It’s no longer just some “abstract” idea – it’s official! I’m going to get to present a research poster of my grad school research work for the first time – and to a national audience! Yesterday I submitted my CONFERENCE ABSTRACT for #EB2020 – the national Experimental Biology conference in San Diego in April – the conference is a joint “mega-conference” with several organizations scheduling programming – and my stuff’s going to be part of the ASBMB (American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) part. I am SOOOOO excited and SOOOOOO grateful to the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) for making it possible.

Scientific conferences are one of the main ways that scientists communicate their research to other scientists in the field – they’re really exciting because most of the work is “hot of the press” but “before the press” – that is, people are presenting work that they “just finished” or (as is usually the case) are still working on – unlike published journal articles, with posters and short talks it’s understood that things are “works in progress” – and one of the main benefits of presenting is that you can get suggestions and inspiration from others to help you progress more productively! The problem is, science can also (unfortunately) be competitive, so you don’t want to present something really early on and “get scooped” – so I have had to be tight-lipped about what I’m working on.

So – even though I’d love to tell you about my work – I can’t yet – and I didn’t know I would be able to tell people in the Spring until it was almost too late… You can’t just “show up unannounced” at a conference and expect to present – instead you have to submit something called an ABSTRACT – which basically is a summary of your work – What was the “unknown” you wanted to figure out? Why did you want to figure it out? How did you go about figuring it out? What did you find out? Why should anyone else care?

That’s a lot of info to squeeze into a single paragraph – and you don’t want to make it too dense – there will be hundreds of these that conference-goers will be skimming through – and you don’t want them to skim past you because your abstract reads like a paper – which it should not! Instead, it’s a much more concise summary that tells your potential audience the fundamentals of your work – but keeps them wanting more – so they hopefully come to your poster and/or talk to learn more!

Another reason abstracts can be somewhat “open-ended” is that you as the researcher are also actively learning more! The abstract is often due months before the actual conference – like this one was due yesterday – but the conference isn’t until April! I got the abstract in just hours before the deadline – normally I’m not a procrastinator – I’m more like an anti-procrastinator – if there’s something I know I need to do it weighs on my mind & makes it hard for me to focus on anything else – but I didn’t know I would be able to go until it was almost too late!

Flashback to Sunday – I’m reading the “For the Love of Enzymes” book by Arthur Kornberg that the president-elect of IUBMB, Dr. Alexandra Newton, gave me (and which is a really great book) and I get a message from her saying she had an idea – would I like to give a scicomm talk at EB2020? Uh – yeah! (well, actually at first I thought she was suggesting I go to EB2020 instead of RNA2020 (the RNA Society Meeting in Vancouver that she’d arranged to send me to in May – and I’m really excited about the RNA meeting so I didn’t want to give it up – but she said, no – she meant BOTH!)

So she talked to the ASBMB & they hopped on board, teaming up to sponsor a joint IUBMB/ASBMB/me talk on #scicomm – and my PI (principal investigator (head of my lab)) Dr. Leemor Joshua-Tor (an awesome mentor by the way) said she thought it would also be a great opportunity to present my research work! So that’s how I ended up 4 days to abstract due date with no abstract written yet and not having presented a poster since undergrad!

Speaking of which – that undergrad poster – my 1st ever – was presented at the Boston ASBMB conference in 2015 (which was again part of a larger EB conference) was my first conference ever – I went as an undergrad and presented a poster). Last year I was super stoked to get to go as a spectator (and I got to give a talk on science outreach as part of an ASBMB “turning science communication into science outreach” workshop). That was really awesome – but this year’s going to be even awesomer because not only do I get to give a scicomm-focused talk, I also – finally – get to present my own original research!!!!!

After the initial excitement – the panic set in – I had 4 days to write an abstract. So I immediately went seeking out advice. Dr. Newton sent me some great advice of her’s – Isaac Newton’s laws motion (e.g. the whole object in motion stays in motion while an object at rest stays at rest thing) may get more attention = but Alexandra Newton’s “Laws for Abstract Writing” deserve significant attention too – and can help your abstract (and thus your poster) get more attention! Here they are:

Newton’s 1st Law: Clear, concise title.
Newton’s 2nd Law: Use 2 sentences (or fewer) to introduce the background and significance of your work.
Newton’s 3rd Law: By third sentence say exactly what the point of your study is.
Newton’s 4th Law: Have a concluding sentence.

In the pics you’ll find some more advice from the ASBMB from this article by Martin Spiering:

The abstract submission process varies from conference to conference – but for this one we had to choose a “subcategory” that our work falls into – this helps them group together similar topic posters in the giant exhibit hall to make it easier for people to connect with others in their subfield and find the posters they’re looking for (see pics for a list of the topics I had to choose from to get an idea of just how awesome this is going to be!).

In addition to the abstract text, you have to provide info about authors & research funding. Ironically, one of the hardest parts of the submission process was getting the author affiliations filled out correctly! I’m a graduate student at the Watson School of Biological Sciences (WSBS) which is the PhD program at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) – and within CSHL our lab is a “W.M Keck Structural Biology Laboratory” and my PI’s an HHMI Investigator – so even though all the work was carried out in 1 place, there are 4 affiliations! The cool part about this is I get 4 superscripts next to my name :). And I get my name first! Followed by the postdoc who’s been mentoring me, Dr. Elad Elkayam, and then my PI (it might seem weird to put the PI last but “last author” is actually a position of respect when it comes to science cred – it usually corresponds to the person whose lab the work is done in.

More on PIs and how they make the lab run, help decide which experiments get done, and bring in the grant money to let us have our (informative) fun here:

In the abstract submission process you also had to specify whether you want to be considered for a short talk or “just” a poster (I think a poster itself is a huge accomplishment!). Asking to be considered for an “oral presentation” in no way guarantees you’ll get one – they choose from among the abstracts and it’s probably a super long shot of me getting one – but I decided to try (it’s an even longer shot if you don’t ask!)

At this conference, these short talks selected from the abstracts are scheduled for the afternoon “spotlight sessions” – they follow invited speakers who give longer talks in the morning and then a poster session. If you don’t get selected for a talk (and for this conference even if you do) you still get to present a poster.

And there’s a lot more that goes on at conferences too – including award lectures (looking forward to going to see Dr. Newton receive the 2019 Julius Axelrod Award in Pharmacology from ASPET (ASPET stands for the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics & it’s one of the other groups at the EB meeting).

It’s also a great place for networking – especially when you’re presenting work (and starting to have to start thinking about future plans)! I’m really excited for getting to meet and talk to scientists working at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) because I’d really love to teach undergrads – and of course I’m looking forward to going out & supporting the undergrads presenting at the undergrad poster session!

More on what goes on at the conferences themselves:

I seriously cannot convey enough how grateful I am to the IUBMB (esp. Dr. Newton), ASBMB, Drs. Joshua-Tor & Elkayam, CSHL, WSBS and everyone else who has supported and continues to support me on my scientific journey. I am one lucky ducky for having the resources and access to knowledge to allow me to explore the biochemical universe – that beautiful molecular dance that underlies everything and makes life possible – and I hope that, through my scicomm efforts I can in a small way give back to the community and help others access this “hidden world”
This post is part of my weekly “broadcasts from the bench” for The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Be sure to follow the IUBMB if you’re interested in biochemistry! They’re a really great international organization for biochemistry.
more on topics mentioned (& others) #365DaysOfScience All (with topics listed) 👉

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