Ah, the old days with Mom: baking, knitting, extracting DNA

I did not turn on the computer yesterday (yes, it was glorious) so I missed Mother’s Day coverage in our local newspaper. When we returned home, I was happy to see that on the front page of the print copy the dean of Duke School of Medicine, Nancy Andrews, MD, PhD, was featured with her daughter in the lab on their fun Saturdays together.
Also cited and pictured in the article was Duke vice dean for research and professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, Sally Kornbluth, PhD, and her daughter.
Written by News & Observer science editor Sarah Avery, the article describes how women are increasing in ranks in biomedical degrees earned while still lagging at the associate professor level and up. This trend was cited specifically for faculty and administrators in basic science departments of medical schools but is widespread in academic science and engineering.
In 2007, I wrote about Andrews becoming the first female dean of a top 10 US medical school and expressed my bewilderment that it took that long. In fact, local attitudes were such that Andrews recalled this recollection in a NEJM article about taking the dean’s position:

…it continues to be true that we do not expect women to hold certain positions in society or medicine. Recently, I witnessed firsthand the persistence of such expectations, when my husband, our children, and I went to visit a school in North Carolina where Duke staff members had made an appointment for the family of the new dean of the medical school. As we entered the school, its principal vigorously shook my husband’s hand and welcomed him, saying, “You must be the man of the moment.” Unfortunately, it is quite understandable that it wouldn’t have crossed his mind that I might be the “woman of the moment” instead…

It’s always a Good Thing to see science featured on the front page of a region’s major newspaper, especially the Sunday edition. And I recognize that it was a nice human interest piece for Mother’s Day and you don’t want to be a cynic on such a day. So, it’s no surprise that the article didn’t address the specific challenges that women face of achieving the academic heights of Andrews and Kornbluth.
And I see only one lab coat and no eye protection in the lead photograph.

Howsitgoin’, eh?: Nature offers $10,000CDN for outstanding research mentors

Canadian flag.jpgI’m delighted to see those $32/article access fees going to good use: Nature is accepting nominations to recognize two outstanding research mentors in Canada with cash prizes.

Since they were launched in 2005, Nature’s awards for mentoring in science have rewarded outstanding research mentors in Britain, Germany, Japan, Australia and South Africa. The competition is held within one country each year, in the belief that mentoring reflects not just notions of good scientific practice and creativity that are universal, but also scientific traditions and cultures that are, at least to a degree, national. . .
. . .This year’s competition is taking place in Canada. Two prizes of Can$10,000 (US$9,900) will be awarded, one for a mid-career mentor and one for lifetime achievement in mentoring.

As regular readers know, I love my Canadian colleagues – several of whom I consider to be excellent research mentors.
It’s pretty easy to be a crappy mentor. That’s why there are so many.
But good mentoring and career development skills takes very special people – those who acknowledge a responsibility to those who choose to train with them and who care that the accomplishments of their scientific progeny can have as much or greater impact than their own direct scientific contributions. Sadly, the quality of one’s mentoring efforts rarely figures into faculty promotion and tenure decisions. So any effort to recognize and reward outstanding research mentoring is a wonderful idea.
Nominations are being accepted through 30 June 2010 and the full details can be found at http://go.nature.com/CKbeC4.

Four for Pharmboy: Thank you and a mission modification

The Preamble

Four years ago today, I wrote my first post in the blogosphere over at the old Blogger version of Terra Sigillata. The post, entitled, A Humble PharmBoy Begins to Sow,” set out my mission to be an objective source for information on natural health remedies and drugs that come from nature, whether used as single agent prescription drugs or as botanical mixtures and supplements.
I read blogs for about six months before setting off on my own, primarily because I wanted to be sure my efforts were not redundant with others. Because I am academic and paid by a combination of federal research and state educational funds, I feel that I can provide an objective forum for discussing news and developments on natural products that is not driven by a need to sell a product.
While I do not write every day, I hope that I have succeeded in approaching that goal. I thank you for coming by to read, participate in the comments, and refer us to other blogs, your colleagues, and your friends and families. It has been a delight to meet many of you and grow to call you my friends and colleagues. I still get a particular charge out of being called “Abel” in person, especially when the person addressing me knows my real name nonetheless.

I command thee: Delurk!

