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Vol. LXIII, No. 4
February 18, 2011

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Conference for Underrepresented Students Reaches 10-Year Milestone
  NIGMS director Dr. Jeremy Berg (l) talks to students following the 10th anniversary dinner of the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.  
  NIGMS director Dr. Jeremy Berg (l) talks to students following the 10th anniversary dinner of the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.  

One by one, a cluster of students boarded AirTran Airways flight 495 headed from Baltimore to Charlotte, N.C. With posters in hand, they soon joined thousands of other students who, like them, came prepared to present their research before their peers, faculty administrators and members of the scientific community at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) 10th anniversary event.

The recent conference provided a forum for students to network as well as an opportunity to showcase their research, attend professional development workshops, listen to scientific talks and visit exhibit booths. The meeting also gave faculty members a chance to support their students, learn about funding opportunities and obtain information about training and mentoring.

ABRCMS, which is sponsored by NIGMS and managed by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), is the nation’s largest professional conference for students underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral science fields. Packed with activities, the conference equips students with tools to help them prepare to be future leaders in the biomedical research workforce.

This year’s meeting kicked off with a keynote address by Juan Sepúlveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. The third Hispanic to earn a Rhodes scholarship, he informed students that he was proud of what they had accomplished thus far, but warned that they had to continue moving forward.

ASM past president and ABRCMS chairperson Dr. Clifford Houston closed the opening event with a message for students to seize opportunities presented at the meeting, absorb information and attend sessions that applied to their fields. “Students, this is your conference, own it,” he said. “If you do this for yourself, you will help establish a foundation for a successful future. As a result of coming to ABRCMS, you will need to give back. Do this by participating in the scientific workforce and replacing the baby boomers.”

At the 10th anniversary awards ceremony, Dr. Jeremy Berg, NIGMS director, stressed the importance of overcoming obstacles, fulfilling dreams and paying it forward. Citing the late Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture, he described the timeline of events that led to his own career and the barriers he faced. “Brick walls don’t stop us, but show us how badly we want something,” he said.

Berg recalled that his earlier dreams were to play sports at a high level, see atoms and repay his teachers—all of which he’s accomplished. “Think about your own dreams and chart a course to achieve them,” he advised.

Many of the speeches led to further discussions in the exhibit hall, where students had the chance to mingle with speakers including NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who discussed research advances, health care reform and NIH-funded programs for underrepresented groups.

The exhibit hall served not only as a “backstage” location for students to meet celebrity scientists, but also as a place where they could meet recruiters for graduate programs, obtain information about internships and find out about funding opportunities. NIH was well represented among the exhibitors, with booths from NIAID, NIAMS, NIBIB, NIDCR, NIGMS, NIMH, NINDS, NHLBI, the Office of Intramural Training and Education and the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program.

“I was an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware the first two times I attended ABRCMS,” said Nicole Barkley of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “This is my first time attending as a graduate student—and I actually found out about the graduate program that I’m currently in at this meeting. ABRCMS not only helps with networking, it also helps students realize that they are not the only people doing research and that there are other people who are interested in their doing research.”

The final day of the conference featured a luncheon with an address by renowned poet Dr. Maya Angelou, who advised students to incorporate art with science and stressed the importance of helping humankind. Like Angelou, Houston said that he hoped students departing the meeting would improve society by helping eliminate health disparities and becoming the next generation of scientists who will serve a dynamic and diverse U.S. population.

“ABRCMS brings out some of the best and brightest students in the country,” said Houston. “It’s my goal that 50 percent of the seniors who’ve attended this conference will move from scientists in training to scientists in the community.” NIHRecord Icon

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