — "Airway Neutrophils Attenuate Adaptive Immune Responses through a TGF-dependent Mechanism."
  2. Ru Pin Chi, Ph.D., Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) fellow in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory (RDBL) — "Wnk1 in the Uterus: Elucidating Functions in Morphology and Pregnancy Using a Mouse Model."
  3. Fei Zhao, Ph.D., visiting fellow in RDBL — "Unexpected Contribution of the Male Tract Mesenchyme to the Female Reproductive Tract."
  4. Chitrangda Srivastava, Ph.D., visiting fellow in IIDL — "GLIS3: An Essential Player in Polycystic Kidney Disease."
  5. Irina Evsyukova, Ph.D., research fellow in the Neurobiology Laboratory — "Sex-specific Effects of Locus Coeruleus Norepinephrine Loss on Hippocampus-dependent Learning."
  6. Melissa Wells, Ph.D., biologist in the Signal Transduction Laboratory — "From Yeast to Human: The Conservation of an RNA Binding Domain."
  7. Alexander Foo, Ph.D., visiting fellow in the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory — "Influence of Hydrophobic Cargo Binding on the Structure, Stability, and Allergenicity of the Cockroach Allergen Bla g 1."
  8. Payel Sil, Ph.D., IRTA fellow in IIDL — "The Role of LC3-associated Phagocytosis in T Cell-mediated Contact Dermatitis."
  9. Barbara Nicol, Ph.D., visiting fellow in RDBL — "RUNX1 and FOXL2 Play Complementary Roles in Maintaining Fetal Granulosa Cell Identity in the Mouse Ovary."
  10. Brian Elgart, postbaccalaureate fellow in the Molecular Genomics Core — "Purification of Plasma Circulating Cell-free DNA and Development of Molecular Assays for Clinical and Toxicology Studies."
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