I have been very fortunate this year to see an uptick in the number of regular readers that I believe may have been stimulated by our presence on Twitter. I’d like to get a feel for who you are and why you are here because I always like to serve the community who takes time out of their busy schedules to see what pixels I’ve scribbled on this electronic papyrus.
As my colleague and blog mentor, Orac, did the other day for his fifth anniversary, I wish to ask those of you who read to delurk and drop a note in the comments to share 1) your general background, 2) why you read, and 3) what other stuff you’d like to hear from us. I know you are out there, so I thank you in advance for sticking your head up, saying hello, and going back to lurking. In fact, you may find that commenting is kind of fun and may be something you’d like to do more often.
Since you are here, you already know my answer to #1 and why I write.
But here’s my answer to #3 and how I would like to move forward with this blog in the coming year:

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This is why I blog: gratitude from stellar student, recovering addict seeking grad school advice

[This 23rd July entry is being reposted today under the ScienceBlogs "Education" channel as its original categorization there fell victim to gremlins in the upgraded Movable Type script.]
At the outset, let me say that I have immense respect and admiration for a special commenter.
In last week’s Friday Fermentable post, we took the 40th anniversary of the Apollo XI mission as an opportunity to draw attention to Buzz Aldrin’s newly-released autobiography, Magnificent Desolation. In it, Aldrin describes his lifelong battle with depression and alcoholism and how he has managed both challenges.
Recently, several of my colleagues within and outside the ScienceBlogs network have had extensive discussions of mental illness in the context of academic training and performance (here is an example of a 60+ comment post by DrugMonkey). However, I hadn’t really thought about our relative lack of discussion of substance abuse and chemical dependence in the context of scientific training and academia.
So, it is with gratitude that I reprint this comment and ask this learned gathering for advice on her behalf:

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Dr Saul Schanberg: neuroscientist, physician, mentor, teacher, father, husband

Saul and Rachel.JPGAlthough I saw this obituary over the weekend, I didn’t get to posting it until today. I was reminded by a local friend, an outstanding young scientist in her own right, of the impact that Dr Schanberg had made on so, so many lives in science, medicine, and our larger community.
I only had the honor of meeting Dr Schanberg once, shortly after his cancer diagnosis, while we were at a Duke Cancer Patient Support Center fundraising dinner. His wife of over 50 years, Rachel, is founder and former director of the organization which they started following the loss of their own daughter.
Among the many scientists and physicians that were mentored by Dr Schanberg is my dear friend and colleagues, Dr Cindy Kuhn. I knew that Dr Kuhn had worked with Dr Schanberg extensively, having co-authored 83 publications. What I had not appreciated previously was that Cindy had also done her PhD work with Saul – so much for that rule of distancing oneself from one’s mentor.
I can’t do any better than the obituary that follows.

“Saul was a warm and wonderful, high-spirited, opinionated and good humored man much loved for his infectious enthusiasm for science, his love of Duke (and Duke basketball) and most importantly his commitment to his family and friends.”

And I couldn’t live a life any better than that.

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The Friday Fermentable Commencement Address

I was having a lovely conversation this week with scribbler50, our beloved blogging bartender at Behind The Stick. Describing him as “just” a blogger does not do him justice; scribbler50 is a writer. If you haven’t been over to Brother Scribb’s crib, do yourself a favor and read a few of his essays. In fact, read the whole archives.
Scribb and I got into a discussion of wine connoisseurs sometimes being as pretentious and annoying as the single malt scotch drinkers about which he has written with piercing accuracy and humor. Thinking that perhaps he had offended me, he qualified the remark to mean pseudo-connoisseurs: people who spout out wine information with the intent to impress others when, in fact, the result is to alienate and cause the inquisitive to become anxiety-prone instead of delving into the enjoyment that wine can provide.
As I wrote in the July, 2006 Mission Statement for The Friday Fermentable, I am a wine enthusiast. I claim no special degrees or professional experiences that make me an expert. I did make wine a fair bit in the 1990s and met with a handful of winemakers around North America, but no more than many out there. But I can drink wine, and often do so with reckless abandon.
For me, wine should be a beverage that brings people together. Having even extensive, technical knowledge of wine should not interfere with that simple fact. From the Mission Statement:

3. To use this forum as a bully pulpit to offset the snobbery and exclusionary behavior of some alcoholic beverage experts that serve the counterproductive aim of alienating the public from gaining a rewarding, enriching, and stress-reducing experience.

In chatting with Brother Scribb, I was reminded of a theme I introduced in a commencement speech when I was an assistant professor. As university graduations are occurring all around the States this week and next, and since the commencement address is one of the most tedious forms of oratory, I wanted to share this recollection with readers of The Friday Fermentable:

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How to save a life: physician humanity

Bear with me this morning because I am growing very weary of my physician colleagues enduring all sorts of haranguing for being hateful, pharma shills who only want to cut, burn, and poison.
I was extremely fortunate, personally and professionally, to train in two clinical units with strong basic science programs. As such, I worked at the bench with MD fellows and we schooled each other on our respective strengths. I loved when when my colleagues would come back from clinic and tell me of experiences that put our bench work in real world perspective. Yes, not all bench work is immediately applicable clinically, but these day-to-day experiences influenced how I view basic research. Moreover, these relationships continue to serve me and my laboratory today.
Reusch 5280.jpgOne of my most meaningful relationships was with the wife and husband MD partnership described in this post by Alittleclarity about her father’s cardiac surgery consultation. My old buddy, Dr John (Jay) Reusch Jr, is pretty well-known in the Colorado Front Range having been on the cover of last year’s Top Docs issue of Denver’s 5280 magazine. He taught me a great deal about life, fatherhood, music, and humanity. And if I ever needed cardiac surgery, I’d be at his clinic in a heartbeat – as it were.
So, I loved stumbling on this post that compared and contrasted how different physicians view the same patient.

