Annual Young Investigator Research Days: An exhibition game

A throng of interested scientists gathers around like football players huddled on the field, waiting for the quarterback to call the play. They listen intently as the scientist describes in detail the experiments illustrated on the large glossy poster. This scene played out repeatedly at the Stowers Institute’s Young Investigator Research Days 2012.

On May 14 and 15, eighty-one Stowers researchers presented their experimental work to fellow scientists, investigators and staff during the poster and oral sessions at the seventh annual Young Investigator Research Days (YIRD). Judging teams composed of senior researchers and principal investigators selected the winners of each session who each received a small cash prize.

The shifting crowd of interested scientists posed questions to the young researchers and provided an opportunity for spontaneous consultation and collaboration between members of different labs. “Discussions among colleagues always provide food for thought, and a few suggestions have changed the course of my work for the better,” said Ryan Mohan, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate.

Competition was ratcheted up a notch this year with an all-institute vote for most popular poster and oral presentation. A highly coveted trophy category was also introduced which resulted in a tie between the Gibson and Jaspersen labs, placing pressure on each to out-represent the other at next year’s event.

This collective showcase of projects serves as more than just a friendly competition and tell-all of Stowers research. Its primary function is to provide an opportunity for the professional development of predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers. “YIRD gives young students and postdocs an opportunity to gain experience and build confidence in presenting and describing their work to others,” shared Kenny Lee, PhD, co-organizer of the first YIRD, held in 2006.

Much like a football exhibition game that highlights new talent and tests out new plays as a way to build a better team, YIRD provides the same valuable opportunity for young scientists. Former Lab Assistant Jennifer Friederichs, who presented a poster featuring a systematic analysis of yeast genes involved with the SUN-like protein Slp1, finds the entire experience a great opportunity to fine-tune her presentation skills. “It is great practice to prepare a poster and talk for a general scientific audience, just like we need to do at big international meetings.” Mohan concurred, and added, “YIRD helps prepare you to make the most out of every meeting.”

Flying high on the wings of the wind
Winner of the Stunning Science – 2012 YIRD Imaging Competition

The winning image was submitted by Liang Liang, a graduate student in the Gibson Lab who uses fruit fly wings as a model to study tissue growth, cell division and morphogenesis. She visualized the delicate structures on the surface of an adult fruit fly’s wing ready to emerge from the pupa in a scanning electron microscope and manipulated it for dramatic effect.

Almost all of the approximately 30,000 cells making up an adult wing form a single bristle (shown in yellow) or hair (shown in blue). The longer bristles sit on the edge of the wing and detect changes in taste and mechanical force, while the shorter hairs cover the whole wing blade and passively direct airflow. A single gene mutation can disrupt the well-defined pattern of the wing, causing an abnormal number of bristles or hair, disordered hair-hair spacing, or loss of wing hair polarity.

Congratulations to the following members!

Poster Session I:
Winner – Lili Pan (Baumann)
Runner-up – Hiroshi Kurosaka (Trainor)
Honorable mention – Aissam Ikmi (Gibson)

Poster Session II:
Winner – Ryan Mohan (Workman)
Runner-up – Kiki Kanakousaki (Gibson)
Honorable mention – Arnob Dutta (Workman)

Oral Session I:
Winner – Sarah Smith (R. Li)
Runner-up – Marina Venero-Galanternik (Piotrowski)

Oral Session II:
Winner – Swaminathan Venkatesh (Workman)
Runner-up – Liang Liang (Gibson)

Most Popular Poster Presentation, selected by members:
Malini Natarajan (Zeitlinger)

Most Popular Oral Presentation, selected by members:
Annita Achilleos (Trainor)

YIRD Award for Highest Scientific Representation by a Lab:
Gibson and Jaspersen (tie)