BioScope

A UC Davis Graduate Student Blog

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Informational interviews, a must-do for your next career move.

I truly believe informational interviews are one of the most important things you need to do when you are planning your next career move. An informational interview is a process by which you can access all the insider information about your next job that you most likely not going to find online. Sadly, I found the majority of the graduate students that I have talked to do not really know what it is or the purpose that these interviews serve. For those who have never heard of informational interviews before, it is a non-formal conversation to seek information about specific careers and companies. Although it’s not something from which you can be hired directly, the valuable information that you can get from this can give you a significant competitive edge and some even have received an actual interview directly from their interaction with the interviewer. In my personal experience, I did a couple of informational interviews for industry postdoc positions, and I found there are major differences in the optimal ways to apply for those same positions between companies. Here is a great video from Cheeky Scientist with useful tips and mistakes to avoid when you are conducting an informational interview, and the video is specifically tailored to graduate students. 

-Yulong 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZifvsYPpqH8

 

Edited by Jennifer Baily

This video was originally brought to my attention by the FUTURE program’s course. The FUTURE program is a career exploration/preparation course that I highly recommend to everyone. Here is their website if you are interested https://future.ucdavis.edu/  .   

For any content suggestions or general recommendations, please email to UCDBioScope@gmail.com and put science 2.0 in the title.

Tweet your way to success in science communication

Do you have a Twitter? Do you use Twitter to communicate and promote your science? In the past couple of years, Twitter has developed into the preferred social media platform for scientists to communicate their science to a broader audience. You may have heard of this already and even noticed that your favorite conference now has an official hashtag. However, it can be daunting for many people to make the leap into the Twitter-verse. That includes me. This blog article was co-authored by a UCD graduate student and contributor for Forbes, Priya Shukla(@priyology), is a great beginner guide for scientists who want to start their own Twitter. It also contains many useful tips and suggestions tailored for scientists to get you up running in no time. As the article suggests, communicating your science to a broader audience can help you become more well known in your field and even may help you to find your next job. 

https://www.thexylom.com/scientists-meet-twitter

-Yulong Liu 

 

Edited by Keith Fraga

This article was originally introduced to me from the FUTURE program’s course. The FUTURE program is a career exploration/preparation course that I highly recommend everyone to take. Here is their website if you are interested https://future.ucdavis.edu/  .   

 

For any content suggestions or general recommendations, please email to UCDBioScope@gmail.com and put science 2.0 in the title.

(Ethically) Talking Science

Written by Aiyana Emigh

Edited by Emily Cartwright

 

What does it mean to ethically communicate your science? What are our responsibilities as graduate students doing scientific research? What policies govern our actions? Although these questions seem straightforward, the answers are deceptively elusive. 

Since starting graduate school, I’ve participated in several programs that emphasize the importance of everyone sharing their science and engaging with people outside of their immediate scientific community in order to hone my science communication skills. I even published an article last year in the Davis Enterprise calling for more public engagement by scientists. What was missing in nearly all of these discussions was the topic of whether we as scientists are communicating about our work responsibly – ethically. How are we depicting our research? Are we inflating our results? Are we misrepresenting reality? Are we open about our biases?

Take the “CRISPR Babies” controversy as an example: scientists have decried the ill-advised embryonic genome editing as an unacceptable ethics violation. However, their responses to this controversy do not actually address the ethical concerns. Leading CRISPR scientists seem to be more concerned with their ability to continue their research rather than the ethical question: Should their research be done at all? 

An article in Discover Magazine does a good job at highlighting the failures of our current system to regulate ethical violations. Whose ethics are being upheld? Are we asking the right people the right questions? At the most recent International Summit on Human Genome Editing (where the “CRISPR babies” were announced), many presenting researchers disclosed their private business ventures at the start of their talks. Researchers require immense funding to achieve tenure and status within the scientific community, so how much of their communication is biased by their desire to receive grants? Are ethics the number one concern of these scientists upon whom we rely for self-regulation?

The long history of scientific misconduct led me to investigate our own ethical policies at UC Davis. To narrow the broad ethics scope, I focused only on the requirements surrounding the reporting of funding sources and conflicts of interest by campus researchers. The policies are detailed across an unmanageable number of web pages, documents, and training videos. After my first passthrough, I learned PIs are required to self-report new funding sources or conflicts of interest to an internal review committee of fellow professors. 

