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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

November 2022

NIEHS trainees honored during Fellow Appreciation Week

From sidewalk chalk to trivia challenges, trainees enjoyed a week of in-person networking events to honor their scientific contributions.

The 13th annual NIEHS Fellow Appreciation Week took place Oct. 3-7 to honor NIEHS trainees for their contributions to scientific discovery. Trainees are post-baccalaureate, pre-doctoral, postdoctoral, and visiting researchers who are exploring the biomedical and environmental health sciences alongside NIEHS intramural scientists. The Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD) hosted the week’s celebratory events.

2022 trainees A group photo on the NIEHS campus of the 2022 trainees who attended Fellow Appreciation Week, Oct. 3-7. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

“NIEHS Fellow Appreciation Week is an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our outstanding trainees,” said NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D. NIEHS trainees are our future scientific leaders and perhaps the most critical component of our workforce. On behalf of NIEHS leadership, we extend our thanks to them and acknowledge the contributions of all our trainees to the success of our institute.”

Fellow Appreciation Week is NIEHS’s version of National Postdoc Appreciation Week. Both began in 2009 as Postdoctoral Appreciation Day, then expanded to a week-long celebration in 2010. In 2017, NIEHS began including all levels of trainees. This year’s events were held in-person after being held virtually in 2020 and in a hybrid format in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together again

“COVID community levels were low, so we were fortunate to host in-person events,” said Mercedes Arana, Ph.D., OFCD acting director. “We kicked off the events with doughnuts and coffee in the cafeteria. For many trainees, this breakfast was their first in-person social event at NIEHS.”

Trainees were elated to participate in-person and meet one another.

“I started just a few months before the shutdown,” said Ayland Letsinger, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Ion Channel Physiology Group. “The social distancing was especially hard knowing we were all missing out on potential friendships and collaborations. Having so many trainees in one spot laughing together during the events of Fellow Appreciation Week represented a brilliant return to what we have been missing.”

Katie Headley, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group, said a highlight of the week was meeting in-person for the first time her colleague Kathryn Dalton, Ph.D., V.M.D.

“I have been working with her for months on organizing the 25th annual NIEHS Biomedical Career Symposium(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/careerfair/) and this week we got to interact on a social level, which we had not yet had the opportunity to do,” Headley said.

Trivia challenge

Generation Next Generation Next shared a lot of laughs along the way to their big win. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

Headley said last year’s virtual events were among her first social connections to other trainees.

“My lab formed a trivia group, and although we did not win, because the postbaccalaureate trainees blew us away, I learned a lot about my lab members that I had not known before. I was impressed by their knowledge of specific facts, including the exact number of bones in the body — which is 206,” she said.

This year’s trivia challenge kept the tradition alive, and the brain-powered, lighthearted event did not disappoint. Arana said the room was filled with both laughter and moments of complete silence as teams contemplated their answers.

Hong Xu, OFCD program manager and data analyst, hosted the event and eight teams competed for bragging rights. Three teams came out on top (see sidebar).

“Fellow Appreciation Week is always a great time to celebrate our trainees and have fun with some friendly competition,” said Katy Hamilton, OFCD summer internship program and postbaccalaureate program manager.

Fun for all

A walk around Discovery Lake, doughnuts with mentors, and chalk-colored sidewalks were among the week’s most memorable moments.

The OFCD team (left to right): Edith Lee, Mercedes Arana, Ph.D., Katy Hamilton, and Hong Xu The OFCD team (left to right): Lee, Arana, Hamilton, and Xu. “The trainees are fundamental to the NIEHS research program, and this is a week to remind them that we appreciate them and all that they contribute,” said Hamilton. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

“Big Picture, Small Chalk” was an expo event held on the outdoor campus patio organized by Hamilton. The expo included various office representatives from throughout the institute to show trainees the array of resources available to them.

“Over 80 people signed up for the event, and not only trainees, but also a lot of scientific principal investigators who seemed to be having just as much fun as the trainees,” said Headley.

“We had a big turn out,” Arana said about the week’s festivities. “We were excited to see all the trainees, scientists, and staff enjoying themselves. I am grateful to the OFCD team (Xu, Hamilton, and Edith Lee) for making the event so successful.”

“They [OFCD] have helped to create a supportive and enriching community and Fellow Appreciation Week certainly showcased that. I cannot thank them enough,” said Daniel Nguyen, a postbaccalaureate fellow in the Mutagenesis and DNA Repair Regulation Group.

(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer-editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

The “doughnut squad,” Paul Doetsch, Ph.D., and Robin Stanley, Ph.D. The “doughnut squad,” Paul Doetsch, Ph.D., deputy scientific director of NIEHS and head of the Mutagenesis and DNA Repair Regulation Group, and Robin Stanley, Ph.D., Nucleolar Integrity Group, kicked-off the week’s events. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
Generation Next: Most Environmental Team Name Winning Trivia TeamsGeneration Next: Most Environmental Team Name (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
Weekend Immune System: Most Humorous Team Name Winning Trivia TeamsWeekend Immune System: Most Humorous Team Name (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
CA2 Fast 2 Furious: Most Scientific Team Name Winning Trivia TeamsCA2 Fast 2 Furious: Most Scientific Team Name (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
Gary Bird, Ph.D. “Big Picture, Small Chalk” ExpoGary Bird, Ph.D., staff scientist, Signal Transduction Laboratory, is one of the organizers of the annual Big Picture, Small Talk competition. For this spin on that event, Bird wrote “Human Studies” and drew a giant microscope. He demonstrated how people could interact with the display by putting their head on the microscope stage. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
Chitrangda Srivastava, Ph.D. “Big Picture, Small Chalk” ExpoChitrangda Srivastava, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in the Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory, drawing “Heart, Mind and Genes for Science.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
Asmita Fnu, Ph.D. “Big Picture, Small Chalk” ExpoAsmita Fnu, Ph.D., a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the Placental Cell Biology Group, demonstrates how environmental contaminants in water affect maternal health, which leads to a stressed placenta and affects fetal health in her “Big Picture, Small Chalk” drawing. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
Paul Doetsch, Ph.D., Paul Wade, Ph.D., Darlene Dixon, D.V.M, Ph.D., and Niketa Bhawsinghka, Ph.D. “Big Picture, Small Chalk” ExpoLeft to right: Doetsch; Paul Wade, Ph.D., acting chief, Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory; and Darlene Dixon, D.V.M, Ph.D., group leader, Molecular Pathogenesis Group, serving pizza to Niketa Bhawsinghka, Ph.D., a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory. “After two years of virtual celebration, this year felt so very good,” Bhawsinghka said. “It seemed like a festival.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)
Thank you board “Big Picture, Small Chalk” Expo“Beautifully decorated partition boards walled the outdoor area and one board had handwritten personal notes thanking trainees,” Headley said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

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