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ASCB Newsletter - April 2003

Nelson, Werb Run for 2005 Presidency

W. James Nelson of Stanford University and Zena Werb of the University of California, San Francisco, will run for ASCB President-elect this Spring. The winner will serve on the Society’s Executive Committee as Presidentelect in 2004 and as ASCB President in 2005. Four candidates will be elected to the ASCB’s governing Council for three-year terms starting 2004.

An email with a link to the Society’s electronic ballot and candidate biographies is sent to regular and post-doctoral members. Printed biographies and ballots are available to members upon request.


ASCB, Berg Receive National Advocacy Honors

2002 ASCB President Gary Borisy, Executive Director Elizabeth Marincola and Society officer Lawrence Goldstein were presented with the Research!America Award for Outstanding Advocacy by an Organization by R!A President Mary Woolley at ceremonies at the National Academy of Sciences last month.


2003 Program Committee

Vivek Malhotra (Chair)
Richard K. Assoian
Joanne Chory
John A. Cooper
Aaron DiAntonio
Larry A. Feig
B. Brett Finlay
Kathleen Gould
Phyllis I. Hanson
Douglas E. Koshland
Kojo Mensa-Wilmot
Dyche Mullins
Norbert Perrimon
Suzanne R. Pfeffer
Katharine S. Ullman
Claire E. Walczak
Huda Y. Zoghbi


2004 Program Chair Announced

ASCB President-Elect Harvey Lodish has announced the appointment of Sandra Schmid of the Scripps Research Institute to serve as Chair of the ASCB Program Committee for 2004.

Schmid currently serves in her final year of a threeyear term on the ASCB Council.

Schmid will head the Committee charged with planning the scientific program for the 44th ASCB Annual Meeting, to be held in Washington, DC, from December 4-8, 2004. Members are encouraged to send suggestions for the scientific program.


New Forum for Member-Organized Sessions

The 2003 ASCB Council and Program Committee have introduced a new ASCB Annual Meeting forum: Concurrent Symposia. They will be introduced at this year’s ASCB Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

The 90-minute sessions will be scheduled on Wednesday, December 17 from 10:30 AM 12:00 Noon, in lieu of a second morning Symposium. Any ASCB member or member-applicant may propose to organize a session; selections will be made by the Program Committee, and applicants will be notified of acceptance by September 30.

The additional opportunity for members to directly participate in the ASCB Annual Meeting was inspired by the increasing popularity of the Saturday afternoon Special Interest Subgroups, which have been successful to the point that participants have expressed regret that so many excellent Subgroups are held in conflict with each other. Subgroups will continue to be offered on Saturday afternoon, from 1:00 PM 5:30 PM.

The Society will provide space and basic A-V for both forums at no cost to organizers. As with all ASCB Annual Meeting events, participants must be registered for the ASCB Annual Meeting to attend.

To apply to organize either a Concurrent Symposium or a Special Interest Subgroup, send the following information to ASCB no later than July 31.
  1. name and contact information for the ASCB member or member-applicant organizer.
  2. a paragraph describing the proposed topic.
  3. potential speakers (need not be invited nor confirmed).
  4. preference to be scheduled as a Special Interest Subgroup (Saturday, December 13, 1:00 PM 5:30 PM) or a Concurrent Symposium (Wednesday, December 17, 10:30 AM 12:00 Noon).


PostDoc Matters

Report of the National Postdoctoral Association’s Inaugural Meeting

I attended the inaugural meeting of the National Postdoctoral Association1 at which the ASCB took on a prominent role. Key invited lectures were delivered by prominent ASCB members James Nelson, Frank Solomon and Keith Yamamoto. The following is an excerpt of discussions from and reflections of the NPA meeting.

The Postdoctoral Dilemma and Paradox
Currently the administrative and spiritual environment surrounding postdoctoral scholars is geared such that the expectation is that after a brief while in a postdoctoral ‘training’ position, most trainees will continue in an academic setting. However, it is commonly acknowledged that the number of postdoctoral scholars is so large that only a fraction of them will continue in academia. On the other hand, it is not that postdoctoral scholars are unwanted or not needed in academia or industry. Indeed, biomedical research is still growing, and needs people with the skill-level of postdoctoral scholars. Hence, a key problem is that while there is an inadequate number of postdoctoral scholars to run the life sciences, there is too large a number to place all those who would like a long-term career in academics.