I emailed the Conflict of Interest Committee (COIC) to confirm my interpretation of the self-reporting policies and was informed that the “complex subject” would be better suited to a phone conversation than emailed correspondence. In this phone call, I explained my inquiry into the university’s guiding policy around financial conflict of interest disclosures for scientists. Surprisingly, I was asked whether this phone call was “on the record” and met with repeated assurances that graduate students do not typically meet disclosure requirements. Seeking guidance in person proved to be almost as challenging.

My correspondence with the COIC ultimately confirmed that there is no blanket requirement for reporting funding sources or conflicts of interest for anyone. They reasoned that specific conferences or journals may have their own reporting requirements and they did not want to risk conflict with these policies. 

Yet, this policy is not reflected across the University of California system. For example, UC Irvine requires “disclosure of related financial interests in publications and presentations to promote transparency” regardless of the venue or publication requirements. It stands to reason that a venue or publication would have very little impact on the overall responsibility of researchers to disclose funding sources and financial conflicts of interest. Current UC Davis COIC policy might be reinforced by requirements similar to UC Irvine. 

The scientific community is at a critical stage. As the University of California cancels its subscription contract with Elsevier and we push for more open access to scientific research, we also need to push for transparency in other areas such as ethics. Are our policies adequate? Whose interests are being served? What can graduate students do today to promote research transparency? Are we critically examining our own lab practices? We should be doing everything we can to practice and communicate our science in an ethical manner. 

An important (but unfortunately not well known) resource available to our community is the Ethics Commons. This is a multidisciplinary group composed of faculty from across the entire UC Davis campus who serve as a resource to help us think about the “transformation and integration of ethical considerations in research, education, and public engagement.” Let’s make ethics an integral part of how we do science and how we share it. 

Keep calm and read on – Top tips for staying on top of your reading

Do you know there are about 2.5 million papers published each year? It certainly can be difficult and daunting to keep track of the relevant papers that are related to your research. You may already know about using Google Scholar or PubCrawler to keep you updated, but are you using them efficiently? I have seen many people’s weekly update with hundreds of papers because they are using very general terms. It’s understandable that you don’t want to miss anything, but you are going to spend so much time combing through them. Here are the “Ten tips to stay on top of your reading during grad school” from the publisher PLOS, including tips on how to optimize your search terms by using Boolean operators like AND and OR.

https://blogs.plos.org/thestudentblog/2017/01/12/ten-tips-to-stay-on-top-of-your-reading-during-grad-school/

 

-Yulong Liu

 

Edited by Emily Cartwright

Suggested by Keith Fraga

For any content suggestions or general recommendations, please email to UCDBioScope@gmail.com and put science 2.0 in the title.

The magic cut on target DNA by CRISPR/Cas9

Author: Hongyan Hao

Editor: Keith Fraga

 

It has been more than 150 years since Gregor Mendel’s pea plant experiment demonstrated that ‘invisible factors’ determine the traits of organisms. It is doubtful that it would cross his mind that one day people could directly make changes to the “invisible factors”, which we call genes today, and alter these traits. Since the first transgenic Escherichia coli obtained antibiotic resistance in 1970s, tools have been developed to modify the genes of microbes, cell lines, plants, animals, and even human patients.

The principle of gene editing is based on the observation that cells can repair double strand breaks (DSB) through either the error prone pathway called non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) which sticks the two ends together or homologous recombination (HR) pathway that precisely repair the break using a template. Thus, the key to edit genes is to induce a site-specific DSB in the DNA sequence and allow the cell’s HR machinery to introduce the edit.

Standing out as a novel tool, the Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) system was soon appreciated and widely used by biologists for gene editing since its discovery. Originally found in bacteria, CRISPR arrays contain short repeated DNA sequences separated by unique spacers acquired from phage DNA (protospacer) upon previous infection. When the same phage DNA is detected, the CRISPR array processes the corresponding CRISPR RNA (crRNA) and trans-activating CRISPR RNA (tracrRNA) that form a duplex to bring the nuclease Cas9 to the matching external protospacer DNA and destroy it. The phage DNA contains a 5’-NGG-3’ protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) which is not present in the CRISPR array, so that the system can distinguish self-sequence and the phage DNA .

Given the ability to specifically cut the external phage DNA upon reinfection, the bacterial CRISPR/Cas9 system was soon adapted and developed as a tool for gene editing. CRISPR/Cas9 uses a single nuclease Cas9 and two RNA molecules to perform site-directed DNA editing. The crRNA identifies target DNA and the tracrRNA glues the crRNA to Cas9 to direct the protein to target DNA. Notably, a single guide RNA (gRNA) combines crRNA and tracrRNA into a single RNA molecule also has the full gene-editing activity in vivo and in vitro. Thus, a designed gRNA combines with Cas9 protein makes a versatile, cheap, easy to use, and efficient gene-editing tool.

