Blog

As part of our year-long programming, ABRCMS will periodically publish blog posts of interest to students, faculty, and other individuals associated with ABRCMS.

How a Postdoctoral Fellow Gives Back to ABRCMS

Written by

In 2008 as an undergraduate senior, Dr. Victor Ocasio Ramirez, won a presentation award at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). Ten years later he attended ABRCMS again to provide valuable mentorship to students through the Judge Travel Award. Dr. Ocasio Ramirez explains how he became interested in science as an undergraduate, his current research as a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University, and why attending ABRCMS was a gratifying experience.

Tell me about your background.
I am originally from a small town in Puerto Rico, where I studied Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. I developed an interest in basic science, specifically microbiology. In 2014, I obtained my Ph.D. in molecular microbiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University working in host pathogen interactions.

What first made you interested in science?
As a second-year undergraduate student, I had the rare opportunity to conduct research with Dr. Joseph Bonaventura from Duke University studying the antimicrobial properties of the plantain plant. I got to travel to different parts of Puerto Rico to collect diverse plantain samples for my experiments. A year later, I joined a plant biotechnology laboratory where I studied gene expression profiles in transgenic Cassava plants using emerging qRT-PCR technology. Both of these experiences were fundamental in cementing my passion for science.

What is your current research about?
My research involves the study of host microbe interactions. More specifically, how pathogenic bacteria have evolved to evade the immune response and grow in what it seems to be a hostile environment. Chlamydia trachomatis is a sexually transmitted pathogen that contains more than a hundred proteins predicted to be secreted to the host. These effector proteins help Chlamydia establish its intracellular lifestyle, elude the immune response and take control of many host cellular processes. I employ a combination of genetics, biochemistry and cell biology methods to characterize the function of these secreted effectors.

How were your experiences with ABRCMS both as a student and judge?
Both of these experiences were different for me because I had very different perspectives each time I went. As an attendee in 2008, I was an eager senior undergraduate student looking for the next step in my academic career, graduate school. I remember walking up and down tirelessly through the aisles looking at the booths of different universities. At this point, I was trying to decide which institution would make me feel welcomed as an underrepresented minority, but also be a great fit for me academically. In 2018 as a judge, I was able to share the experiences of what it is like to earn a Ph.D. I walked tirelessly up and down the aisles of posters talking to students, giving advice and encouraging them to do the same thing I did ten years ago.

Why should someone consider being a judge at ABRCMS?
Being a judge at ABRCMS is much more than scoring presentations. You get to meet a myriad of students from different backgrounds that are excited and passionate about science. But some of them lack the experience or don’t know what to do next. As a judge, you have the opportunity to interact with all of these students and to learn about their background and give them advice based on your personal experiences. This was one of the most gratifying experiences I had in 2018.

What advice do you have for students considering submitting an abstract to the conference?
Have a clear hypothesis of your project or model and share the abstract with your peers and mentor. If they can understand your research project from the abstract alone, then you’ve written an abstract where the points come across clearly.

How has your ASM membership impacted your career?
As an ASM member, I’ve attended various conferences like ABRCMS and ASM Microbe where I presented my research and networked with colleagues. Also, in 2018 I participated in the Best Practices in Curriculum Design, Teaching and Assessment webinar, which showed me a different aspect of academia and made me an attractive candidate for the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program at Duke in 2018-2019. I taught as an adjunct professor at Elon University for one semester and put into practice many of the concepts I learned in the ASM webinar. Overall, since becoming an ASM member, I’ve had many opportunities to improve my career, get access to a wide network of scientists and see the impact of the work I am doing.


ABRCMS 2019 will be held November 13-16 in Anaheim, California. Apply for funds to attend the conference as a judge.

Read more...

ABRCMS Hurricane Relief

Written by

Local vision, international mobilization: first steps in restoring Puerto Rico's scientific community after Hurricane Maria

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico beginning on September 20, 2017 was catastrophic. While stories of the storm's lingering effects have been well-publicized, the damage to Puerto Rico's scientific community has been largely underreported.

Classes for newly returned students in Puerto Rico were canceled as a result of the storm and its devastating aftermath. Many campus facilities were either destroyed outright or damaged beyond immediate repair. This included not only buildings but also laboratories and other facilities used by scientists ranging from undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students to professors.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to recover the samples and data that were destroyed by the storm, some of which represented over a decade of work. However, the scientific community banded together to minimize the amount of time these scientists would lose continuing or, in some cases, restarting their work. Under the direction of Dr. Juan S.Ramirez Lugo, President of the Caribbean Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a plenary speaker at the 2018 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), a funding program was created to support these scientists through grants and financial aid. AAAS was joined by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust (PRSTRT) and Ciencia Puerto Rico in fundraising for and publicizing this important effort. Through this program, funds were available for temporary relocation to continue research as well as the restoration of facilities.

Critical to the success of this project were the over 450 offers of laboratory space and facilities—as well as personal accommodations—from universities, hospitals, and private companies, as well as a handful of individuals. This outreach was not only from the Puerto Rican scientific diaspora but fellow scientists all over the United States as well as France, Italy, and Hong Kong.

As inspiring as these efforts are, they are ultimately temporary solutions. Without repairs to or reconstruction of scientific facilities, many Puerto Rican scientists will find the challenges to continuing their work in Puerto Rico insurmountable. Those who want to remain in the field may have to permanently relocate, as many already have, and others may be forced to end their studies or careers entirely. Given that many residents of the island still lack power, rebuilding is not likely to begin in the short term. Continuing efforts, as well as an international commitment to this community, will be required in the meantime.

The 2018 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students is proud to present Dr. Ramirez Lugo as one of our plenary speakers on November 16.

Read more...

What Lies Beneath—Data Preparation and Interpretation

Written by

Research in the biomedical sciences has become increasingly reliant on large data sets to provide meaningful experimental validation. However, dealing with large data sets presents challenges that are distinct from those experienced by most biomedical researchers doing data evaluation, processing, and presentation. How do we begin to make sense of these expansive data sets while ensuring statistical quality and experimental validity?

Read more...
Subscribe to this RSS feed

share this page