Friday, 21 March 2014 08:13

There and Back Again: The Beginning of iBiology

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ibiology teamThe iBiology team:
Left to right:
Sarah Goodwin, Laurence Clement,
and Eric Kornblum
On a cold morning in Nashville, Tennessee, Ron Vale, professor at the University of California San Francisco, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, recalls the story of the beginnings of iBiology. Vale's inspiration for iBiology dates back to 2006 while he was on a trip to India. Vale had the chance to talk to around 120 people from some of the country's leading scientific institutions. However, he kept thinking about the people who didn't have a chance to come to his talks. So he started to "think of new ways for people who are not in leading institutions to also have access to leading scientists" he said.

Shortly after that trip, he put his idea into practice, starting iBiology with a goal to communicate seminars through the web to people who didn't have access to great talks. However, iBiology has grown into much more than that.

"It was a good lesson on how to do things in life," Vale said. Getting the money to change the project from an idea into practice was hard. Luckily, the Global Health Science Initiative at UCSF loved the idea and gave Vale $2,000 to start the project. That was enough to film the first four videos in a studio with a green screen. Those four videos are from Joseph DeRisi, Julie Theriot, Baldomero Olivera, and Vale himself. At that time, the iBiology team was Vale and a videographer who worked at UCSF. That meant that Vale had to do a lot of work. "It was a bit of a juggling act, it is still a juggling act," Vale said.

After that, the International Affairs Committee at ASCB became interested, so Vale got help and started building the website in a collaboration with the ASCB. Later on, HHMI awarded Ron Vale $30,000 to continue the project, and, thanks to that, 16 more videos were produced. iBiology was growing bit by bit.

HHMI kept supporting iBiology, and on top of that the National Science Foundation, through the ASCB, started to fund iBiology. With this, Vale was able to hire a team, including two PhD communicators and a full-time videographer, who could focus solely on iBiology.

Every video requires a lot of work to produce: picking the speakers, creating the slides, filming, and editing. The iBiology team is very passionate about the project. More than a job, it is a mission. iBiology's goals and plans go beyond just producing videos. The aim is to communicate the excitement of doing science, showing people the thinking involved in choosing a scientific question, how to interpret data, and where to go from there. iBiology looks to fill the void missing in textbooks and classwork, which focus mostly on facts.

iBiology is an unparalleled source to learn science from great scientists who are leaders in a variety of fields. If you are trying learn about a new field, the talks will give you a nice introduction (great for a qualifying exam!). Go to iBiology and learn from the best! Also, don't be afraid to give suggestions. The iBiology team will be very grateful.

Kenyi Saito-Diaz

Kenyi Saito-Diaz is a graduate student in Ethan Lee's lab at Vanderbilt University. He is interested in the regulation of signaling pathways and the crosstalk occurring between them. Also, as an international student, he is interested in helping fellow international students and postdocs in their careers.

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