Detailed structural biology studies has helped understand the complex mechanisms to this critical aspects of CRISPR/Cas9 action (reviewed by Jiang et. al. 2017). How does the Cas9/gRNA complex search the genome for the target? How is the nuclease activity of Cas9 only simulated at matching sequences? How prevalent are off-target effects, and how can the practitioner avoid these effects?

 

 How does the Cas9/gRNA complex search the genome for the target?

Cas9 is structurally organized into two distinct lobes, the target DNA recognition lobe (REC) that and the nuclease (NUC) lobe. The recognition lobe is made up of three alpha-helical domains, and the NUC lobe contains HNH-like and RuvC-like nuclease domains that create a break on each strand, as well as the C-terminal domain (CTD), which contains the PAM recognition site. The two lobes are connected by an arginine-rich linker (figure 1). Three major regulatory steps occur to achieve the efficient yet specific cut.

  • First, the gRNA binds  Cas9 which leads to a large  conformational change to activate Cas9 (Figure 1).
  • Second, the Cas9-gRNA complex binds to the target DNA PAM. PAM binding melts the adjacent DNA and plays an important role in crRNA/target-DNA strand hybrid formation (Figure 2).
  • Third, the perfect match of crRNA and the target strand induces another conformational change which activate the nuclease activity to make the double strand break  (Figure 3).

gRNA loading is the key for CRISPR to work. Without gRNA binding, the Cas9 protein is inactive and binds DNA weakly and nonspecifically. Structural studies also revealed  there is a large conformational change in Cas9 where Helix-III (Hel-III) in the REC domain moves towards the HNH nuclease domain upon guide RNA loading, illustrated in the Figure 1 cartoon.

Cas9/gRNA complex recognizes a 20-nucleotide (nt) complementary DNA sequence adjacent to the 5’-NGG-3’ PAM. With the conformational change, the 5’-NGG-3’ PAM recognition sites in the CTD domains are also repositioned to be able to form base-specific hydrogen bonds with the conserved GG (Figure 1). Moreover, the ribose-phosphate backbone of the guide RNA contacts with Cas9 and the 3’ 10-nt crRNA sequence (seed sequence) is prepositioned in a target binding favorable form. Now, the Cas9/gRNA complex is ready for target search.



Figure 1: Cas9 protein contains the nuclease (NUC) lobe and the recognition lobe (REC) that are connected by an  arginine-rich linker. Two arginines in the CTD (C-terminal domain)are exposed upon guide RNA(gRNA) loading, which will search for the target DNA PAM site and bind to it.  

Single molecule studies have revealed that Cas9/gRNA searches its target in a three-dimensional way rather than sliding on the DNA sequence. PAM probing is the key step to direct the Cas9 to potential targets. The base-specific hydrogen bonds between the GG and the R1333 and R1335 in the CTD domain are made in the major groove of DNA, which confers higher sequence specificity. A single mutation in the PAM site to 5’-NCG-3’ abolishes the double strand break created by CRISPR/Cas9. Interestingly, Cas9 with engineered (T1337R) PAM recognition site  engages a fourth guanine could recognize 5’-NGNG-3’ to introduce the DSB, further supports the importance of PAM recognition by CRISPR/Cas9.

 

How is the nuclease activity of Cas9 only simulated at matching sequences?

PAM-binding destabilizes the DNA duplex and triggers the Watson-Crick base pair between the crRNA and the target DNA (Figure 2). Next a series of three dynamic conformational changes occur to favor the DNA/crRNA hybrid formation, which is the rate-limiting step for Cas9/gRNA to make the double strand break revealed by kinetic studies.

  • First, the hydrogen-bond association of PAM with the CTD domain results in longer binding time between the gRNA and target DNA, which enables the following RNA/DNA hybrid formation.
  • Second, the phosphate in the target strand adjacent to the 5’ end of the PAM undergoes an unfavorable kink turn, which is stabilized by a phosphate lock loop (K1107-S1109) in Cas9. This kink contributes to both DNA double helix unwinding and the crRNA/DNA duplex formation.
  • Third, Cas9 CTD-domain makes Van der Waals interactions with the DNA phosphate backbone of the PAM-containing non-target strand. The nucleotide immediately upstream of PAM in the non-target strand stacks on the PAM duplex to stabilize it and the non-target strand kinks. The disordered non-target strand is then stabilized by the interaction between Cas9 and the -2 and -3 nucleotides. The kink in the non-target strand also helps to expose the two seed nucleotide strand to initiate RNA/DNA duplex formation. This is consistent with the observation that the mismatch of the two-crRNA nucleotide adjacent to PAM is intolerable while off-target DSB could occur in the DNA sequence homology to the seed region.