Moreover, postdoctoral scholars are not remunerated in proportion to their essential contributions. Former ASCB President and embryologist Donald Brown of the Carnegie Institution of Washington phrased it this way: “What’s the most economical way to fund high-quality research? There’s no question that you get the biggest bang for your buck by using postdocs.2”

Models for Reform of Postdoctoral Positions
In his NPA keynote lecture, Keith Yamamoto suggested that the problem of too many postdoctoral scholars in “the biomedical research pipeline” could be solved by simply moving the “choice point” one step back to the PhD. Thus, he suggested that during a PhD of four-and-a-half years, one should get sufficiently exposed to various career paths so that only those truly aimed at a faculty position would go onto a postdoc of a fouryear duration. He clarified after the lecture: “what is needed is no less than an overhaul [of the system], with development of new principles (and new times of duration) for both graduate and postdoctoral training”.

Frank Solomon proposed the idea that the choice point should be moved even further back to the Bachelor’s degree, and that the bar to enter the PhD track should be significant. He urged that reform be comprehensive, and include training structure, remuneration, the laboratory job market and the role of the principal investigator. He suggested creating more non-training oriented staff scientist positions in order to provide the biomedical research entity with the “hands” needed to do the work. After the meeting he noted: “a crucial point of reformation is to uncouple the training function from the research function, so that the quantitative requirements of the latter don’t distort the number of people recruited for the former. That approach to the problems in the scientific labor market is the rationale for fostering positions for experimentalists.”

At present, there is a consensus that many postdoctoral scholars perceive that they are not predominantly being trained3, but rather identify themselves as workers. Academia might benefit from modeling its management principles on private sector and startup companies where laboratories could run as dynamic entities in which the principal investigator is the senior manager and the postdoctoral scholars serve as junior managers with specific responsibility to drive the research endeavor in a novel direction. Consequently the current rigid academic structure would break down, permanent tenure would largely disappear, the distance between principal investigators and postdoctoral scholars would diminish both in terms of monetary compensation and daily work content, and there would be regular performance assessment of all the parties involved. Sydney Brenner in 2000 suggested that salary for people employed in basic sciences should rise until the age of about 40, and then decline in order to attract the most active and creative young scientists to basic research. After that, these people would apply their experience to management, teaching, journalism, etc.

The Immediate Changes Required for Postdoctoral Scholars
Michael Teitelbaum of the Sloan Foundation noted that it will take time and require patience to reform the postdoctoral experience. For example, at present even simple information about how postdoctoral scholars are affiliated with their institutions and how they experience their job is largely missing. To this end, the NPA is launching a national survey of postdoctoral scholars, and the ASCB Postdoctoral Subcommittee will also launch a survey of its members.

Uniform Classification of Postdoctoral Scholars
Some issues simply require better understanding and clarification. The biggest is the artificial classification of postdoctoral scholars maintained by many institutions, directly effecting compensation. Postdoctoral scholars funded by their own independent fellowship are not classified as employees, whereas those paid from grants to the principal investigator are. The basis of this distinction can be traced to the federal NRSA fellowship program. “The Congress of the United States enacted the National Research Service Act Program in 1974 to help ensure that highly trained scientists would be available in adequate numbers and in appropriate research areas to carry out the Nation’s biomedical and behavioral research agenda.” Consequently, postdoctoral scholars on NRSA fellowships do not receive a “salary” but a “stipend” because they are considered to be in training. While this may seem like semantics, it affects a myriad of issues, including salary, retirement and other benefits, and institutional grievance and termination policies. Since the work a postdoctoral scholar performs is not determined by the funding source, the current distinction is arbitrary and ultimately unfair. Until now, institutions have been largely passive about these classifications, typically attributing exclusive responsibility to the constraints of federal policy. But it is hard to believe that the huge monetary incentive for the institution to accept the current classification scheme does not play a large part. Institutions need take an active stand in changing these issues, so all postdoctoral scholars are classified as employees regardless of their funding source, even if it requires bringing this issue to Congress to effect change.

A Concerted Change for International Postdoctoral Scholars
At present time, about 58% of postdoctoral scholars are non-US citizens. Obtaining a visa is often a major, time-consuming task for both the postdoctoral scholar and their institutions. Moreover, current visa regulations presume a three-year engagement, whereas few postdoctoral scholars finish their postdoc in that time. If the US wishes to remain an attractive place for international postdoctoral scholars, it would seem an obvious step to streamline visa regulations, which would also result in significant cost reduction in the management of visa programs. Making matters worse, federally administered funds for postdoctoral scholar fellowships, unlike most private funds, are restricted to US citizens despite the fact that the majority of postdoctoral scholars in the US are non-US citizens.

