NCCU Dinner with Discoverers: Chemist, Dr. Mansukh Wani
Nov05

NCCU Dinner with Discoverers: Chemist, Dr. Mansukh Wani

The NCCU Eagles RISE program is a NIH/NIGMS research education program for which I serve as principal investigator at North Carolina Central University in Durham. When I moved to the Research Triangle area, I had the opportunity to work as a pharmacologist with the late Dr. Monroe Wall and Dr. Mansukh Wani, scientists who with colleagues discovered the anticancer compounds, taxol and camptothecin. I first came to know of Dr. Wani while I was a graduate student in 1987 while attending a DNA topoisomerase chemotherapy conference at NYU in Manhattan. To be honest, I was too nervous to even introduce myself to this legend of natural products chemistry. Almost 25 years later, I am now blessed to call him a family friend. One of the other joys I have is sharing the now 86-year-old Dr. Wani and his story with my students. Here's a recap of our visit with him as posted on our NCCU Eagles RISE blog:   On the evening of October 26th, we had the remarkable pleasure to have dinner with Dr. Mansukh Wani, Chemist Emeritus of RTI International (formerly Research Triangle Institute). Together with his longtime collaborator, the late Dr. Monroe Wall, Dr. Wani and colleagues isolated and determined the structures of the anticancer drugs Taxol and camptothecin. Taxol has been a mainstay in the treatment of breast and ovarian cancer while camptothecin gave rise to two, semi-synthetic FDA-approved drugs: topotecan (Hycamtin) and irinotecan (Camptosar). For these discoveries they received numerous awards culminating in the naming of the RTI Natural Products Laboratory as a National Historic Chemical Landmark of the American Chemical Society in 2003. The landmark application was led by Dr. Nick Oberlies, now in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Nick and I reformulated the application and supplementary historical information into a 2004 review article in the Journal of Natural Products (DOI: 10.1021/np030498t) In this interview for an Indian publication in the Research Triangle, Dr. Wani shares what it was like to move to North Carolina in 1962. He graciously accepted our invitation to tell these and other stories to us at Sitar Indian restaurant, a Durham favorite. Rather than recap his discussion of his career, we thought it would be more valuable to share with you student insights from their evening with this remarkable, warm, and humble man. From Adama Secka, M.S. Candidate, Pharmaceutical Sciences: Wednesday, October 26th 2011 will be a day that I will always remember for the rest of my life; I met the most incredible man in our science world. He was most genuine, kind, patient, and supportive - I mean he is...

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Call For Social Media Success Stories in Academia
Oct28

Call For Social Media Success Stories in Academia

We're packing up the world headquarters of Terra Sigillata this afternoon and high-tailing it out to San Jose, California, for the annual meeting of SACNAS - the Society Dedicated to Advancing Hispanics, Chicanos, and Native Americans in Science. It's a tremendous organization comprised of several of my former students and faculty colleagues from over the years and I'm ecstatic about reconnecting with them. With the initiative of my colleagues - Alberto Roca of MinorityPostdoc.org and Danielle Lee of The Urban Scientist at Scientific American blogs (plus a whole host of online activities) - we pitched and were accepted to present a session on Blogging, Tweeting, & Writing: How an Online Presence Can Impact Science and Your Career. I'll be discussing how a responsible, online presence on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook can enhance networking opportunities for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. Specifically, I'll introduce how I've increased the exposure of my students who are RISE Scholars at North Carolina Central University. In this NIGMS-funded grant, I've been helping my students capture their research experiences in their own words (with previous review by their P.I.'s of course, to prevent accidental disclosure of unpublished data). The students have been surprised by the level of engagement and support they've received in the comments from scientists all around the world. But I know of many other students who use blogs and Twitter to engage with the scientific community in ways that brings them positive recognition outside of their academic and laboratory work. To better prepare for this session, I'd like to gather some advice from you, Dear Reader: Who are some of students, trainees, and junior faculty, who best exemplify the use of social media for career advancement? Are you a student who has had Good Things happen to you because of your social media activities? How did that transpire? If you have any responses, please drop a link in the comments with a brief explanation - or longer if you'd like! And also feel free to recommend the sites and stories of others. I'll be sure to promote your responses in tomorrow's talk and direct attendees to this post for future reference. The three of us thank you so much in advance for your...

