The Society of Toxicology (SOT) Conference is the largest of its kind for this discipline. SOT brings together 6,500 toxicologists from more than 50 countries. This year, it was held March 23-27 in sunny Phoenix, AZ and some of the toxicologists in attendance were our own PRISM students: Christine Ta, Bik Tzu Huang, Jazlene Montes, and Yessenia Lopez, as well as mentor, Dr. Shu-Yuan Cheng. Who better to get the details from than the student attendees themselves? Read below for their insights and first hand accounts of their experiences and click here for pictures from the trip that showcase both the conference and the sights of Phoenix.
An account from Jazlene Montes, attending for the first time…
The whole experience in general was very eye-opening for me. I’ve always liked science and knew I’d like a career in science, but I never really knew what options there were out there in the “real world.” What was I going to do after I finished school? What would I become and how? Those questions were answered for me at SOT. I got to interact with people in various positions from many different science backgrounds, which was all very cool and informational. I feel calmer knowing what I’m working for in the long run. Having a goal to work towards has helped reinvigorate me. I know now that I’d like to continue my education by obtaining a PhD. I’d like my work to be on toxicology with a focus in public health. After finishing school, I can either continue into more schooling or have a career in an industry, the government, or even a college. My final goal now is to one day be a professor at a college teaching students, helping them, and motivating them as so many teachers/professor have done for me. Without them I know I would have never made it to where I am now. I’d like to pass that along to student both in a classroom and/or in a lab. SOT has given me the insight and knowledge I have long been seeking for. Now that I finally know whats possible, the sky is the limit.
An account from Christine Ta, who presented her research, “RTP801 Regulates Senescence Cell Induced by Dithiocarbamates”…
During the 5 days that we had stayed in Phoenix, AZ, we attempted to explore this western city but we didn’t have time since we mostly visited the expo checking out other toxicologists’/students’ research. There were several studies that stood out to me, however one of my favorites was a study on exposure to small levels of cocaine in bank tellers who handle dollar bills. Another more biologically related research study was one that found that olive oil could potentially be beneficial in preventing colon cancer.
Not only were we able to meet with other students and network with several graduate schools administrators, we were also able to take a day off away from the conference and stop by the Desert Botanical Gardens. We were able to see exotic cacti and wildflowers and it was a truly remarkable experience. Along with the travel we also experienced the fear of a dust storm; we all managed to get back safely but during the time we were able to bond and became closer friends.
For me, the SOT was a rocky adventure as well as a mind-opening experience. At the conference, apart from all the professionalism and professional attire, I was able to befriend some interesting and benevolent people who share the same passion for toxicology. I truly appreciate acquiring knowledge about current research in the field of carcinogenesis and stem cell research, as well as neurotoxicity. With this experience I was also able to learn more about myself, like that I really enjoy the sun but i hate jet lag.
An account from Bik Tzu Huang who presented her research, “Analysis of Amoxicillin through NMR”…
I attended the Sunday Undergraduate Education Program, where we got to hear lectures from several speakers about what toxicology is, current research, and the importance of the next generation of toxicologists. The most interesting presentation was by Martin A. Philbert who talked about “Optical Nanotechnologies of Imaging of Cellular Processes and Neurosurgery.” One of the interesting parts of his research was using nanotechnology to change the color of malignant tumors in the brain which made extraction much easier for the surgeon. Later, the undergraduate students moved to another area where we got to together in small groups with a mentor and a PhD student to solve a problem in a certain amount of time and with limited data. That exercise showed me how an initial hypothesis can keep changing with new information and how working with others can give different perspectives and broaden the knowledge needed to find the cause of a problem.
The most important event of the night was the “Open Time with Academic Toxicology Program Directors and Internship Sponsors,” where we got to talk to several representatives and see how the current doctoral students feel about their experience in their school and also common things that schools want in their applicants. For example, the typical things that showed up were to have a good GRE score and experience in research. In some cases I’ve also heard that some doctoral students were able to get accepted without a high GRE score but it may be because they were familiar with the faculty or students of the school.
I saw that SOT was a gathering of all kinds of people. Students weren’t the only people presenting, but also professionals in the industry and professors. I went to several booths for companies like Nexcelom Bioscience and learned about new instruments such as their cellometer, which allows easier cell counting. I also learned about BioMed Central, which offers open access to their journals ranging from various fields. Some posters I went to were talking about neurotoxicity evaluation, a new method to test for toxic inhalants in the atmosphere and epigenetics with the dopamine transporter. As I talked to these people I learned how useful networking is and how SOT can help with that. Being part of SOT allows professionals, graduate students, and even undergraduate students to interact with each other and gain new contacts that can last a long time.
During my presentation of my poster, even though I was presenting in front of professionals, it felt casual because they were trying to learn about my research and not trying to criticize it. Overall, going to SOT helped me understand the kind of field Toxicology is by seeing the current research, the kinds of schools and their staff, and the professionals that are there. SOT also helped me realize that it is important to be open and not be shy because we need to take hold of our opportunities.
An account from Yessenia Lopez, attending for the first time…
Our first day at the Society of Toxicology (SOT) conference was on Sunday, March 23rd where Christine, Jazlene, Bik Tzu, and I had the opportunity to attend the Undergraduate Education Program. We attended a couple of presentations about current research. The most impressive research was about a new method to extract tumors. However, the most memorable presentation was the one that was interrupted because the fire alarm went off. The presentation continued while we were waiting outside, which I thought was very impressive and admirable. We also had the opportunity to speak to representatives from many schools.
Afterwards, we were divided into smaller groups and spoke to a professor who works in admissions and a current doctoral student about their experience reviewing applications and as an applicant. I found this part of the day to be very revealing, because they pointed out how grades are not always the deciding factor, the importance of personal statements and trying to stand out. I was very shy during the first half of the day, but I became a little more comfortable as time passed and began to participate even more. For the next three days, we went to see several posters and I was amazed to see the different types of research that toxicologist can do. I did not present, but Christine and Bik Tzu did and they were great! I think going as a non-presenter to this conference has prepared me for next year’s conference, where I will be presenting.