2018 off to a fast start

It's hard to believe we're almost into March already! Between bench work, mentoring students, writing chores, peer review assignments, and a little teaching, January and February have just flown by.

We're happy to welcome Nathan Liang into the group. Nathan is a TMM rotation student, who is also planning to stay on for the summer and into his honours project next fall. He will be working on various aspects of endogenous mutagenesis. Welcome aboard!

We're also happy to learn that Kassidy and Salma will be moving on to their first choices for post-baccalaureate education. Kassidy has been accepted to the uOttawa law program (and awaiting word from other programs in Ontario), while Salma has been accepted to the chemistry graduate program. Both have made important contributions to our ongoing research. As group leader, I always encourage students to pursue what they're most enthusiastic about, and I'm very glad Kassidy and Salma have found great situations for the next steps in their respective career paths.

Looking forward to 2018

Fall 2017 was a successful semester for everyone in the group.  We've made progress with all projects.  Reena and Bledar applied for multiple scholarships and successfully conducted their first thesis advisory committee meetings.  Salma and Kassidy continue to make important contributions on multiple fronts.  Our inaugural holiday dinner was good fun.  Winter Break is a welcome pause to refit and recharge.  Looking forward to a great 2018!

Fall Semester is Underway

And so, the new school year has begun!  Welcome to our MSc students, Reena Fabros and Bledar Xhialli.  And we welcome back our undergraduates, Salma (starting her honours project) and Kassidy.  Aisha is moving to Dr. Bernard Jasmin's group for her honours project.  We've got exciting preliminary results on the mutation signature from metabolism and we're launching new projects.  It's going to be a great year ahead!

Welcome to our Newest Student Researcher

This has been months in the making, but we welcome Aisha Barkhad into our group today.  Aisha just completed her third year toward an Honours BSc in Biochemistry and will help with our analysis of mutations resulting from endogenous cellular metabolism.  We are now up to our full complement of student researchers for the summer.  Welcome aboard, Aisha!

The 60th Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB) Conference

The CSMB meeting this past week brought together over 400 Canadian and international scientists to share their latest findings. The organizers did a great job and it was a fantastic meeting! I had the opportunity to present some of our results on mutagenesis attributable to endogenous cellular metabolism. I'm looking forward to serving on one of the CSMB committees, to further support the Society's mission of promoting and nurturing the Canadian biomedical research community.

The March for Science, and Its Aftermath

Earth Day 2017 might well be looked upon as a watershed moment, when scientists around the world took to public demonstrations in support and defence of the scientific enterprise. The erosion of public support for science is especially alarming in the US. Tangible manifestations of this phenomenon include creationism, climate change denialism, anti-vaccine activism, anti-GMO activism, Moon landing denialism, UFO conspiracy theories, etc. etc. And how ironic it is that the anti-science, and indeed anti-truth, movement originates in the US, the world's most scientifically productive nation.

Nowadays, it is all too easy for people to take science and technology for granted. The fruits of science are everywhere. Modern biomedical science has doubled human life expectancy, cured many diseases, and continues to find ever more effective treatments for others. Newton's laws enabled us to put satellites in orbit, to put men on the Moon, and to send spacecraft to explore our solar system and beyond. Faraday and Maxwell's work on electromagnetism is the basis for every single electrical gadget we use every day. Quantum mechanics underpin all microcircuit technology, which drives all the computing devices and smartphones we use every day. Even Einstein's special theory of relativity has practical application:  it enables the Global Positioning System to keep time accurately, so that we can navigate on Earth with high precision. Every piece of modern technology is based on the work of scientists and engineers. These are just some of the things that we benefit from every day, which science has made possible. Entire academic careers can be spent chronicling all the modern advances made possible by science.

We scientists are the heirs to this rich and proud legacy of discovery and invention. We uphold and build on this legacy as we make discoveries of our own, every day in the lab. But it is within our power as practicing scientists to do more: we must be ambassadors for science to our fellow citizens. In the course of our daily lives, if someone asks us what we do for a living, each of us should be proud to say that we're a scientist, to make the case that the science we do matters, and to explain how it can benefit society. The discoveries of science will continue to lead to better health, a stronger economy, and better quality of life for society now and for all generations to come. Let us each do our part to persuade the public that the scientific enterprise is, and always will be, well worth supporting.

Discovery Grant funded!

We got word this morning that the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) has funded our Discovery Grant to investigate sources of endogenous mutagenesis in cells!  We're most grateful for NSERC's continuing support for curiosity-driven fundamental science.  Let's go make some discoveries!

TMM Rotation Complete

Just came back from the inaugural Translational and Molecular Medicine (TMM) Rotation poster session.  Jenny did a fabulous job putting together and presenting her work.  All of the students whose posters I evaluated also did great.  Looking forward to next year's rotations!

New Students

Things have been very busy, so this update is a bit tardy.  Better late than never, though.  Our group has welcomed three new undergraduates this term:

Kassidy Doherty is a Biopharmaceutical Science student who is helping with characterization of mutants.

Salma Alasmar is also a Biopharmaceutical Science student who is currently volunteering in the lab, and is on track to carry out an Honours Project starting in the fall.

Jenny Cho is a Translational and Molecular Medicine (TMM) student who is doing a month-long rotation in the lab to carry out some pilot studies on optimal conditions for a new series of experiments.

All have been doing fine work in the lab and are contributing significantly to progress in the group.

Welcome to our UROP students!

Congratulations to Aurgho Datta and Jamie Zhen, our first two UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) students!  Aurgho and Jamie will help us elucidate the mutagenesis attributable to metabolic processes.  Looking forward to getting started!

Doing Some Science

After submitting three grants within the past month, it's time to do some actual science!  It'll certainly be nice to mix in some bench work to go with more writing and computational stuff.

Also, a big welcome to Reda Silarbi, the first trainee in the group!  Reda is an enthusiastic third yeast student in Biomedical Science who will be learning yeast microbiology, yeast genetics, DNA molecular biology, etc.  In other words, all the fun stuff that happens at the bench.

One other note:  A paper from my postdoctoral lab just came out, which I contributed to in a minor fashion, about endogenous and exogenous sources of mutagenesis in human fibroblasts:


Peer Review Week

This past week was "Peer Review Week", when the institution of peer review has been much discussed.  As I'm in the midst of preparing three grant applications, peer review is very much on my mind.  Peer review has caused some researchers much grief and angst (e.g., here), but in my (albeit limited) experience, it isn't as bad as all that.

But one important question that I think even the worst detractors of peer review would ask is, "How do we improve peer review?"

I propose a sketch idea as follows:

First, allow authors to rate their peer reviewers on fairness, expertise in the research topic, thoughtfulness of comments, and so on.  Let authors identify whose peer review comments were helpful and whose were not.  Journals then compile data on the quality of peer reviewers and share these data with funding agencies.  Funding agencies should then select the best possible peer reviewers to serve on study sections or review panels.  Certainly, biased/uninformed/sloppy peer reviewers should be kept far, far away from making decisions on whose grants should be funded.  Journals can also reward consistently good reviewers by inviting them to serve on editorial boards, raising good reviewers' profiles in their research communities.

This system would incentivize everyone to contribute to peer review and to do their best job at it.  If we set the right incentives to reward fair, knowledgeable, thoughtful, helpful peer reviews, then the best science will be funded and published in a more transparent way.  And the entire ecosystem of science will benefit tremendously.