Figure 2: PAM-binding of Cas9/gRNA complex and initiation of crRNA/target DNA hybridization.

Upon PAM recognition and DNA/RNA duplex formation, each DNA strand is positioned to be cleaved by the nuclease domains HNH (target strand) and RuvC (non-target strand) 3nt upstream of the PAM. Off-target analysis suggested that there is far more Cas9/gRNA-DNA-binding events than the cleavage in the cell, which indicates that the PAM-binding alone is not enough to trigger the nuclease activity. In fact, 10-14nt complementary crRNA to the target strand is essential for the activation of the nuclease activity.

FRET experiments revealed that the distal complementary crRNA/target DNA duplex is a checkpoint which triggers a large conformational change to activate the HNH nuclease activity (Figure 3). The two hinge regions that link HNH and RuvC are important for RuvC nuclease activation to cut the non-target 3nt upstream of the NGG. Interestingly, the conformational change where HNH nuclease domain interacts with Helix-II (Hel-II) upon dsDNA binding might play important roles in locking the HNH domain in an active state. After the cleavage, the Cas9 protein remains to bind with PAM, and the in vivo mechanism to remove Cas9 to facilitate further DNA repair remains unclear.



Figure 3: Activation of Cas9 HNH and Ruv-C nuclease activity to create the double strand break

 

How can the practitioner increase efficiency decrease off-target effects?

With the structural knowledge of how  CRISPR/Cas9 produces a location-specific DSB, people can control the process by protein engineering for better gene-editing or even broader applications. For example, point mutation on the nuclease domain HNH (H840A) and RuvC (D10A) converts the enzyme into nickase, which only creates a single strand break on non-target strand or the target stand, respectively. The advantage with a DNA nickase is DNA nicks tend to induce HR DNA repair pathway over the error prone NHEJ (Maizels and Davis, 2018). Interestingly, the cleavage efficiency of the paired engineered Cas9 (D10A) nickases is more efficient or comparable to individual Cas9, suggesting engineering Cas9 for specific functions is possible without loss of efficiency (Gopalappa et al., 2018). A recent study showed that fusion of Rad51 (a DNA repair protein) or its variants with Cas9(D10A) nickase promotes HR DNA-repair at the DNA nicks and decreased off-target effects in some cell lines (Rees et. al. 2019). Fusion of Cas9 with a structurally unstable protein domain such as dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) lead to the degradation of the protein under normal conditions. With trimethoprim (TMP) application, DHFR-Cas9 can be stabilized in a short period of time for gene editing, and the TMP can be removed to limit Cas9 activity to reduce off-target effects.

 

What else can we do with CRISPR/Cas9?

The double mutation of H840A and D10A results in a catalytic dead enzyme dCas9, which still retains the target DNA binding ability. dCas9 is widely used in different applications by fusion with various active domains. When fused with cytidine deaminase, Cas9 can become a base editor; when fused with transcriptional activators and repressors, Cas9 can be used to specifically regulate gene expression. Fusion of cytosine DNA methyltransferase with dCas9 can confer the protein epigenetic regulation ability in a sequence specific manner. Also, fusion of a fluorescent protein with dCas9 has been used for imaging genomic loci in live cells.

The last decade has witnessed the discovery and improvement of CRISPR/Cas9 tool kit  for both gene editing and other amazing applications. Yet, there still remains plenty of room for engineering more efficiency and precision to CRISPR/Cas9 function. It will be exciting to see how lessons and techniques learned in the CRISPR/Cas9 community lead to the next big thing in gene-editing. Let’s keep our eyes open to see what is going to come with the CRISPR/Cas9 legend!

 

 

References:

Jiang, Fuguo, and Jennifer A. Doudna. “CRISPR–Cas9 structures and mechanisms.” Annual review of biophysics 46 (2017): 505-529.

Gopalappa, Ramu, Bharathi Suresh, Suresh Ramakrishna, and Hyongbum Kim. “Paired D10A Cas9 nickases are sometimes more efficient than individual nucleases for gene disruption.” Nucleic acids research 46, no. 12 (2018): e71-e71.

