While You Were at the Bench: Week 44

The hole in the ozone layer over Antartica reached its smallest maximal size in the last two decades.  NASA and NOA scientists believe the warmer temperatures in the Antartic this year helped reduce the damage to the ozone layer caused by chlorofluorocarbons.

Researchers have engineered a macromolecule that not only inhibits the IgE-Fc Receptor but also dissociates preformed ligand-receptor complexes. This could lead to a new class of fast-acting medication for acute allergic reactions.

Researchers at Stanford University have created the first all carbon solar cell.  While they acknowledge the efficiency (< 1%) is considerably lower than commercially available photovoltaic solar cells, the carbon-based thin film technique can dramatically reduce the cost associated with solar cells.

We already know that redhead, fair skinned individuals are more susceptible to melanoma caused by ultraviolet radiation.  However, new research in ginger mice suggests redheads might develop melanoma through a mechanism of oxidative damage without exposure to the sun.

Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have discovered that Notch signaling is essential for determining cell fate during embryogenesis in C. elegans.  Blocking this signal could lead to new ways of “growing” replacement organs for humans.

And in an update to a former post, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is being delayeddue to a complicated contract process.  The first scheduled energy producing experiments aren’t scheduled until 2027 or 2028.

A great place to go for a run.

Researchers in Montreal have shown that middle-aged, overweight individuals who exercised four days a week for four months not only lost weight, but also improved their cognitive function.  Now, put down that plate of poutine, visit RateMyPI.com, and hit the gym.

Have a great weekend!

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So you want to be a medical science liaison?

As more and more PhDs are being pumped out, funding diminishes, and it becomes harder (or less desirable?) to obtain faculty positions, many scientists are making the switch to industry to pursue a career as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL). 

We recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Samuel Dyer, who has over 12 years of experience as a Medical Affairs professional and is the Chairman of the Board of the Medical Science Liaison Society.  Below is an account of the interview. 

RateMyPI.com: What exactly is a MSL?  

Dr. Dyer: MSLs (also known as Medical Liaisons, Medical Managers, Regional Scientific Managers, Clinical Liaisons, and Scientific Affairs Managers) are members of the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, Clinical Research Organization (CRO) and other health-care industries that have advanced scientific training and academic credentials generally consisting of a doctorate degree (Ph.D., PharmD., M.D.) in the life sciences.  MSLs help to ensure that products are utilized effectively, serve as scientific peers and resources within the medical community, and are scientific experts to internal colleagues at companies.  However, the primary purpose of the MSL role is to establish and maintain peer-peer relationships with leading physicians, referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s), at major academic institutions and clinics.

RateMyPI.com: In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of being a MSL?

Dr. Dyer: Being at the forefront in the latest in clinical medicine and being able to be a part of something that can actually improve patients lives.

RateMyPI.com: Do you have any advice for young researchers interested in becoming a MSL?

Dr. Dyer: I always advise those looking to break into the MSL role to apply to only those roles in which match your scientific expertise and where you can position yourself as an expert.  For example, if you focused on a specific area within Oncology during your Ph.D. DO NOT apply to roles that are within CNS.  In other words focus on those roles that highlight and match your experience with the needs of the role.  Applying to roles that are not within your Therapeutic Area of expertise or that you have no experience in that particular disease is a complete waste of time and I can almost guarantee your CV will not be reviewed.

RateMyPI.com: What do you foresee as the biggest challenges facing MSLs in the next 5-10 years?

Dr. Dyer: There are numerous global regulatory changes that will be implemented over the next several years including the Sunshine Act here in the U.S. that will have an impact on the MSL role and the pharmaceutical industry in more general.  I also believe that as the role continues to grow, how the MSL is utilized and how to measure the ROI (Return on Investment) will be an ongoing challenge.

RateMyPI.com: You recently launched the Medical Science Liaison Society, can you please tell us a little more about it?

Dr. Dyer: The MSL Society is a Non-Profit organization exclusively dedicated to serving as this voice and advancing the global MSL career!  The MSL Society provides resources for those interested in the MSL role, as well as, professional growth and development opportunities for current MSL Managers and individual MSLs.  Some features of the MSL Society are live conferences featuring prominent speakers where members can interact and share ideas, training for experienced MSLs and candidates who want to break into the role, knowledge-sharing, educational materials, networking opportunities, and career services.

RateMyPI.com: How can The Medical Science Liaison Society help researchers trying to make the transition from academia to a MSL position?

Dr. Dyer: One of the ways to break into the MSL role is to be part of the MSL community.  Joining the MSL Society will enable you to interact with, communicate with, and network with MSLs and be part of their professional community without actually being an MSL yet.  The society will also provide numerous very valuable resources to understanding the MSL role and how to speak the language of the role during interviews.  It will provide a way, during your job search, to be on the inside, rather than being on the outside looking in and be able to position yourself as an expert even when you don’t have MSL experience.  This is the essential way to address the lack of MSL experience obstacle.

