ASCB Kaluza Prize Reflects ASCB’s Concern that Young Scientists Are Now a Vulnerable Population

lab equipment 2010The ASCB Kaluza Prize recognizes significant research
achievement by early career scientists who still pursue
excellence amidst economic uncertainties and
political shortsightedness. ASCB Photo.
In the midst of the frantic preparations here at the national office for the Annual Meeting and the ASCB Council, plus end-of-year budgeting and all the rest just around the corner, I want to pause to salute the winners of the ASCB Kaluza Prize supported by Beckman Coulter for outstanding graduate student research. The news of the ASCB Kaluza winner and nine additional ASCB Beckman Coulter Distinguished Graduate Student Achievement travel awards broke today in the ASCB Post. It is a significant moment for our Society as we have made the training of young scientists a priority.

The winner, Tina W. Han, was a graduate student at the University of Texas Southwestern when she did her Kaluza-winning research. Han is now a postdoc at UCSF. Her research, together with that of the other nine Kaluza distinguished researchers, simply wowed the selection committee of cell biology superstars. This is a group of scientists who are hard to impress—trust me, I work with them regularly—and who rarely bust out with high praise. But faced with the Kaluza entries, they sang a different song indeed. So my congratulations go to all the winners. I too was impressed by your abundant talent and evident passion which you translated into outstanding results in cell biology. Perhaps in the future this work will open the road to concrete applications in health or other areas that benefit society. I see in these young but already distinguished scientists the thought leaders of the future. It is an honor to ASCB to have you among our members.

I am particularly proud of this initiative because it is the result of a new partnership with a company, Beckman-Coulter, which provided much of the funding for the ASCB Kaluza Prize project. Like many other projects that we are planning for 2014, this initiative with the private sector is not about promoting a specific company or their products; rather, it is about bringing together natural allies and needed resources to support the best science and the brightest scientists. This prize is about promoting cell biology and basic science. It is about strengthening our workforce by accelerating the careers of our younger members.

The ASCB Kaluza Prize supported by Beckman Coulter is geared toward academic researchers who performed outstanding research during their graduate student training. But the ASCB wants to accelerate the careers of its members in areas beyond traditional academia. As proof of that commitment, we will hold a two-week course in 2014 for ASCB members considering a career in industry. In collaboration with the Keck Graduate Institute and with the generous support of another company, EMB Millipore, ASCB will organize the course, "Managing Science in the Biotech Industry: An Intensive Course for Students and Postdocs," for 40 graduate students and postdocs. They will head for the Keck campus in Claremont, California, to learn how science is done in industry and what skills and competencies they will need to succeed. EMD Millipore, our corporate sponsor, will completely underwrite this high-level course so that the 40 young scientists selected will attend at no cost to themselves. Again, this is another initiative that unites common interests to facilitate professional development of young scientists and accelerate their careers.

This year at ASCB we have paid particular attention to young scientists. Many feel lost in the current fog of bad economics and worse political shortsightedness. They are worried and we are worried about their careers, especially over the next five or so years. At ASCB, we recognize that early career scientists are a vulnerable population today. We know that if we lose this generation of scientists, we risk losing a generation's worth of discovery. A country that has tossed away its rising young scientists will end up as a country short on innovation and short on a future. The ASCB has taken this task of protecting young scientists very seriously because we cannot afford to fail. Among those changes, ASCB established a new committee for postdocs and graduate students (COMPASS). And in a matter of months, COMPASS has amazed us. Its members have started several initiatives, including firing up a trainee-focused blog and increasing professional development at the Annual Meeting.

I like to think that our collective efforts have resulted in some small but encouraging gains. ASCB's graduate student membership is up by 9% this year, which is a significant increase in any membership category. But it is especially heartening to learn that it is young scientists who see ASCB as a society that helps them as individuals and speaks for them as a group. It is easy to over-interpret a single change like this. There could be multiple determinants at work here. Still, it is good news that so many graduate students find value in our initiatives. This is what we are about—offering what our members need.

Which brings me to offer a few words directly to the ASCB Kaluza winners. Where your careers will take you and what you will accomplish by the mid-21st century is impossible to imagine in 2013. But I like to think that this year, ASCB and our friends at Beckman Coulter stepped in at the right time with this prize and with some encouragement. Good luck to you all. We honor you with this prize but you honor us with your membership in the ASCB community. Personally, I cannot wait to meet you—or see you again—in New Orleans.

Stefano Bertuzzi

Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi is the Executive Director of the American Society for Cell Biology. In this position he is responsible, with the ASCB Board, for strategic planning and all operations at the Society to serve the needs of its ~9,000 members and to promote the field of cellular biology and basic science.

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