As I alluded in my previous post, I was invited to give talks at two prestigious meetings this year. The second meeting was the Gordon Research Conference Human Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms & Disease conference “Understanding the Mechanisms of Variant Effects in the Era of Genome Sequencing” held at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts (Figure 1) June 12-17, 2016.
A big thanks to Drs. Sean Mooney and Anna Panchenko for inviting me to speak in the session titled “Precision Medicine in Practice.”
I had never, ever been to a Gordon Research Conference (GRC). The closest I came was when my then graduate student Janina Jeff attended a GRC on “The Biology of Post-Transcriptional Gene Regulation” back in 2010 to supplement her graduate education in molecular genetics. Janina earned a Carl Strom Underrepresented Minority Fellowship to attend the meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. From Janina, I heard tales of intense science, group meals, and college dorms. Dorms.
For those who know me well, you know I do not camp. Nor do I glamp. To put it another way, I did not understand Wet Hot American Summer, so I turned it off after 20 minutes the first time I tried to watch it. The only camp I really attended was band camp, and that was a while ago, to say the least (Figure 2). But, this is work, and it’s important, so I said yes to the invitation and packed for a week of casual dress for not-so-casual science.
I arrived a day late into the meeting, so I missed the group picture and the morning session. I had to get up really early that morning to catch my flights, so all I really wanted to do was to check-in and shower before attending lunch. Upon check-in, I was faced with, yep, you guessed it: the dorm (Figure 3). Some things never change.
I was a little early for lunch, so I took a stroll around the campus. The campus is actually quite beautiful and filled with natural spaces and wildlife (Figures 4 and 5). I spent a few mornings and afternoons during the meeting walking around and playing with my camera settings to capture some of the beautiful colors still blooming at the height of summer (Figure 6).
Unlike ASHG or PSB, I knew very few people at this GRC personally before the meeting. Consequently, I somewhat dreaded the first group meal, a forum embraced by out-going personalities but feared by the rest of us mere mortals. Lucky for me, the first person met on my way to lunch was Ben Busby from NCBI. Don’t know anyone at the meeting? If Ben is in attendance, you at least know one person!
The one person I did know prior to the meeting was Mike Sivley, a PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University (Figure 7). And, pretty soon, I met a few other fun people.
Of note were Drs. Aimee Deaton and Nick Tatonetti. I met Aimee at the poster session when I noticed Luke Ward was a co-author on her Amgen poster. I had met Luke at a 2013 Kavli Frontiers of Science meeting in Bali, Indonesia, and we have stayed sorta connected through FB. Luke is now with Amgen, which acquired deCODE Genetics a few years ago (hence the excuse to go “work” in Iceland for a couple of months). Aimee and I bonded over Luke’s FB posts from Iceland, and a group of us chatted about the upcoming Brexit vote. Boy, that turned out differently than we all thought it would! Since I had just met Aimee, and the GRC crowd in general didn’t seem to be snapping a lot of pics (probably due to the strict “off the record” GRC policy), I don’t have a picture with her. The best I can do is Luke Ward dancing in Bali. Enjoy.
Nick Tatonetti, of course, I knew by reputation. But here, I got to know him in a whole different light (Figure 8). During one of the group meals, I learned Nick is actually from the Cleveland area and still has family here. To be more exact, Nick grew up in Geauga county. As I have written before, Geauga county is home to one of the largest Amish communities in the United States. I joked to Nick that before moving to northeast Ohio, most of my information about the Amish was based on the movie Witness. Nick had never heard of it. Sure, Nick enjoyed a Harrison Ford flick or two, but he was not fully versed in the complete Ford body of work. After some reflection, I realized that Nick was born within a year or two of the movie’s premiere. Sigh.
Networking is so, so important. But so is delivering a good talk. As my session approached, I was starting to sweat it. This GRC crowd was something fierce. See a problem with the speaker’s logic? Call him or her out on the spot! Disagree with the relevance of the question? Feel free to snort loudly. Is the speaker going on too long? Well, no one brought out the hook, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had.
To make a long story short, my talk went OK. In fact, some thought it went better than OK. Whew! Incidentally, my talk (“All In! Precision Medicine in Cleveland”) was quite timely in many ways. Precision medicine, of course is a hot topic, especially given the recent Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cohort Program. And, in Cleveland, real efforts are underway to build local resources for precision medicine research. Finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers were playing in the NBA Championship finals. I flaked out on watching game six with the GRC crowd, but I did make it home to catch the nail-biting game 7 with my husband. And, the rest, as they say, is history (Figure 9).
So, what did I learn or come away with from this experience? Well, for one thing, I came away with a nasty bug or spider bite (Figure 10). But beyond learning about the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, I came away from this meeting with a few more friends and a current sense of what’s going on in basic biomedical research. I suppose camp science wasn’t so bad after all.