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How to broaden the reach and legitimacy of blogging to practicing scientists

Several of my blogging colleagues have been discussing over the last few days whether there is value in cultivating fellow scientists as readers of science blogs. While some find this a waste of time, others recognize that blogs provide a useful, real-time platform for disseminating information and discussing current issues and career development challenges that cannot be done well in print format. The informality of the blog also allows for frank discussion to be had between senior scientists, trainees, and the general public that do not often (if at all) occur at one’s home institution.
Colleague Isis (and her generous readers!) has done a terrific job lately in using her blog to cultivate career development funds in support of an American Physiological Society David S. Bruce Award for outstanding undergraduate research. This effort has increased awareness among society members and leadership regarding the value of blogs to the greater scientific community.
As such, Isis has put forth this question in part two of a two-part series, Who Cares About Blogs?

[H]ow do we blog to scientists who do not know or understand blogging, or who have the pre-conceived notion that blogs are places where 16 year old girls write about what they had for breakfast?

My answer is influenced heavily by discussions I have had with my colleague DrugMonkey, an NIH-funded scientist who is outside my area of expertise but with whom I share these goals:

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Dr Geraldine Pittman Woods: Minority Scholar Pioneer

geraldine woods.gifDr Geraldine P Woods (1921-1999) was inarguably the most influential scientist in establishing and promoting NIH’s programs in research and research training for underrepresented groups. Therefore, I have chosen her story for my entry to this month’s Diversity in Science blog carnival recognizing Women’s History Month.
My interest in Dr Woods was inspired by a recent post by my friend and colleague, acmegirl, who writes the blog, Thesis – With Children. In her post recognizing the work of Duke University behavioral biologist, Dr Erich Jarvis, acmegirl noted that both she and Dr Jarvis are products of the MARC program – Minority Access to Research Careers – administered by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). I have had a few friends who have been MARC scholars in their undergraduate and graduate years as well as several colleagues who have received research grants from the Minority-Based Research Support (MBRS) program.
NIGMS was established by an act of the US Congress in 1962. In 1964, Dr Frederick Woods was named as NIGMS director and Dr Geraldine Woods appointed to the National Advisory General Medical Sciences (NAGMS) Council. Among their other charges, the group began to evaluate NIH research support at traditionally minority-serving institutions. Keep in mind that it was the Higher Education Act of 1965 that also provided federal designation of 105 historically-Black colleges and universities (HBCUs; accredited by a national or nationally recognized regional accrediting agency, founded before 1964, and founded for the purpose of educating black students.). Of course, many more institutions today serve these and other underrepresented groups.
Woods and colleagues on the council determined that, at the time (late 1960s) NIH only provided about $2 million in funding to minority institutions with 80% of that going to Howard University in DC and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee (these schools remain among the top research HBCUs). She later visited minority institutions around the US, encouraging investigators to submit research proposals to the NIH and presenting to upper academic administration the need to provide research infrastructure.
Believe it or not, it was President Richard M Nixon who, on 22 February 1971, issued to Congress in a directive on higher education a section entitled, “Special Help to Black Institutions.” According to Susan Athey, the NIGMS writer who prepared Dr Woods’ obituary:

This led to the 1972 launch of the Minority Schools Biomedical Support Program (now known as the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program; the administration of this program was transferred from NCRR to NIGMS in 1989). Also that year, NIGMS established visiting scientist and faculty fellowship awards through the Minority Access to Research Careers Program.
According to Dr. Clifton Poodry, director of the NIGMS Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE), “Dr. Woods’ interest in our programs did not end with her retirement from active involvement. She was always grateful to hear some good news or success stories about MARC or MBRS participants, and she was also interested in knowing that the programs were continually striving to improve and in learning about new initiatives.”
“She fought hard for opportunities for others–we are greatly enriched for her efforts,” Poodry added.
In addition to her involvement with NIH’s minority initiatives, Woods was a prominent leader in other national educational, political, and scientific endeavors. Her activities included serving as the first woman chair of the Board of Trustees of Howard University and two terms as national president of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

A more comprehensive history of these programs can be found at this NIGMS timeline.

“Dr. Woods was a person ahead of her time,” said Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, [then] acting NIH director and director of NIGMS from 1974-1993. “She received a Ph.D. in biology from Radcliffe long before any other African American scientist could so qualify. Yet she never forgot her roots and worked tirelessly to assist in establishing the MARC and MBRS Programs.”

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Center for American Progress’s “Science Progress” features yours truly

We’re really fortunate here at Terra Sigillata World Headquarters to have a strong, dedicated readership. But I’m always tickled when we attract new readers and attention to the views we express here.
Late yesterday I received a very nice e-mail from Andrew Plemmons Pratt, Managing Editor of Science Progress, a blog of the well-known liberal think tank, Center for American Progress.

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