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While You Were At the Bench: Week 43

Seven Italian seismologists have been found guilty of manslaughter for the deaths of 29 people killed in the 2009 earthquake that decimated the city of L’Aquila when they incorrectly assessed the risks of ongoing seismic activity in the area.  This judicial ruling has completely shocked the scientific community and sets an interesting precedent for scientific accountability.

The US National Research Council released a report this week stating that CURRENT scale-up methods of algal biofuels for replacing oil and ethanol transporation fuels “would place unsustainable demands on energy, water and nutrients.”  The report goes on to state that these pitfalls are being addressed and none are a definitive barrier to large scale development.  You can read a summary of the report here.

In a follow-up to the Nobel prize in physics, Princeton researchers have used microwave photons to determine the spin states of electrons.  This might allow for quick transfer of quantum information through a computing device. Here is a  summary of the study.

South African researchers have identified two individuals who naturally developed antibodies that target the outer glycan layer on HIV.  These antibodies can kill 88% of the HIV strains found worldwide, which could lead to a completely new class of drugs for treating or even curing HIV.

Here’s one for college students.  A new study out of Rutgers has shown that rats drinking moderately high levels of alcohol daily (the human equivalent of 3-4 beverages per day) did not disrupt learning processes, however, neurogenesis was reduced by 40% in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.  The authors note this level of drinking is closer to binge drinking, rather than moderate levels of alcohol (1-2 beverages daily) that typically show cardiovascular and cognitive health.

Cool photo of the week.  Check out this 9 gigapixel image of the center of the Milky Way (galaxy not candy bar) containing 84 million stars.  The image is a composite of photos from the European Southern Observatory’s VISTA.

Keep this in mind if you ever need to know how to eat a Triceratops.  Paleontologists have concluded from bite marks in Triceratops skull fossils that T-Rex would grip the neck frills to pull the head off and eat the tender meat around the head.   Dinosaurs are cool.

And a big thanks to all the RateMyPI.com blog readers.  Total blog views surpassed the 5K mark this week.  Keep coming back for future blog posts and remember to check out our website.

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How Do Sexist Comments Affect Women in STEM?

The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience brings together neuroscientists from around the world to discuss cutting edge research relevant to their fields of study.

Unfortunately, this year’s conference will be known less for advancements in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders and more for the comments of one participant—evolutionary biologist Dr. Dario Maestripieri from the University of Chicago.  On Sunday, October 14, 2012 Dr. Maestripieri posted the following message on Facebook,

“My impressions of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans.  There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women.  The super model types are completely absent.  What is going on?  Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience?  Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain?  No offense to anyone..”

We can argue whether or not these comments are merely an observation made by a prominent, tenured faculty member specializing in evolutionary biology.    After all, Dr. Maestripieri has openly commented on his blog  that, “Good-looking people are more appealing as potential sex partners and other people choose to interact with them (to spend time near them, talk with them, buy insurance from them, and hire them as employees) so as to increase the chances to have sex with them.”  Or, as some have suggested, a private “joke” intended for 400 Facebook friends and colleagues (personally, the phrase “No offense to anyone..” disavows any claim that this was intended to be a joke).  Regardless of his intentions, these comments provide a real world example to a recent PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy for Sciences) article examining gender biases among scientific faculty in academia.

In case you are unfamiliar with this study, Moss-Raucusin et al., determined that scientific faculty members hire fewer women, offer lower wages, and provide less mentorship to female scientists compared to their male counterparts.  In other words, female scientists, even with credentials identical to their male counterparts, are often viewed as incompetent.    Prior to this study, the misconception for a lack of tenured females in STEM fields was due to family obligations.  It was incorrectly hypothesized that women were at a disadvantage since the critical period in an associate scientist’s career typically coincides with starting a family, thus resulting in lost research year(s) necessary for tenure procurement.  Moss-Raucusin’s study has driven a rather large nail into the coffin of that theory.

Why do I bring this up?  After all, Dr. Maestripieri’s comments did not state any gender bias.  Rather, his comments have taken us further down the rabbit hole.  These comments dig directly at a rarely spoken but prevailing fear of many women in STEM.  Look unattractive and colleagues won’t pay attention to you.  Look too attractive and your research won’t be taken seriously.   There’s no better example than  Nobel laureate Dr. James Watson’s comments in The Double Helix regarding Rosalind Franklin “neglecting to emphasize her feminine qualities.”  I think we all know what happened with her X-ray crystallography data.

The most disconcerting aspect of all of this isn’t that the comments were said (obviously, one must look past the blatantly sexist remarks… made at an international convention… with 28,000 of his peers), but rather Dr. Maestripieri’s role at the University of Chicago.  Whether it be lab managers, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, associate or tenured professors, Dr. Maestripieri has had a role in determining their career progression.  His feelings towards attractive women may or may not have influenced hiring or promotions (either consciously or subconsciously), regardless, Dr. Maestripieri has shown extreme bias towards sexualizing female colleagues while simultaneously denigrating their scientific prowess.

Dr. Maestripieri, with your Facebook post, you have single handedly trivialized every achievement made by female scientists.  Maybe it’s time to hang up your Journal of Neuroscience subscription for some other periodicals.

I think Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt can accommodate.

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