Memorial Sloan Kettering postdoctoral researchers got the chance to showcase their accomplishments at the second annual Postdoctoral Research Symposium, held in Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Rockefeller Research Laboratories in late October. The event allowed postdocs to share their latest findings with Memorial Sloan Kettering colleagues, mentors, and other members of the Tri-Institutional community.
More than 80 scientific projects were described through oral presentations and poster discussions during the daylong event. The symposium culminated with a keynote address by Christine Guthrie, a leading RNA researcher and a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
“This symposium is an outstanding venue for allowing postdoctoral researchers to spotlight their work and interact with other members of the research community,” said Sloan Kettering Institute Director Thomas J. Kelly. “If anything, this year’s event surpassed the success of our first symposium, which was very well received.”
With the addition of oral presentations and a poster competition, the 2008 program expanded on the agenda of the inaugural symposium, held in October 2007, which drew an enthusiastic crowd and concluded with a keynote address by Nobel Laureate Paul M. Nurse, President of The Rockefeller University.
That 2007 symposium made a strong impression on cell biologist Mandana Namdar when she read a Center News article about the event on the Memorial Sloan Kettering Web site. “I was reading about life as a postdoc at Sloan Kettering, and the symposium sounded like a great initiative to promote the varied and extensive research at the Center, as well as foster interactions between members of the postdoctoral community,” she said.
At the time, Dr. Namdar had recently completed her PhD at Oxford University and was strongly considering accepting a postdoctoral position at Sloan Kettering Institute. “Sloan Kettering already appealed strongly to me because it’s set up perfectly for the basic and translational cancer research that I was planning to pursue,” she added.
In early 2008 Dr. Namdar accepted a position in the laboratory of Memorial Sloan Kettering President Emeritus Paul A. Marks. For her research, she explores the mechanisms of action of histone deacetylase, or HDAC, inhibitors, which interfere with the regulation of gene expression in cancer cells, blocking their growth and triggering self-destruction. But her activities extend beyond the laboratory and encompass many aspects of the postdoctoral experience at Sloan Kettering Institute. “I enjoyed organizing events at Oxford, and I wanted to continue contributing to similar activities here at Memorial Sloan Kettering,” she explained.
Dr. Namdar knew the inaugural symposium had been organized in part by the Research Fellow Advisory Council (RFAC), a committee made up of postdoctoral volunteers and Sloan Kettering Institute administrators and faculty who meet regularly to discuss issues that are important to postdoctoral researchers. She joined RFAC soon after she arrived at the Center and volunteered for the 2008 symposium’s organizing committee, which began planning the event in the spring.
The committee expanded the symposium from a half day to a full day and added a morning slate of oral presentations by fellows representing each of Sloan Kettering Institute’s eight research programs. The afternoon was devoted to the poster session, during which more than 75 postdoctoral researchers explained the research summarized in their posters and answered questions from colleagues from the Tri-Institutional research community (which includes Memorial Sloan Kettering, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College). The committee also added a poster competition, in which a faculty panel chose the top projects.
Dr. Namdar served as a moderator during the oral presentations and then presented a poster on her research about HDAC inhibition in the afternoon session. The poster session incorporated time for presenters to circulate and study other posters. “It was wonderful talking to postdoctoral researchers and professors in other programs and seeing the wide range of research that’s going on here,” she said. In the competition, two posters shared first prize — one presented by Christina Stallings, a researcher in the laboratory of infectious disease specialist Michael S. Glickman, and the other by Roy Sillitoe, an investigator in the laboratory of developmental biologist Alexandra L. Joyner.
In the keynote address, Dr. Guthrie, who has made major contributions in the field of RNA processing, related how the span of her own scientific career — beginning in the late 1960s — roughly coincided with the modern era of RNA research. After struggling for years to forge a research career in a male-dominated profession, she established her own laboratory at UCSF. There, she and others formed a support group made up mostly of women scientists. Over the years, it has served as a supportive and pragmatic problem-solving network and continues to be what Dr. Guthrie calls a “tremendous source of joy and power in my life.”
For Dr. Namdar, the symposium was just one of many Memorial Sloan Kettering programs that enrich the experience of a young scientist, and she plans to remain as active as possible. In addition to the RFAC, she also belongs to the Postdoctoral Association, a group that represents the needs and concerns of postdocs at Memorial Sloan Kettering. She added, “Being a postdoctoral research fellow here is very fulfilling, not just on the research level, but also working and interacting with a diverse group of people from all over the world.”