Gong, Shanzhong, Helen Hong Yu, Kenneth A. Johnson, and David W. Taylor. “DNA unwinding is the primary determinant of CRISPR-Cas9 activity.” Cell reports 22, no. 2 (2018): 359-371.

Ribeiro, Lucas F., Liliane FC Ribeiro, Matheus Q. Barreto, and Richard J. Ward. “Protein engineering strategies to expand CRISPR-Cas9 applications.” International journal of genomics 2018 (2018).

Maizels, Nancy, and Luther Davis. “Initiation of homologous recombination at DNA nicks.” Nucleic acids research 46, no. 14 (2018): 6962-6973.

Rees, Holly A., Wei-Hsi Yeh, and David R. Liu. “Development of hRad51–Cas9 nickase fusions that mediate HDR without double-stranded breaks.” Nature communications 10, no. 1 (2019): 2212.

Graduate School Beyond the Lab

Author: Sharon Lee

Editor: Anna Feitzinger

How often have you looked through the window and thought to yourself, “Oh, it’s such a nice day outside. The sun is shining …” and immediately remember that you had signed up to use the microscope and will be inside a dark room for the rest of your afternoon?

Or wondered what else could you be doing during your graduate school years, other than meticulously pipet precise amounts of solutions and stare at computer screens to make sense of your fresh new data obtained using a protocol that took you half a year to optimize?

As graduate students, we are often so focused in completing our core classes, passing our qualifying exam, and gathering data for a publication that we forget all the other opportunities available to us in graduate school. We immerse ourselves into becoming the next Einstein that our days start and end at our lab doors.

Conducting rigorous research is definitely at the core of a successful graduate school experience. However, one might argue that gaining leadership and communication skills are just as important. So, whether you are simply looking for a reason to take a break and step outside or wanting something more to do beyond just your lab, check out some of the awesome graduate student groups on campus and consider volunteering for one of their fun events!

Young Scientist Program (YSP)

The Young Scientist Program is a collaborative effort between scientists and teachers to improve K-12 science education through interactive activities in the classrooms. Founded by BMCDB graduate student, Briana Rocha-Gregg back in 2014 and currently led by BMCDB graduate students Jennifer Baily and Abby Primack, YSP aims to empower all children to pursue higher education and careers in STEM fields. As graduate students, there are multiple ways to get involved in YSP from program management and event planning to designing fun instructional science worksheets for teachers to use in their classroom.

Jennifer and Aron Judd, a new YSP volunteer, joined the program as it reminded them about similar outreach work they did as undergraduates in their previous institutions.

 “Participating in YSP exposes you to the economic status of a lot [of] schools around Davis and puts you on the forefront of inspiring children to pursue science.” – Aron Judd Mendiola, current YSP volunteer and 1st year BMCDB graduate student.

For George Bell, a veteran YSP member since 2015, it was the students’ enthusiasm for playing with microscopes and extracting strawberry DNA that he found infectious and a worthy goal to pursue.

If you are passionate about giving back to the community and serving those who may not have access to science education, YSP can provide you with the opportunity to make a difference! Check out their website and look out for upcoming volunteering events.

STEM for Girls

STEM for Girls is an annual one-day outreach event hosted by the UC Davis Women’s Resource and Research Center in collaboration with Associate Professor Dr. Tina Jeoh. Organized by a committee of graduate students from various graduate groups, STEM for Girls invites over 50 middle school girls from the Woodland and Sacramento areas to UC Davis for a full day of interactive immersion into STEM. The goals of the program is to build the confidence of these young children, coming from mostly underrepresented and lower socioeconomic communities, in their abilities to participate in STEM and more importantly to introduce them to relatable and accessible STEM role models.

A Biomedical Engineering graduate student and a member in this year’s STEM for Girls planning committee, Alena Casella is excited to connect with the girls and be a role model for them. Although organized by graduate students, the STEM for Girls event is open to anyone at UC Davis who is interested in helping out as one of several team leaders or a volunteer. Undergraduate Charlyn Ritchie, who was a team leader last year, led a group of 10 girls to different workshops, lab tours and demonstrations through the day while answering any questions the girls had.

The 8th Annual STEM for Girls event will take place on Saturday, May 11th, 2019. Fill out an application form if you would like to volunteer by Friday, May 3rd, and share all things you love about science to a little one. If you missed this year’s deadline to volunteer, fret not and keep an eye out for the event when it comes back again next year!