Restructuring Funding Possibilities for Senior Postdoctoral Scholars
While the length of the average postdoc has increased, the possibility of obtaining independent funding by senior postdoctoral scholars is minimal to non-existent. This renders the transition from senior postdoctoral scholar to independent investigator in academia or industry more challenging than necessary. For example, many senior postdocs are denied the right to apply for grants by their institutions. There was a broad consensus at the NPA meeting that more funding sources were required for senior postdocs.

A Forum for Stakeholders
UNC postdoc Lisa Cameron and I hope to solicit periodic contributions to the ASCB Newsletter to provide a forum to discuss and debate the diversity of issues that surround post-doctoral scholars and ultimately effect improvements and reformation of the post-doctoral status.

Anyone who interacts with postdoctoral scholars or has an interest in postdoctoral issues is encouraged to contribute to this discussion. Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to ASCB.

—Søren Andersen for the Education Committee’s Postdoctoral Subcommittee


  1. nationalpostdoc.org
  2. Science 285:1519, 9/3/99
  3. Freeman R., Weinstein E., Marincola E., Rosenbaum J. and Solomon F. Careers and rewards in the bio-sciences: the disconnect between scientific progress and career progression; report to the Sloan Foundation. (2001)


Grants & Opportunities

2003 Cooperative Grants Program. The U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), invites teams of U.S. and former Soviet Union (FSU) scientists and engineers to apply for oneto two-year grants. One application may be submitted every twelve months.

Stem Cell Research. NICHD Administrative Supplements for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research a Funding Opportunity. Deadlines are July 1, 2003 and July 1, 2004; also see the NICHD stem cell web page.

NIGMS Administrative Supplements. Human Embryonic stem cell research funding opportunities. Deadline is May 5.


Members In The News

David Bikle of the University of California, San Francisco, an ASCB member since 2003, was elected to the Council of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research.

Tom Misteli of the NIH National Cancer Institute, an ASCB member since 1992, and Katherine Wilson of the Johns Hopkins University, an ASCB member since 1995, each received a 2002-2005 Porter Fellowship from the Keith R. Porter Endowment.

Diana Murray of Weill Medical College at Cornell, an ASCB member since 2002, and Jack Taunton of the University of California, San Francisco, an ASCB member since 2000, were among recipients of the 2003 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship.

Charles Sherr of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, an ASCB member since 1992, was awarded the 2003 Landon-AACR Prize for Cancer Research by the American Association for Cancer Research.



The ASCB is grateful to the following members who have recently given gifts to support Society activities:

Kerry Bruns
Sharyn Endow
Susan Gerbi
Paul Howard
Ray Keller
Christine Roos
James Sabry
Judson Sheridan
Ronglin Xie


Bernfield Memorial Contributors

The Society is grateful to the following donors to the ASCBMerton Bernfield Memorial Award Fund.

$200-$499 Diane Fingold & Paul Howard Cheryl Knudson Warren Knudson

Up to $99 Mie Abe


Classified Advertising

Post-doc Fellows, Harvard Medical School. Job Description: Two NIH funded positions in the Departments of Cell Biology and Neurobiology at the Harvard Medical School. Projects are focused on understanding the biological functions of gap junctional intercellular communication in the growth and homeostasis of the ocular lens1 in the biogenesis and maintenance of myelin2 and in vascular biology3. Approaches include the development and analysis of mouse cell lines with targeted deletions of members of the connexin family of gap junctional structural proteins, with concomitant analysis of the knockout mice. Applicants should have a Ph.D. with a strong background in cellular and molecular biology. Send CV and reference contact information (phone and email) to: Daniel A. Goodenough, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, 240 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

  1. White,T.W. Unique and redundant connexin contributions to lens development. Science 295, 319-320 (2002).
  2. Altevogt,B.M., Kleopa,K.A., Postma,F.R., Scherer,S.S. & Paul,D.L. Connexin29 is uniquely distributed within myelinating glial cells of the central and peripheral nervous systems. J. Neurosci. 22, 6458-6470 (2002).
  3. Simon,A.M. & McWhorter,A.R. Vascular Abnormalities in Mice Lacking the Endothelial Gap Junction Proteins connexin37 and connexin40. Dev. Biol. 251, 206-220 (2002).


ASCB Publishes Career Book

The ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee has published a compilation of selected WICB columns from the ASCB Newsletter. The volume, Career Advice for Life Scientists, is available free upon request from the ASCB; postage is not included. The booklet is also accessible in PDF.

To order your copy, contact the ASCB at (301) 347-9300

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