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Extra Credit for Students: SLAS Supports Next Generation of Scientists

"In many ways, the SLAS community is like an extended family. You care about one another and wish each other well. While passionate about some similar interests, there are others meaningful only to portions of the family. You stay in touch throughout the year and get together in person once in awhile to catch up. And, all members of the family have a vested interest in helping the next generation succeed." – Jeff Paslay, Ph.D., SLAS Vice President, Kirkland, WA

 

For SLAS, support of the next generation of laboratory science and technology professionals is serious business.

"We consider how can we reach out to those entering the field – and even those still considering whether they want to enter the field – when planning SLAS programs and services," explains SLAS President Dave Dorsett, Princeton, NJ. "This is done formally; for example, the Tony B. Academic Travel Awards to enable participation at our annual conference. It is also accomplished informally such as when a current SLAS member shares information about SLAS resources."

In a tight job market where potential employers expect more and more from candidates, gaining real-life experience before entering a first job takes on a more important role. Some universities have established programs to help students attain this, such as the Professional Science Master's and Postdoctoral Professional Masters in Bioscience Management programs discussed by James D. Sterling, Ph.D., Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences in a previous SLAS ELN feature.

Some programs are even built by the very students they intend to serve. For example, a small group of graduate students and postdocs at Washington University in St. Louis in Missouri formed The BALSA Group, a nonprofit, student-and-postdoc-run consulting company founded late in 2010 whose mission is to prepare Ph.D. students and postdocs for academic and nonacademic careers while assisting local biotech companies.

And, sometimes, professional societies like SLAS take the lead. SLAS is committed to building the profession of tomorrow by tending to the needs of emerging talent today.

It's clear that SLAS has made an impact with the students it has served.

Annual Conference – the Coup de Gras

SLAS makes it attractive – and easy – for students to attend and participate in the annual event. Here, students join thousands of innovative scientists, engineers, researchers and technologists from academic, government and commercial laboratories who can remember what it is like to be starting professional careers.

For SLAS2013, January 12-16, Orlando, FL, the SLAS member student registration fee is just $25; non-member student registration costs $50. This provides full conference access – keynote and educational sessions, exhibition, networking receptions and more. In addition, based on space availability, student registrants can take a short course for as low as $25.

"Engaging students in our annual conference is a win-win for all involved," Dorsett explains. "They are exposed to the best research and leading products but most importantly, they can sit shoulder to shoulder with the professionals who are taking our field to the next level. And for those of us years into our careers, there is nothing like an energetic and curious student to remind us of why we entered the field in the first place."

Publish Early and Often

SLAS student membership also costs just $25 per year (per section) and includes online access to one of the internationally recognized, peer-reviewed journals published by SLAS. Biomolecular Sciences Section (BSS) members receive access to the Journal of Biomolecular Screening (JBS) and Laboratory Automation Section (LAS) members receive the Journal of Laboratory Automation (JALA).

"SLAS makes a concerted effort to engage students and early career professionals through JALA and JBS," explains Nan Hallock, SLAS director of publishing. "The SLAS ‘spirit of mentorship' assists prospective authors in learning how to best present their work. SLAS manuscript reviewers are experienced scientific experts who take their review responsibilities seriously and, whenever possible, offer coaching and guidance. The process is another example of the SLAS commitment to educating and developing its unique scientific community."

The journal publishing team often presents practical workshops for prospective and published authors alike at the annual conference. The editors and staff also are available for informal discussions with potential contributors at the SLAS Member Center in the exhibit hall. The recently held 2012 SLAS Asia Conference and Exhibition in Shanghai featured a full-day short course entitled "What Editors Want: An Author Guide to Publishing in Scientific Journals" to assist prospective authors in Asia in overcoming the unique challenges they often face when trying to publish their work in western journals.

SLAS Tony B. Academic Travel Awards

In addition to the deeply discounted student registration and membership fees, another way SLAS makes it easy for students to engage with SLAS is attributable to a Society founding father. The Tony B. Academic Travel Award honors Tony Beugelsdijk, Los Alamos National Laboratory, an Association for Laboratory Automation co-founder who passed away in August 2009.

"Tony played a very inspirational and instrumental role in laboratory automation and made significant contributions to the former Association for Laboratory Automation and the scientific community as a whole," says Greg Dummer, SLAS chief executive officer, St. Charles, IL. "We are honored to remember him through a program that recognizes up-and-coming researchers who demonstrate outstanding achievement in laboratory science and technology."

Thirty-nine students received Tony B. awards to attend SLAS2012. The award provided each of them with conference registration, airfare (or personal auto/mileage reimbursement) and shared accommodations at an SLAS conference hotel. Based on availability, Tony B. awardees can also take a complimentary short course.

For Vindhya Kunduru, a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, receiving the Tony B. award was the reason why she was able to attend the event in San Diego.