Equity in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Entrepreneurship (ESTEME)

Formed by two graduate students, Nicole Nunez and Jeni Lee, originally as Women in Leadership back in 2013, ESTEME has come a long way since then. Today, the mission of this graduate student-run organization is to raise awareness and promote inclusion of all individuals interested in STEM and entrepreneurship. ESTEME is unique in its two branch systems where one branch focuses on outreach and the other in professional development. Current ESTEME members can take advantage of both and participate in either depending on their interests.

Under their Outreach branch head by Co-Vice Presidents, the organization provides graduate students with the opportunities to be involved in science communication and outreach at the K-8 level.

 “We both wanted to join a community that was actively engaged in improving diversity and addressing some of the inequities in STEM fields outside of the university setting.” – Alexus Roberts and Hannah Nelson, Co-Vice Presidents of ESTEME Outreach.

In the Professional Development branch, led by Vice President Linda Ma, ESTEME aims to bridge the gap for graduate students from underrepresented groups in the sciences to pursue STEM careers after their PhD.

Sign up to receive updates on when the next ESTEME outreach or professional development meeting will be taking place via esteme.ucd@gmail.com. Meanwhile, browse through their website to learn more.

Science Says

Science Says is a science communication group at UC Davis primarily made up of graduate students from various backgrounds and early career scientists. The overarching goal of the organization is to make science interesting, relevant, and accessible to everyone through communicating science in easy, comprehensible ways to the general public.

One of the ways the group achieves this goal is through their blog, Science REALLY says, which seeks to ensure that scientific data is accurately represented and not lost in translation when it reaches the broader audience through the media. Science Says also collaborates with other science communication groups such as CapSciComm from Sacramento and invites experts from the field of science communication to campus to train interested students.

Destiny Davis, current President of Science Says, found the organization to provide her an outlet for a different sort of creativity other than her research work, including a supportive community of scientists. Sydney Wyatt, Social Media Chair on the leadership team, joined the group out of her interest in written communication and to help the group’s mission to curate a well-informed scientifically literate public.

For more information about this dynamic group, visit their website and send them an email at ucdavisspcg@gmail.com if you are interested in becoming more involved.

BioScope

Stemmed from the idea and eagerness to share experiences of biomedical sciences graduate students, BioScope is a blog created by a group of BMCDB graduate students with the guidance of Professor Dr. Sean Burgess.

The online publication features written content covering topics ranging from science policy and ethical issues surrounding the use of scientific technologies to open discussions and tips for success in graduate school. Since its inception in 2018, BioScope has expanded to include students from other graduate programs. It also offers anyone in the UC Davis community with the opportunity to write special featured articles as invited writers without long-term commitments and involvement within the organization.  

Current Co-Editor in Chief and founding member, Keith Fraga describes BioScope as a collaborative opportunity for graduate students across the life sciences at UC Davis. BioScope is an up-and-coming graduate student group looking for new contributors to take on leadership roles and shape the organization’s future as it continues to grow.

 “Part of the challenge is balancing leadership roles with other graduate school responsibilities, but the outcome is always fulfilling.” – Anna Feitzinger, Co-Editor in Chief of BioScope.

Take a break and read one of the many articles published on the BioScope website. If you have an idea or a story in mind that you would like to share and write about, reach out to the group at UCDBioScope@gmail.com.

 

What can you do in an hour?

Author: Aiyana Emigh

Editor: Keith Fraga 

 

Earlier last month, the White House released the president’s FY2020 budget proposal. For those of us supported by non-defense federal funding sources, this proposal should worry you: the budget asks for a $54 billion (9%) drop in spending for R&D programs. A detailed analysis of the proposed R&D budget can be found here. However, there is hope.

This past week, I was selected by the UC Davis Government and Community Relations office to be one of two students sponsored by UC Davis to attend the annual AAAS CASE Workshop in Washington DC. This program included three days of workshops on science policy, advocacy and communication followed by a day of meetings with the offices of congressional members.

 

On our day of meetings, the California student delegation met with the offices of Senator Feinstein, Senator Harris, Speaker Pelosi, and House Minority Leader McCarthy. The UC Davis students additionally met with Representatives Garamendi, Bera, and Matsui who represent the greater Sacramento area. Every office expressed their fervent support for our research efforts.  While #MakingOurCASE for federal science funding, a legislative staffer in Pelosi’s office directly stated that the president’s budget was “not a starting point for negotiations.” There is strong bipartisan support for science funding.

 

However, this doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax. Although general support for science is strong, research on key politicized issues (such as climate change) is still controversial. And, with the Democrat majority in the House for the first time in 8 years, the funding of many important social programs are high priority and means a tighter budget. So the next question is: how can you get involved?

