A record 29 postbaccalaureate fellows (postbacs) from NIEHS flocked to Bethesda, Maryland on May 2 to participate in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Postbac Poster Day. They joined more than 800 postbacs from 23 other NIH institutes and centers who presented their research projects and networked with peers.
NIEHS has traditionally enjoyed a strong showing of postbacs at the annual event, which was created to support and inspire the next generation of scientists. This year, ten of the NIEHS postbacs won an Outstanding Poster Award (see sidebar).
The bigger picture
“This trip helps postbacs realize that they are part of something much bigger, by bringing them to the NIH campus,” said Katy Hamilton, the NIEHS Postbac Program Manager. “It is also a great way for them to learn about different areas of research and meet postbacs from across NIH.”
Walking the halls of the giant, red brick NIH Clinical Center with her fellow postbacs made an impression on Sierra Atwater, a postbac who will be starting medical school at Duke University this fall. “The tour enhanced my passion for medicine and bridged the gap between scientific discovery and human impact,” she said.
The poster presentations were judged by a team of staff scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students representing different research fields. Criteria such as the content and appearance of posters, as well as the presenter’s ability to put the project into a larger research context, factored into the selection of winners.
Serving as a judge this year was Namya Mellouk, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Reproductive Developmental Biology Group. She said the event gave postbacs, many of whom had never presented before an audience, a chance to hone their communication skills.
Alma Solis, from the Matrix Biology Group, presented her work on the microbiome’s role in protecting against pulmonary fibrosis, a disease characterized by damaged and scarred lung tissue. Solis, who plans to pursue her Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in the fall, said that she enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the judges and to talk to senior investigators and postdocs about graduate school and future training opportunities at NIH.
Other postbacs used their time in Bethesda to not only get feedback from judges but also to meet face-to-face with long-distance associates from the main campus. Nancy Urbano, from the Predictive Toxicology and Screening Group, had the opportunity to talk shop with a fellow collaborator on the Tox21 project. “I enjoyed visiting the main campus and sharing a sense of camaraderie,” she said.
Science on the move
In previous years, postbacs had to find their own way to the Poster Day, be it by plane, train, or automobile. This year, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) provided a bus to transport participants from Research Triangle Park to Bethesda.
The bus became a mobile conference room for the 300-mile journey north. Postbacs used the time to practice their presentations, discuss research projects, and plan future collaborations with other labs at the institute.
(Andrew Trexler is a postbaccalaureate fellow in the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research Laboratory of Toxicology and Toxicokinetics, housed at NIEHS.)