"Without the Tony B. award, I probably would not have been able to attend SLAS2012, as it was a long way from North Carolina," she said. "The networking at SLAS is outstanding! My LinkedIn networks have been explosive due to SLAS."

Kunduru is on track to complete her Ph.D. at the end of 2012 and has entrepreneurial goals, hoping one day to start her own company developing microfluidic devices for diagnostics.

SLAS is accepting applications for Tony B. Academic Travel Awards for SLAS2013 until July 30. The awards are available to undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral associates and junior faculty (less than four years in first academic appointment). Applicants must submit an abstract to present their research in either a poster or oral (podium) session at the conference. Award applications are reviewed by members of the selection panel who judge the quality of the abstract, relevance of the research to the SLAS conference, personal statement of value of the conference to the applicant and qualifications of the applicant.

Students Mix it Up

Students value SLAS conference attendance for its expert speakers and the opportunity it offers for comfortable interaction with experienced researchers. Students also truly appreciate the organized events that help them meet one another.

At the First Annual SLAS Conference and Exhibition, SLAS2012 in San Diego, the Students and Early Career Professionals Mixer was held at the Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego. It began with a panel of seasoned professionals offering personal career advice, continued with a friendly reception in the foyer and ended hours later at any number of local restaurants, pubs and other people parking places.

"The student event at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego was a perfect kick off to our First SLAS Conference and Exhibition," offers Mary Geismann, SLAS manager, administrative services. "It was appropriate recognition to this important Society group of participants, our SLAS future! Our thanks to Amgen and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences for sponsoring the mixer."

Students Compete with Posters

At SLAS2012 in San Diego, 35 student posters were included in the competition. While the posters were available for viewing during exhibit hours, there were scheduled times when poster authors were present to answer questions and discuss their work with interested conference attendees.

First-place student poster winner Kaston Leung of the University of British Columbia at Vancouver found this experience to be invaluable. His poster, "Programmable Droplet Based Microfluidic Reaction Array Applied To Multiparameter Single Cell Analysis," attracted a lot of attention.

"We tried to build the equivalent of a liquid handling robot with a built-in single cell sorter on a microfluidic device," Leung explains in his interview with The Lab Man. "The motivation [behind the project] is we feel microfluidics is underused in biological research despite being a powerful tool. Our solution to make microfluidics more accessible is to build a programmable device; one that can be applied to different applications."

The SLAS2013 Student Poster Competition offers a $750 cash award for most outstanding poster presentation, a $500 cash award for second place and $250 for third place. Abstract submissions are due by November 19, 2012.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The Career Connections jobs board at SLAS.org includes entry-level positions, and SLAS conferences provide fertile ground for additional career activities to support this year-round job service. At conferences, prospective employers seeking talent post jobs and prospective employees post resumes in the SLAS Member Center on the exhibit floor. In addition, special topic workshops and one-on-one career counseling help job seekers focus their goals and expectations.

At SLAS2012, there were four workshops of special interest to students and early career professionals:

• How to Network at a Technical Meeting

• Resume and Cover Letter Writing

• The Interviewing Continuum

• Mock Interviews

Daniel J. Eustace, Ph.D., University of Connecticut, led the workshops. His approach has been honed through his work with the American Chemical Society's Department of Career Management and Development.

"It is truly my pleasure to work with those entering the science profession and help them learn to present themselves positively to potential employers," Eustace says. "It is important they understand preparation so that they can appropriately respond to the myriad of challenging situations they will find themselves in as they begin their search for the right position. We are responsible for our personal careers; no one else will do it for us!"

The mock interviews workshop covered the gamut from telephone informational interviews to on-site, in-person second interviews. Following each "practice" interview, students were encouraged to critique one another in addition to hearing helpful tips from Professor Eustace. Eustace continued to work with students who signed up for 30-minute, one-on-one counseling sessions to further coach them to success.

"When I was attending SLAS2012, I was finishing up my master's degree and was in the midst of deciding whether to start working or continue with my Ph.D. study," explains Yan Wei Lim, a workshop attendee. "After the sessions with Dan Eustace, including the private interview session, I decided to continue with my Ph.D. study. I used the skills I learned from those sessions in my interview for Ph.D. admission, and I am glad to say that I was selected and will be enrolled in the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego Ph.D. program in Fall 2012."

"I attended the early morning career workshops at SLAS2012 and found them to be very helpful," concurs Lani K. Havlicek, another workshop attendee. "I believe the practice interviews with Dan helped me exude both confidence and competence. I posted my resume on the SLAS website and have received numerous inquiries into my availability as a result of this."

In fact, Havlicek was offered her current position while at SLAS2012. She is a sales manager with Aurora Biomed with responsibility for the U.S. West Coast South and Australia, as well as product development for the Versa series of liquid handling robots.

"My primary reason for attending SLAS2012 was to find job opportunities," she continues. "My mission was a success because of the quality career services offered by SLAS and the high concentration of potential employers in my specific field who attended the show."

