Cell Biology Celebration

The American Society for Cell Biology 50th Annual MeetingCell biologists, including many of our funded investigators and a few of us from NIGMS, were in a celebratory mood as the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology Exit icon kicked off December 11 at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The keynote symposium began with Gary Borisy’s description of the first ASCB meeting, when Hans Ris described his then-heretical finding that chloroplasts contain DNA. For more details about the genesis and early years of the ASCB, check out John Fleishman’s article, A Place of Our Own, in the December 2010 ASCB Newsletter Exit icon.

An exciting addition to this year’s meeting was the science discussion table format. Eminent researchers sat at tables for an hour at the beginning of each poster session and took questions from relative newcomers to the field. I stopped by to say hello to some of the NIGMS-supported investigators in my grant portfolio, but each table was crowded with graduate students and postdocs eager to discuss science and seek advice from their fields’ leaders. Two thoughts came to mind as I watched the scene unfold: I wish that there had been these tables when I was a young scientist, and I hope this format becomes a regular feature of the ASCB meeting.

While science is the major focus of the ASCB meeting, education, mentoring and career development also are important features. A number of education workshops focused on topics such as pedagogy, science literacy and online teaching resources. Women in Cell Biology-sponsored events focused on careers, mentoring and managing life as a scientist. In addition, NIH program and review staff answered questions about the grant process. I was one of them, and my favorite part was talking to postdocs and investigators I know from phone calls and e-mail exchanges.

I saw a number of outstanding talks and posters at the meeting, and to say that there is not enough room here to mention them all is an understatement. I was particularly intrigued by presentations from Ron Vale’s lab at University of California, San Francisco, on the cytoplasmic dynein motor domain at 6 Å resolution and from Tom Schwarz at Harvard Medical School on identifying a role for Parkinson’s disease-associated proteins in the regulation of mitochondrial transport within axons. As someone interested in intracellular transport, both presentations offered answers to long-standing problems in cell biology and provided a launching pad for testing new ideas about how organelles move to specific cellular destinations.

I’m already looking forward to the 2011 meeting in Denver.

Important Application Reminders for January Submissions

NIH has issued a notice with important reminders affecting grant applications submitted on or after January 25.

The NIH policy on page limits means that reviewers need not consider text or materials that have been inappropriately placed in the Appendix or other sections without page limits, particularly when they circumvent page limitations for the Specific Aims and Research Strategy sections. In some instances, NIH may withdraw the application from review or funding consideration. For a reminder of what’s acceptable in the Appendix, see NOT-OD-10-077.

Also, post-submission application materials must adhere to new restrictions on timing and content; see NOT-OD-10-091.

As I previously posted on August 20 and October 8, other application policy changes also on the way for submissions on or after January 25 include:

  1. Elimination of the error correction window from the application process for electronic and paper-based submissions; see NOT-OD-10-123.
  2. Resubmission deadlines of no more than 37 months after the receipt date of the initial application; see NOT-OD-10-140.
  3. New application forms for F, K, T and D series applications, which will apply to all other applications as of May 7, 2011; see NOT-OD-11-007 and NOT-OD-11-008.

Stepping Down as NIGMS Director

This morning, I announced that I will step down as NIGMS Director at the end of June 2011. I had no intention of leaving NIGMS at this point, but am doing so in support of the career of my wife, Wendie, a leading breast imaging clinical researcher. After a change in her situation in May, we have been looking for a suitable position for her to continue her work on testing new methods for breast cancer screening. She has been actively recruited by a number of institutions around the country, and we have particularly explored options in the Baltimore-Washington area.

After considering all known options, we have decided to accept positions at the University of Pittsburgh. She will be starting in the Department of Radiology at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in March 2011. I will be waiting until the end of June to move in order to complete some important projects at NIGMS and to allow our youngest child to finish her freshman year of high school. I will be serving as the University of Pittsburgh’s Associate Senior Vice Chancellor for Science Strategy and Planning in the Health Sciences and as a faculty member in the School of Medicine’s Department of Computational and Systems Biology.

My time at NIGMS has been one of the highlights of my career. When I joined the Institute more than 7 years ago, I was immediately impressed with the dedication and competence of the staff at all levels. During my tenure, we have been able to recruit a number of outstanding individuals to join this team. So while I am very sad to leave such an outstanding organization, I am confident that it will be in good hands, and I look forward to the new adventures that await me and my family.