Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Travels, Part I and My #MicrobialHeroes

So the #DocMartinWorld tour for Summer 2017 has begun.  Yes, I need to create a "tour" T-shirt and poster....

First I traveled to Stanford University (where I earned my PhD) to visit with my former undergraduate research student Paula Welander.  There I was able to teach a couple of first year classes, visit with Paula's lab, and walk around a campus I hadn't visited in decades.

Gulp.  I couldn't get into my old building where I earned my PhD, or the new building, and that is probably a good thing.  A LOT of time has passed.

Then it was #ASMicrobe in New Orleans, where I had a wonderful time.

Next was a visit with Pat Schloss' lab at the University of Michigan, where I have been learning to how to perform 16S analysis of microbial communities----trying to use mothur and R.

Whew. I wish I was smarter, but I remember what Pat Schloss has written about learning new things.  

While I am here in Ann Arbor, I have been thinking of all the microbiologists who have been instrumental in my professional life:  teachers, mentors, colleagues, and collaborators.  

My wife Jennifer Quinn made me a mobile last year, and "shrinky-dink" portraits of my #MicrobialHeroes.

Here is my mobile.

Do you recognize everyone?  

Each of these people have played important roles in my life, and I am very appreciative to Every. Single. One. Of. Them.  Most of them are still with me, and some have passed away, but they are all important to my life and profession.

Here are my #MicrobialHeroes in this mobile, in alphabetical order.  

  • Dave Baltrus (as a tireless and patient collaborator who has my back during tough times).
  • Seth Bordenstein (for enthusiastic support, letter writing, and skyping into my classes).
  • Jonathan Eisen (for encouraging me when things were very dark, and for encouraging his students to listen to me).
  • Jack Gilbert (for trying to help me begin to learn about 16S analysis, and endless positivity and energy).
  • Heidi Goodrich-Blair (for standing by me in truly awful times).
  • Jo Handelsman (for being perhaps the longest standing #DocMartinSupporter by letter writing, coming to give seminars, inviting me to work in her lab, and believing in me when I decidedly did not).
  • John Ingraham (for being an amazing role model who bridged "old" and "new" microbiology with elegance and humor).
  • Ed Leadbetter (for being another wonderful role model who invited me to be part of a PhD committee, for being one of my instructors in the Microbial Diversity course at Woods Hole long ago, and knowing so very much about microbiology and being a fine human being).
  • Rich Lenski (for being the first professional to encourage me to return to academia, and treating me like a valued colleague when I applied for a job in his lab---even when I didn't get it!).
  • Lynn Margulis (for knowing so much about predatory microbes and symbiosis, and being a wonderful example of never giving up).
  • Margaret McFall-Ngai (for believing in me, supporting me, thinking better of me than I do, and endless letters over the years...did I mention never giving up on me?).
  • Ken Nealson (for being the fellow I should have done postdoctoral work for, offering me a job when I had none, being both encouraging and kind, and sharing my enthusiastic fascination with the deeply strange in microbiology).
  • Norm Pace (as a role model in many ways, even though I used the forbidden "p" word).
  • Syd Rittenberg (my first microbiology professor at UCLA, who introduced me to Bdellovibrio, and told me I was really a microbiologist).
  • Ned Ruby (for being a role model of role models, as a scientist, mentor, and person---I want to be Ned when I grow up).
  • Abigail Salyers (for being my instructor at the Woods Hole Microbial Diversity course, who encouraged me to be myself as a scientist, and who actually offered me money when she worried about me being without a job).
  • Elio Schaechter (for being just about the finest and most engaged microbiologist I know, who gave me a chance to write a little for his blog, and who always was so supportive of me...and who knows everything about #MattersMicrobial!)
  • Pat Schloss (for working with me directly as a collaborator and mentor, being a tireless supporter, and for his fine example of work-life balance).
  • Carl Woese (for telling me to "stand by your data" and never giving up).

I remain very grateful to these and my other #MicrobialHeroes.

Who are your "professional heroes," and why?  Have you told them how you feel?  Don't delay.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Microbe 2017 and Thanking Colleagues

Such a hectic year!  I have just come up for air, and there is so much to discuss.

This summer, I will be traveling quite a bit to forge collaborations and learn new techniques.  Since I don't have a grant at present, I am paying out of my pocket for this summer soiree, but I don't mind.  It's necessary for me in order to have another try at getting a promotion to Full Professor in the coming year. 

I hope to post some fun updates as the summer progresses while I travel to Stanford, Ann Arbor, Nottingham, Tampa, and Denver. And maybe Tucson!

Call it the #DocMartinWorldTour.  Sort of.

I have long been a microbial advocate (#MicrobialAdvocate?).  I can't call myself a #MicrobialAmbassador, since that is a honorary position of the American Society for Microbiology.  But when I was at the recent general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (#ASMicrobe) in New Orleans, I did my best to show the #MicrobialFlag.

I handed out #MicrobialSupremacy buttons and stickers to folks who recognized me and share my #MicrobialMania.  Here were the types I brought to #ASMicrobe.  Remember, I make these each year for my microbiology course.  I've been doing this for a for a while!

I ran out of buttons and stickers in a hurry.  This is a good thing, since #MicrobialPR is very important to me.

But there was something else that was also important to me.  I have had a challenging climb through academia.  Some of that is my fault. Some of it is not.  But there have been some people who have really stuck by me during my odd and often unpleasant stroll through the academic maze.  These people believed in me and supported me relentlessly, even when I started to give up on myself. So I wanted to give such people a meaningful token of my appreciation.

Two years ago, in my Microbiology course here at the University of Puget Sound, I had a very creative student, Mariko.

On the last day of that class, Mariko gave me this.

It is a summary of various things I had told my microbiology students during the class that really impacted Mariko, artistically rendered.  I have it framed, because it is beyond awesome.  

Look to the upper left of Mariko's drawing.

For many years, I have been calling my microbiology students #Micronauts.  Mariko added the motto:  "Micronauts we soar!"

My artist pal "Vexed Muddler" converted Mariko's drawing into a colored cartoon.  I then had enameled lapel pins made.  I think they came out well.

I was able to hand these out to some of my endlessly patient #MarkSupporters at #ASMicrobe.  I have more to send out to people who didn't attend the general meeting.  Some folks wrote powerful letters of support for me over the years.  Others have helped me with experiments.  Some have invited me into their labs and offered collaborations.  And of course, my undergraduate research students make everything possible.

Short version:  if I give you one of these pins, it means you have made a genuine and lasting impression on my life, and are part of my #QualityQuorum.  I cannot fully express my gratitude in words; I will not forget what you have done for me.

Thank you so very much, #MarkSupporters!