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Project SEED student having a sweet summer
Jun30

Project SEED student having a sweet summer

One of the lovely pleasures I have as a prof is serving as principal investigator of a NIH-funded program to encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue doctoral training in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. As one aim of the project to encourage student writing skills and engagement with the public and scientific communities, we keep a blog over at the Scientopia network, NCCU Eagles RISE, to chronicle the progress of these wonderful young folks. Today, NCCU rising sophomore Victoria Jones holds forth on her current research experience at the Penn State Medical Center at Hershey. Why do I write about Victoria here? Well, she is a product of the ACS Project SEED program (Summer Research Internship Program for Economically Disadvantaged High School Students). Project SEED, especially here in North Carolina, is a remarkable cultivation program for high school students to pursue research. The level at which these students perform frankly blows me away, regardless of their background. In terms of presentation skills and depth of understanding of their project, I will put a Project SEED student - high school kids, folks - up at the level of any junior or senior college research student, even at the Research I institution where I started my career. I recently judged science presentations from these students and I'd love to have had some of our first-year graduate students see the poise with which these students answered questions after their presentations. While I'm singing the praises of Project SEED students who've come to my U, let me also provide you with a link to an essay by Melony Ochieng. This former Project SEED student wrote about her experiences as a travel award recipient for the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Orlando this past April. Melony won a third-place award from among the 70+ presenters. Yes, yes, yes - like many professions, being a prof is a thankless business. However, we are often touched by gold and have the opportunity to participate in the development of some truly remarkable young people. When I think back about Christine Herman's exercise the other day on working on what you are passionate about, I realize that helping young people achieve their dreams is what I'm all...

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More on LGBT in the workplace
Jun26

More on LGBT in the workplace

Well, I sure picked a great week to revisit Linda Wang's feature in the May 23rd issue of C&EN. Just in time for our Diversity in Science blog carnival focused on LGBT issues in the STEM disciplines, New York became the most populous state to legalize same-sex marriage. The second bit of news this week is a report released by the Center for Work-Life Policy on "the loss to individuals and to the bottom line when organizations fail to create a workplace hospitable to their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees." The report entitled, "The Power of 'Out'," is featured in the July/August issue of Harvard Business Review. You can read the full press release here as a PDF but here are a few main points thanks to my colleague, Pam Spaulding, at Pam's House Blend: The data, based on a survey of 2,952 respondents, show the consequences when LGBT employees are forced to keep their lives and loved ones a secret from colleagues. Among the findings: •       This is a highly desirable labor pool: ambitious (71%), committed (88% are willing to go the extra mile for employers) and better educated (48% of LGBT respondents have graduate degrees versus 40% of their straight counterparts). Despite a rise in anti-discrimination protections for LGBT employees, 48 percent of LGBT survey respondents reported being closeted at work. Staying in the closet has huge consequences. Those who are out flourish at work, while those who are in the closet languish or leave. •       LGBT employees who are not out reported significantly greater feelings of being stalled in their careers and greater dissatisfaction with their rates of promotion and advancement. •       LGBT employees who are not out are 40 percent less likely to trust their employer than those who are out. •       Employees who remain closeted and isolated are 73 percent more likely to leave their companies within the next three years. This is a group with economic clout and loyalty to gay friendly brands. A recent study estimates the LGBT community's collective buying power at more than $700 billion in the U.S. alone. This is a constituency with economic firepower companies should not ignore. Of note to ACS members and our other readers is that one of the major funders of the study was Boehringer Ingelheim USA. And if you haven't yet read Linda Wang's stories on LGBT initiatives by the ACS, here are some easy links to them in the May 23, 2011 issue of C&EN: Coming Out in the Chemical Sciences ACS Creates a New Subdivision for Gay & Transgender Chemists and...

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