Today I’m super duper duper excited to tell you that Dr. Alexandra Newton is now officially PRESIDENT of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (the IUBMB). She’s been president-elect for a while and I’ve been waiting for this chance to formally congratulate the president!!!!!! I’ve told you a lot about Dr. Newton and how awesome she is as a scientist (she studies kinases as a Professor at UC San Diego) as she’ll tell you a bit about) – and how she found me at a conference and told me she appreciated my work and it meant the world to me and gave me confidence and motivation to hear a prominent scientist say that – and how I was stunned but thrilled to get an email from her asking if I would be interested in being the IUBMB’s student ambassador – and how she’s been an incredible mentor from afar, helping me navigate grad school life. Today I want to tell you about her plans for her presidency – so I figured I should probably ask her… Her responses below (with a few bumbling biochemist interjections).
First, I should probably tell you – actually I will let her tell you – what exactly the IUBMB is…
How would you describe the IUBMB to a scientist adult ? A non-scientist adult? A kid?
To scientist adult, I would say that the IUBMB represents the biochemical societies in 79 countries or regions. It is devoted to promoting research and education in biochemistry and molecular biology throughout the world and gives particular attention to providing opportunities to students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior investigators to advance their training. It offers many fellowships for research and education, supports meetings, and runs journals. And it has an awesome Student Ambassador who makes biochemistry understandable and accessible to tens of thousands of students around the world.
bb interjection: aw, you’re making me blush! I am so grateful for your help reaching people!!!
To a non-scientist adult, I would say that biochemistry is understanding the molecules of life, and that this is fundamental for our life on earth – from treating disease, to producing food for the planet. The IUBMB supports training the next generation of scientists by the fellowships, meeting support, and publications I mentioned above.
bb: I’d add that biochemistry isn’t just fundamental – it’s AWESOME!
To a kid, I would say that biochemists are like detectives trying to figure out how living things work (like why are leaves green?). The IUBMB would be the headquarters for all the detectives in different countries in the world, providing tools to help everyone in their detective work and gathering places to explain discoveries and solved mysteries.
bb: I love this description! Biochemist superheroes all around the world, united by the IUBMB and its fearless leader the Newtonator!
Are you excited to be the new president of the IUBMB?
Assuming yes, why are you excited to be the new president of the IUBMB?
Leadership of the IUBMB combines my passion for biochemistry with my passion for training the next generation of researchers and educators. Additionally, I’ve had a fairly international upbringing, having lived in Africa, Europe, and North America, and grown up speaking four languages, so the international aspect is important to me. I look forward to putting in place new initiatives to help students, with particular emphasis on geographical areas without as many resources and opportunities as in North America, for example. I hope that the IUBMB can open doors for a lot of students to pursue their own passions in science.
bb: YES! Let’s resource the underresourced! Biochemistry for all – not just those like me fortunate to have been born in the US to a family that could provide opportunities
How long is your term as president?
bb: Can we make that 30?
What is your role as president?
My role as President is to oversee the many activities of the IUBMB, including fellowships, meetings, journals, and much more.
bb: As if you didn’t have enough on your plate! I don’t know how you do it… I feel overwhelmed with just grad school!
What are you hoping to achieve during your tenure? 1) In terms of big-picture vision and 2) in terms of specific projects
Generally, I would like to increase revenue into the IUBMB so we can offer more opportunities to trainees. Also, I hope to make biochemistry more understandable to lay people. The pandemic has introduced words like mRNA and spike proteins into every day language, so we can use this momentum to really make what we do understandable to everyone.
bb: I have to say – it really is nice to have people have an understanding of mRNA! Makes it a lot easier for me to explain my work studying how a different kind of RNA called microRNA is used to target and destroy mRNA to keep proteins from being made. But even more exciting is that it helps make biochemistry more accessible to everyone – and super exciting that mRNA is being put to work saving lives so successfully! But back to the doctor…
Specifically, I hope we can add more member countries to the IUBMB. This not only allows more trainees to have access to fellowships and training opportunities, it brings more revenue to the union. I’d also like to partner with societies in specific countries to develop new initiatives to support trainees. For example, currently we partner with ASBMB to run the PROLAB program that provides funds for trainees from South America, Spain, or Portugal to visit a lab in North America for up to four months. It would be great to have similar initiatives to provide opportunities for students from, for example, Africa.
bb: yes please!
What’s first up on the list and are there changes we should be keeping an eye out for?
I’d like to put in place a Student Committee with members from all geographical regions. And hopefully our Student Ambassador will become our Postdoc Ambassador and can work together with a new Student Ambassador.
bb: That sounds awesome! And glad you’re not itching to get rid of me once I get my PhD!
How did you get interested in and/or involved in biochemistry and how has your personal journey as a scientist influenced your vision and plans for your tenure?
I have always been interested in nature since I was a small child and was forever doing experiments in our basement, my poor mom. When I was around 12, my dad gave me The Double Helix by Watson and Crick and I was hooked on biochemistry. In my late teens, I was enthralled by The Nature of the Chemical Bond by Linus Pauling, who I was thrilled to meet as a first year graduate student at Stanford, where he was an Emeritus Faculty.
The IUBMB has info and resources for a broad audience, so how do you approach orienting your goals?
Many of my goals for IUBMB are focused on how best to help trainees. Opportunities and good teachers can be transformational.
bb: I selfishly am a big fan of that!
What advice do you have for science students?
Follow your passion, do what you love.
bb: check and check…
What advice do you have for the general public who wants to learn more about biochemistry?
This is a great question and an important area where I hope the IUBMB can help: communicating biochemistry to the general public.
Brief bio: education, current position, research
Dr. Newton has a B.Sc. (Hon) in Biochemistry with a minor in French Literature from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. She received her PhD in Chemistry from Stanford University and, following two years as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Daniel E. Koshland, Jr., at the University of California, Berkeley, joined the Chemistry Department at Indiana University in 1988. She was recruited to the Department of Pharmacology at UCSD in 1995, where she is currently Distinguished Professor and founding director of the newly-created center, Cell Signaling San Diego. She has trained 29 PhD students and is passionate about training the next generation of biochemists and biomedical researchers, with a strong commitment to training women and underrepresented minorities.
The overarching focus of Dr. Newton’s research is to understand the biochemical mechanisms that drive signaling in health and how they are deregulated in disease. Specifically, her research focuses on understanding the structure, function, and regulation of a key signaling molecule in cells, protein kinase C, and how its function is altered in disease. Her work exemplifies how detailed dissection of the mechanisms of allosteric regulation of enzyme function provides the necessary biochemical understanding to drive effective therapeutic strategies.
And you can learn even more about her in an interview I previously did with her: http://bit.ly/newyearsiubmb
Congrats again PRESIDENT Newton! I am so honored to consider you a friend and mentor.