CBC Undergraduates Presenting Their Research at the Experimental Biology 2012 Meeting

April, 2012

Ten Biochemistry undergraduates presented research posters at the 2012 Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego from April 20 - 25 as members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). The group included Ersilia Anghel, Jennifer Bao, Alice Cai, Kenny Childers, Jonathan Ferng, Shiana Ferng, Elina Ly, Nirushan Narendran, Michael Nelson, and Angela Schlegel.

In addition to presenting their work at the general ASBMB poster sessions, almost all the students participated in the Undergraduate Poster Competition, held on Saturday April 21, in which they competed against 226 other undergraduates from across the country. Alice Cai’s poster entitled "The Pronociceptive Activity of Spinal Dynorphin A is not due to Sensitization of Wide Dynamic Range Neurons", based on her work in the laboratory of Professor Emerita Josephine Lai (Pharmacology), received one of four Honorable Mention awards in the Systems Biology category. Alice made the following observations about her experience: "The copious opportunities offered at UA, prior to EB2012, for presentations prepared me well for the conference. It was also extremely nice to receive validation of my skills as a researcher and presenter from judges and observers. One of the best parts about the conference this year was that I participated in a significant amount of ASBMB mixer events where I met other students from San Diego, Minnesota, and New York; I also had the chance to speak to a medical student from Mount Sinai where I will be attending school in the fall. One of the symposiums I attended on opioids and drug abuse also answered a question someone had posed to me before at BECUR about sex differences in pain perception, which I had known nothing about before."

Shiana Ferng, Biochemistry junior and recipient of a 2011 ASBMB Research Scholarship, wrote: "The ASBMB conference was a lot of fun; one of my favorite parts about it was meeting scientists who were familiar with the kind of work I did. One was from Japan, which is where a lot of the background literature for my work came from, so I felt a little like I was meeting a celebrity since I didn't expect international participants. Another one was a PI from Wright University who had worked with medaka fish in her Ph.D. years and who could give me really detailed advice about how to manage the fish, which was significant because there are not very many people who either of us noticed worked with fish, and specifically, medaka fish. Of course, exploring San Diego was a blast, as well!"

Front, left to right: Jonathan, Shiana, Ersilia, Alice, Angela
Back, left to right: Nirushan, Kenny, Michael, Jennifer, Elina, Dr. Hazzard

Dr. James T. Hazzard, Faculty Adviser for the UA UAN Chapter and Biochemistry Club points out that the ASBMB has made a concerted effort to make its annual meeting more inclusionary with respect to undergraduates, hosting several events beyond the poster competition targeting the students including two breakfasts with conference keynote speakers, a career "speed dating" session in which representatives from a variety of career options served as interviewers (Prof. Vahe Bandarian, CBC, served as one of the graduate school interviewers), and the ASBMB Reception following the opening Plenary Address by Professor Stuart Kornberg (Washington Univeristy) the 2012 winner of the Herbert Tabor/Journal of Biological Chemistry Lecturship.

Due to the close proximity of the Experimental Biology meeting (San Diego), extra effort was made to support as many students as possible to attend EB 2012 through Travel Awards available through the UAN, so they could have opportunity of experiencing the excitement of attending a large national meeting and directly learn about biochemistry and molecular biology from scientists who are leaders in their fields. He also points out that students attending this meeting are expected to be fully engaged, presenting their research posters as confident young scientists.

"In this way, we are striving to carry on the tradition set by the late Professor Michael A. Wells, the founder of UBRP on our campus (now admirably directed by Ms. Carol Bender), who was a passionate advocate of undergraduates fully participating in scientific conferences, presenting their own research and exchanging their ideas with other scientists with similar interests." In addition to the UAN Travel Awards, students were able to finance their trips through funds available from UBRP, the Honors College, the Michael A. Wells Scholarship, and the CBC Excellence in Research Scholarship.

Finally, beyond the professional and academic sides of the meeting, the undergraduates were able to do some sight-seeing in the San Diego area, attend a get-together with Dr. Hazzard at the original San Diego Hard Rock Café for dinner, and participate in the UA Alumni and Friends event hosted by Prof. Vahe Bandarian.