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Annual MBTP Symposium Returns to In-Person Poster Presentations

The 2021 Molecular Biology Training Program (MBTP) Symposium was able to partially return to an in-person format this year, after being forced online last year. The student poster session was held in-person at the McKimmon Center on November 4th. This year’s panel discussion on Molecular Sensing, Diagnostics, and Surveillance was held via Zoom on November 9th, and featured four experts in the field: Dr. Kevin Plaxco, Dr. Deb Hung, Jonathan Gootenberg, and Omar Abudayyeh. 

The student poster session kicked off with talks from eight students, covering topics from fibroblast migration to how iron deficiency affects cellular differentiation. Talks were followed by the poster session itself, which had twenty-seven graduate students, all MBTP trainees, present in two half-hour sessions.

Prior to the presentations, the day started with breakfast, during which attendees were able to mingle and talk. Because the last year of classes was completely online, some of the attendees, like chemical engineer Leandra Caywood, hadn’t met their fellow MBTP trainees in person. “It was nice to be able to meet my cohort in person and see what everyone has been up to,” she said. She was also able to see some people who she hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. Most of the attendees were professors and students in MBTP, so many knew everyone else already. Sam McMillan, a student who gave a talk and presented a poster, said that he wished that more people had attended the symposium. “I was hoping to meet some new people and talk to some undergraduates,” he said, though he did enjoy catching up with other people from his program.

Deaja Sanders, one of the first students to give a talk at the symposium, said that, though she was nervous to begin her talk, that feeling “quickly ebbed away” once she began. “It was a wonderful feeling to have the opportunity to share research that I am passionate about,” she said, and it was rewarding to see that the audience was interested as well. Melissa Mitchler, another student who gave a talk, said that she was also nervous before her talk, but “I was also excited to share my research… as all the presenters before me gave great talks.” She was also excited to talk about her research because she was the only student present from the chemistry department. “I was happy to share how the research in the Williams lab is at the interface of chemistry and biology,” she said.

It was a wonderful feeling to have the opportunity to share research that I am passionate about

Deaja Sanders

After the student talks wrapped up, lunch was served, and then the poster presentations began. Each student presented for thirty minutes, and were then free to wander around to other students’ posters for another thirty minutes. Meanwhile, faculty serving as poster judges circled the room, asking questions and offering suggestions to each student as they prepared to pick the winning poster. Echo Pan, a graduate student in Dr. Barrangou’s lab who presented a poster, said that her “judges were very engaged and knowledgeable,” and gave her a lot of constructive feedback on her poster. She “thoroughly enjoyed” the experience, and hopes to give a talk at next year’s symposium.

Leandra also presented a poster, and said that this poster session was “probably her favorite one to date,” though she wished it had lasted longer. “I only had one judge come to my poster, but it was a good experience and they were engaged, asked me great questions, and really leaned into understanding my work in the short time they had to stop by my poster,” she said. At the end of the day, Julia Grzymkowski, Rosemary Bayless, and Echo Pan were declared the poster session winners, as shown below.

A group of people wearing masks
Poster award winners Julia Grzymkowski, Rosemary Bayless, and Meichen “Echo” Pan with Symposium Committee members Caroline Laplante and Albert Keung.

The students were also excited to be able to look at what their peers were doing. Melissa said that “it was exciting to get to network with students and faculty from a variety of departments about different research initiatives.” She was also able to visit other students’ posters to hear about their work. Sam said that he had several “productive conversations,” and was glad to be able to present his research in person for the first time. Deaja also appreciated the helpful feedback she received from the judges and her fellow students: “The poster session was a great opportunity for fostering collaborations amongst our peers,” she said.

Last year, the entire MBTP symposium was held online using VirBELA due to COVID-19, but this year’s symposium was able to partially transition back to an in-person format. While the panel discussion was held over Zoom, the student talks and poster presentations proceeded in-person, to many attendees’ delight. Students were able to network and catch up with new and old acquaintances, and even met a few of them in person for the very first time.