 

One of the most important workshop sessions I attended this week was led by Erin Heath, the Associate Director of Government Relations at AAAS. What I found significant during her talk was her recognition that graduate students are extremely busy–we don’t have a lot of time to spare and there is often an energetic barrier to trying unfamiliar things. She broke down her presentation into segments of what we could do in an hour, day, week, year or lifetime to participate in science advocacy efforts. In just one hour, you can:

 

  • Vote: This opportunity may only come up every once in a while, but it is one of the most important things you can do: help elect future leaders who are responsive to the needs of our community and will advocate on our behalf. It is easier than ever before to be an informed voter.

 

  • Learn: Do you not feel informed on a topic? Are you unsure who your representatives are? Do you want to know what is going on in the science policy world? Spend a free hour to research a topic, sign up for updates from science policy news sources, watch a webinar, discuss issues with people in your community, or check out resources available through your scientific society. The first barrier to action is lack of information.

 

  • Reach Out: This is the crucial time of year for science advocacy efforts. The Senate and House have just started holding appropriations hearings that will decide next year’s funding levels. Reaching out to your representatives and senators and telling them your story and why science funding is important to you and your district can be very powerful. This can be done with a quick phone call, email, or visit to their local offices. Alternatively (or additionally), you can meet with someone from our government relations office at UC Davis to share your story and/or talk to them about how to get involved.

 

The ability to make a difference is within reach. Stay informed, speak out, and take action.

 

Keep an eye out for more upcoming posts on the topics of science policy, advocacy, and communication and what you can do with more than one hour!

 

Be the change, speak up.

I often hear people’s reaction to people who speak up about different issues is “what’s that going to change?” It’s one of the most frustrating reactions to me, and you can hear those reactions across a wide range of issues from expressing concerns of inappropriate behaviors to national political issues. It is important to remember that speaking up about an issue is an essential first step to bring about change. I certainly understand that speaking up is not the best solution for every issue, but how many times do you refrain from speaking up out of fear? As for myself, fear is certainly the dominant reason that prevents me from speaking up in many of those appropriate situations.

This podcast episode from NPR’s Ted Radio Hour explores the different aspects of speaking up. It features the tremendous difficulties faced by climate scientist James Hansen when he speaks up about climate change, and social psychologist Adam Galinsky talking about the dilemma of speaking up and potential solutions. I hope this can inspire us all to speak up just a little bit more often to initiate that crucial first step for change. For those already doing so in those appropriate situations, I applaud you. 👏👏👏

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/522852772/speaking-up

 

Yulong

 

Edited by Sydney Wyatt

For any content suggestions or general recommendations, please email to UCDBioScope@gmail.com and put science 2.0 in the title.

I Work For You

Author: Keith Fraga

Editor: Sydney Wyatt

 

Current political turmoil in the US and abroad fosters uncertainty in the support for science. However, despite political and social divisions, science funding has experienced surprising support. Where does this support come from and where can scientists have an optimistic perspective of the future?

I argue the source of optimism for scientists is the long-standing positive relationship between science and the public. Broadly speaking, the relationship between science and the public consists of two different problems evaluated at two resolutions. On one end, the relationship is driven by passing policies and laws that advance scientists’ ability to do science. At this resolution, scientists can positively interact with citizens to influence public opinion and contribute to an informed public.

At the policy level, optimism comes from the historical and present bipartisan support for science funding. The support for science is one of the best examples of cooperation between Democratic and Republican lawmakers. As seen in Figure 1, government funding for science has exponentially increased since the1950s. This trend continues in 2018 where the federal science research budget increase was the largest in over 10 years.

As graduate students and scientists, we have a high demand for competitive science research funding from the federal government. In uncertain political times, we need to rely on the traditions of bipartisanship to continue the historical support for science.

 



[This image is directly from a Congressional Research Report written by John F Sargent Jr.]

Yet, there still remains significant political uncertainty in the future support for science. For instance, President Trump was reluctant to sign the 2018 spending bill that brought the substantial increase to US research funding, threatening the success of future deals. Future of science funding worldwide is uncertain due to rising populist governments, such as in Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

This is where scientists could focus on public opinion. Public opinion has a remarkable effect on government policy, proving the importance of maintaining our relationship with citizens. Fundamentally, bipartisan legislation advancing US research funding was undergirded by widespread public support for science.

The National Science Foundation sponsors surveys measuring public sentiment on science. They recently compiled a report demonstrating that public support for science continues to be high. Over 75% of Americans strongly approve of government supporting science research. Additionally, Americans maintain high confidence in the science community second only to the military.  