SLAS2013 career workshops and one-on-one career counseling sessions are currently being planned.

FIRST Fits

For several years, SLAS has featured For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) teams at the annual conference. These middle school and high school teams strut their stuff on the exhibition floor and solicit insight from the experienced scientists who visit their booth.

Gabby Parker from High Tech High in San Diego is appreciative of her opportunity to participate in FIRST and attend the SLAS conference.

"FIRST helps me prepare for my chosen career; I want to be a biomechanical engineer," she says.

The SLAS connection extends beyond bringing teams to the SLAS conference. Jeff Paslay and Mark Russo are among the SLAS members who serve as coach or judge for FIRST teams in their geographic areas. Editor's note: let SLAS know in the comments box below if you are involved locally with FIRST.

SLAS Director of Publishing Hallock had a family friend whose daughter was project manager for her high school FIRST team determined to attend FIRST nationals in 2010. Hallock helped edit the rookie team proposal prepared by Alexandria "Alli" Meidl, a senior at Valders High School, Valders, WI.

"Valders High School is in a small community of just 900 in Wisconsin," Meidl explains. "My senior year was the first time we formed a FIRST team, the Droid Rage 3381. The judges were impressed with our work as a team, how we challenged ourselves and the rookie team proposal, so we earned a trip to nationals in Atlanta."

Meidl, who recently completed her second year at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, studying biomedical engineering with an emphasis in biomechanics, continues her affiliation with FIRST.

"I did receive a FIRST scholarship to Marquette," she says. "While there is no requirement to do so, I appreciated the opportunities I had with FIRST and am currently mentoring a local high school FIRST team, the Hilltoppers.

SLAS Student Internship Program

Society engagement with student internships at participating companies is a win-win for all.

"Our internship program is designed to help connect promising early career scientists and engineers with companies offering quality experiences in laboratory science and technology," Dummer notes. "Couple this with enabling the student's further education at an SLAS conference and we believe that we've helped the student, the company and the profession in general."

Burcu Kement is a former SLAS student intern. She secured an internship with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) through SLAS in 2011, between her undergraduate (bioengineering) and graduate (biotechnology) work at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science in Philadelphia. For three months, she commuted from the school to the GSK laboratory in Collegeville, PA.

"This was a huge opportunity for me, and I loved it from the beginning," Kement states. "The laboratory is so big; it occupies three to four floors and has a range of equipment including that for high-content screening, high-throughput screening, radiology and so on. Michael Platchek explained laboratory process and procedures, taught me plate filling and how to work with antibodies. Yan Liu designed the assay for the specific study I was working on, and was my contact on the science side."

While Platchek and Liu were always available to her, Kement learned quickly and spent much of her time working independently. She was a full part of the team, participating in laboratory meetings and eventually reporting the results of her research to a GSK team of some 20 scientists. She is grateful for the experience.

"I learned benchwork procedures and how to work with live cells, but more importantly I learned how to be a part of a big company like GSK," she reports. "This experience confirmed for me that I want to work in research and development."

But the internship did not really end before the fall semester of school in August. As it was an SLAS internship, Kement was invited to SLAS2012 to present her research results in a poster presentation.

"I owe a lot to SLAS," she reflects. "And, I am humbled by the opportunity I was given. In San Diego I had the chance to talk to so many people while they viewed my poster. I was able to answer, and ask, questions, as well as give my resume to potential employers."

International Interaction

The SLAS Young Scientist Delegate program is another way that SLAS reaches out to emerging talent. Delegates from partner societies (usually winners of conference poster presentation competitions) are invited to present their work at the SLAS annual conference. Partners include the European Laboratory Robotics Interest Group in the United Kingdom, MipTec in Switzerland and the Institute of Food Technologists and International Society for Stem Cell Research in the United States.

This year's SLAS Young Scientist Delegate winners will receive a $500 cash prize, as well as roundtrip coach airfare, shared hotel accommodations and conference registration for SLAS2013. They, of course, can also opt in to the SLAS2013 Student Poster Competition.

Zafer Gezgin from Turkey is a former SLAS Young Scientist Delegate who had the opportunity to attend SLAS2012 and present his poster.

"The news that I was named an SLAS Young Scientist Delegate even reached the local newspaper of my hometown back in Turkey which made me so proud," he wrote in a thank you note to SLAS. "I sincerely appreciate the honor of my Ph.D. work being rewarded by the SLAS. At SLAS2012, I also had the chance to represent my new employer PepsiCo and make connections at the expo for the analytical group which has potential interest in liquid sampling robots."

SLAS Members Mentor

SLAS ELN wants to know – who, or what, was instrumental in your early career decisions and growth? How have you given back to your profession? Let SLAS know by posting a note in the comments box below or sending an e-mail to Lynn Valastyan, manager of publishing.

June 18, 2012