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Plant Molecular Biology Retreat: Students and Postdocs Take the Lead

It’s not often that graduate students and postdocs get to take the lead at scientific conferences, but at the annual Plant Molecular Biology Retreat, they do just that.

On a crisp fall weekend in September, scientists from universities and companies from across North Carolina met in Asheville, NC to “talk science” at the 27th annual retreat of the Plant Molecular Biology Consortium. The PMB Consortium is the longest running Intellectual Exchange Group hosted by NCBiotech. At their annual retreat students and postdocs run the sessions, and along with new university faculty, present their latest data.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Doris Wagner

In keeping with the theme of engagement with new scientists, Dr. Anna Stepanova gave a heartfelt introduction of keynote speaker Dr. Doris Wagner (University of Pennsylvania). Dr. Wagner was one of Stepanova’s mentors at Penn. Stepanova praised both Dr. Wagner’s scientific skills and her compassionate advice to Anna who, at the time, was learning to balance the demands of her profession with the demands of home life, including a baby on the way.

Dr. Wagner particularly enjoyed the retreat’s long standing tradition of Chalk Talks. During these informal presentations, the speaker uses an easel, markers, and their voice as their only tools to describe a current research project. The result is a lively discussion that leads to new ideas, new collaborations, and new friendships.

Michael Judge

At the Chalk Talks, I spoke with undergraduate student Michael Judge from Appalachian State University. Judge presented the results of his summer research at NC State University. Admitting he was a little nervous, he took me through his research project, while his mentors, Drs. Linda Robles and Javier Brumos, hovered close by, in case Michael needed some help. It was unnecessary; Michael did a wonderful job of describing his project investigating hormone synthesis in plants.

As NCSU College of Ag and Life Sciences Interim Assistant Director and this year’s retreat coordinator Dr. Becky Boston said, “The PMB seminars and retreat let us show off the PMB community to speakers throughout the world and let us escape from other demands to cocoons of intellectually stimulating and amazing research.” And for one weekend, to be led by the students and postdocs, instead of the other way around.

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