Public confidence in science is not without limits. On specific scientific problems, the public is skeptical of supporting issues like climate change, vaccination, and genetically modified food.   

Therefore, there still remains room for improvement in building more trust in scientific information. Furthermore, curating positive support from the public requires maintenance through effective communication.

This past September, Dr. Mary Woolley, the CEO of science policy interest group Research!America, discussed two strategies on how scientists can personally engage with citizens.

First, scientists understand that support for science pushes society into the future and can use a “Then-Now-Imagine” argument structure to describe the importance of support to non-experts.

For example, when curating support for vaccine development:  “Remember back then, polio was a major world-wide disease? Now, we don’t have to worry about polio because we developed a vaccine. Imagine if we can do that with cancer or HIV. That is what science can do.” This “Then-Now-Imagine” strategy can help citizens see the real return on investment in science.  

The second skill Dr. Woolley presented was the “I work for you” approach. Since the government has a major share of US science funding, scientists salaries come in whole or in part come from taxes. Scientists in many respects truly work for the citizens due to this fact.

So when a non-scientist asks you, “Hey, what do you do for a living?”, we can directly say, “Well, I actually work for you.” Dr. Woolley during her seminar shared two powerful anecdotes where individual scientists used the “I work for you” approach.

In one story, a scientist was at a coffee shop working, and out of curiosity from the interesting graphs on the scientist’s laptop, another customer asked what they do for a living. The scientist took the “I work for you” approach, and proceeded to share exactly how they worked for this curious citizen. The citizen was so impressed that they ended up endowing the scientist’s Department Chair position.

In a different setting, a scientist was on a plane, and struck up a conversation with the passenger next to them. Again, this scientist used the “I work for you” strategy, and the fellow passenger was inspired to organize a petition to support science funding.

These anecdotes don’t directly demonstrate the broad effectiveness of the “I work for you” strategy. But imagine, what if someone said that to you? How would you feel? Would you be curious? Would you want to learn more? It’s not everyday you randomly learn you have employees in this world. The key, ultimately, is we all can take initiative in positively impacting people we meet by explaining the productive investment they make in supporting science.  

Like many fellow graduate students, I struggle seeing the divisive ideas in American politics regarding science policy. At times, I focus too much on the political drama and feel pessimistic about the future. But in writing this article, speaking to peers, attending science advocacy seminars, I see an optimistic path to a fact-based future. I am optimistic, knowing that small interactions with fellow citizens could have surprising impacts. Alone, my impact may be small, but together we can have a powerful effect.

 

Further Reading

There is a wide, and complex literature on the effects of public opinion on government policy. I found the article Burstein P. (2010) Public Opinion, Public Policy, and Democracy. In: Leicht K.T., Jenkins J.C. (eds) Handbook of Politics. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Springer, New York, NY to demonstrate utility of public opinion on formation of policy and specific issues with correctly evaluating public opinion’s impact. For the purposes of this article, public opinion impact on science funding is well documented.

Mastering the art and science of good presentation design

Powerpoint presentation is one of the most effective ways to communicate our science. However, mastering the art of presentation can be a long and enduring journey. There are two parts of a good presentation. One is about speaking, and the other is the actual presentation itself. If you have a fear of public speaking, please check out our previous post on “combat the public speaking fear”.

This post focuses on the design components of a good presentation. Luckily for us, there are many fundamental principles that you can learn from this short-ish video to help you achieve that mastery. This video, suggested by Hongyang Hao from Dan Starr’s lab, features Stanford neurologist Susan McConnell. Susan McConnell is a world-respected scholar and science communicator with iBiology. She is a member of both National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she is also both an HHMI scholar and a Pew Scholar. The list goes on and on.

You may know some of the recommendations already from the video, especially, if you are a UC Davis BMCDB graduate student who went through our awesome rotation class. However, I’m sure there is much more new information that you can learn from this video. Also, it is just a good practice to systematically evaluate your presentation skills once a while, and make sure your presentations don’t have the pitfalls mentioned in the video.

Mentioning the rotation class made me remember my first presentation in that class. All I can say is “ughhhhh”. I’m so glad it is better now.  

Yulong

Want to see more awesome videos like this one? Make sure to check out iBiology and their videos on the importance of giving a good presentation and more tips on creating effective slides.

 

Suggested by Hongyan Hao

Edited by Anna Feitzinger, Keith Fraga

For any content suggestions or general recommendations, please email to UCDBioScope@gmail.com and put science 2.0 in the title.

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