Anthony M. Franchini, Ph.D., April 14th, 2016
First, let me say I’m excited and happy to contribute to the Kerafast blog and share my experiences with you all. I’m here today to talk about my time at the 55th Annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) Meeting, held in New Orleans, LA, from March 13th to 17th. This was my first visit to SOT, and my first major conference where I wasn’t expected to give a talk. The latter really allowed me to approach the entire week from a different perspective, free of the pre-talk jitters and hours tucked away in my hotel practicing the exact wording and message of each slide. That freed up a lot of time, and I resolved myself to make the most of it, and not allow myself to be sucked into all the food and revelry of the French Quarter less than a mile from my hotel room.
So what is SOT? The stated goal of the Society is to promote the acquisition and utilization of knowledge in toxicology, which is defined as the study of the adverse effects of chemical, physical or biological agents on living organisms and the ecosystem, including the prevention and amelioration of such adverse effects while aiding in the protection of public health. That’s pretty BROAD if you ask me. And in fact, the Society itself boasts a membership of more than 7,700 toxicologists in 61 countries. Just take a look at the scientific program and you’ll see just how broad the topics were: everything from arsenic and AhR biology to mustard gas-induced lung fibrosis and zebrafish models of toxicology. Lots of areas that I, a budding immunotoxicologist, was wholly unaware of. So I set two goals prior to landing in New Orleans: 1) I will learn as much as I can about fields I have zero prior knowledge about and 2) I will take advantage of all the resources here at SOT to add to my professional network.
Fulfilling goal number one was quite easy. Of the four full days I was at SOT, I must have spent 80% of my time in the poster sessions. Because of the size of the conference, SOT runs block symposia at the same time as poster sessions, so you have to make a choice. And personally, I find interacting with other people and talking science to be far more stimulating and memorable than sitting in a lecture. I guess that would make me a social scientist then, right? So what were the highlights? I learned a fair amount about effects of cigarette smoke on DNA methylation in human monocytes, the effects of carcinogenic chemicals on miRNA expression in the lungs and kidney, the structural effects of alcohol on TLR3 binding to dsRNA, the use of miRNAs to detect exposure to mustard gas following a possible terrorist attack, and the effects of dioxin-like molecules on gut microbiota. I could go on and on, but I won’t. That’s not the point of this post. The quality of science was excellent, I got to meet some collaborators face to face, and I had some very memorable conversations that led directly into fulfilling goal number two.
SOT probably had the most networking opportunities of any conference I’ve been to. It kicked off with a postdoc-student mixer the first evening, putting on display all of the regional chapters and component groups to work with. There was a trainee-mentor breakfast, and the SOT Postdoctoral Association luncheon, where I was able to have lunch with a long-time toxicology consultant and a gentleman from the DoD. Then there was the ever-present job bank, where trainees could not only actively look for jobs but also set up interviews with the companies present. The job bank was open the entire time, and while I didn’t take advantage of it, I think it’s a great idea for getting trainees used to thinking outside of academia for their own career path. In addition to these daytime networking opportunities, every night saw two to three open receptions put on by an industry sponsor or specialty section looking to bring its membership together. Plus, it helps to have the French Quarter a short walk away to relax and indulge in a marvelous meal. Personal tip: If you are ever there for a conference and need a place to relax, have a drink, and talk science in a very relaxed atmosphere, head to the French 75 bar or Napoleon House.
Anthony M. Franchini, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of B. Paige Lawrence in the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center located in Rochester, NY. He joined Kerafast as a Fellow in August of 2015.