A Quarterly Newsletter From The Greater Washington DC Area APS
We are excited to bring you our September 2021 newsletter, an opportunity to connect with and engage our valued members. In this issue:
- President’s Welcome
- Interview with a Physiologist Series
- Meet the Executive Committee
- 2022 Annual Meeting Updates
The Fall semester, and the return of a full slate of campus activities, is here! I hope everyone is doing well both physically and mentally. There is no doubt that this season is filled with both excitement and angst while a pandemic still rages around us. If you’re feeling that, you are not alone; as I sit and write this welcome letter, news of the FDA’s approval of one of the mRNA vaccines has just come across the screen. What an incredible trajectory these vaccines have had over the last 18 months. I hope this news helps renew your hope and enthusiasm for our way forward through this time. As we return to what many of our institutions would like us to consider “normal and full” operations, I encourage everyone to approach your fellow colleagues, staff, trainees, and students with an incredible amount of empathy. Give yourself grace too. The world has been, and continues to go, through a lot.
We are optimistic that in Spring of 2022 we will be able once again to convene our Annual Meeting at The George Washington University. We are planning for this meeting to be held on Monday March 14th, 2022 in-person. Abstract submissions will be accepted beginning January 7th, 2022 and close January 31th, 2022. We will convey more information as plans progress, but want to be clear that these plans will remain tentative based on Washington, D.C. and The George Washington University guidelines for hosting large group meetings. If we are unable to hold an in-person meeting, we are making contingency plans for a virtual event. We recognize that many are exhausted by virtual meetings and find them less engaging, but the executive board feels strongly that our organization should make every effort to resume hosting our Annual Meeting this academic year. Lastly, we expect that attendance at any in-person event will be contingent on proof of vaccination.
In this quarter’s Connections we are thrilled to bring to you an interview with Dr. Austin Robinson, PhD, (Principal Investigator Auburn University School of Kinesiology) as our feature Meet the Physiologist. One of my favorite parts of this interview is Dr. Robinson discussing using his voice in social media and advocacy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Be sure to check out the entire interview by following the link below to our chapter website. If you have a physiologist you would like to recommend for our Meet the Physiologist feature, be sure to use our new suggestions tool at the bottom.
On behalf of the executive board, I want to wish everyone continued health and safety. As we head into the Fall semester, we hope everyone has and has had the opportunity to spend more time outside and take a break from screens and virtual meetings over the summer months. Good luck!
All the best,
Matthew Barberio, PhD
Interview With A Physiologist
A Rapid Fire Q & A with Dr. Austin Robinson, Ph.D. (He/Him)
Assistant Professor, Auburn University
What inspired you to become a physiologist?
As a kid I really loved sports, especially basketball and American football, but I was also overweight and developed hypertension at a young age. As a teenager, I took a keen interest in strength and conditioning and changed my diet drastically to incorporate more fruits and vegetables and less ultra-processed foods. I ended up losing weight and reversing my hypertension. However, I still had a lot of family members who had obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and general cardiometabolic dysfunction. So, what I loved about exercise physiology and physiology in general was that studying it enabled me to understand how the human body works and effective strategies to improve performance and health. After my undergraduate degree I ended up getting involved in research and never looked back.
Have you ever had a “eureka” moment and if so, tell us about it?
I think I have had several small breakthrough moments when reading papers or analyzing data but I can’t say I have had a single huge career defining eureka moment just yet. I think the closest thing I have had to that would be a few years ago when reading for a grant submission I really started to appreciate how there is this huge body of work on social determinants of health that entails public health, history, psychology, urban planning, and several other disciplines that are outside the purview of training that we receive in physiology. I think I always had a superficial understanding of how factors like education and income affect health but I didn’t realize how much research and empirical information was out there. Through additional reading and collaborations, it has since become clear to me that social determinants of health are upstream mediators of health behaviors, lifestyle factors, and a lot of disparities that we witness at a quasi-mechanistic or even mechanistic level. However, there are large knowledge gaps pertaining to how social disparities of health may influence the physiology underpinning health disparities. I have since started incorporating several questionnaires and additional measures in my research to try and capture some of these factors. I still have a lot to learn but I think it is certainly important to be cognizant of social determinants and to try an incorporate them in our physiological disparity research.
Favorite lab mishap story you can share without incriminating the innocent?
I brought a certain friend and colleague of mine some Death Wish Coffee one day. It’s a coffee brand that claims to sell the “world’s strongest” coffee. I knew they were an avid coffee drinker and didn’t think much of it. Then either later that day or the next day they complained to me about how strong the coffee was and how their hands were shaking during their entire data collection that morning. Luckily, I think they still managed to collect solid data so all’s well that ends well.
Best “MacGyver” moment in the lab?
Once, a student accidently pulled out a catheter placed at the antecubital space (elbow) during a data collection session where the participant has a cuff inflated around their upper arm. I am still not sure how the student managed to do that because it had never happened before or since. Inflation of the pressure cuff would significantly increase the participants blood flow and could thus cause excessive leakage. It wasn’t so much a safety concern, but would obviously be alarming for the participant. Without thinking, I somehow managed to grab several gauze pads and get over to the participants arm within a couple of seconds without showing any sign of panic. I held the gauze there calmly and the participant never noticed what happened until I put a band aid on.
Most influential scientist(s) in your career?
My former post doc mentor Bill Farquhar, PhD and my lab mates Matt Babcock, PhD, Kamila Pollin, PhD and Joe Watso, PhD at the University of Delaware. We had a great team during my three years as a post doc. Everyone got along and was very collegial, but we also gave each other a ton of solid feedback on papers, presentations, study designs, and grants. Dr. Farquhar was already really successful, but I think the lab had great success those years. We all did well for ourselves pertaining to publications and grants/fellowships while also learning a lot and having fun. All the former lab members are either in tenure track professor positions (myself) or doing post docs in great labs at highly reputable institutions and well on their way to tenure track or great industry jobs.
Favorite science-related TV show, movie, book, podcast series? (fictional or factual)?
I am a big podcast person. Related to physiology, I like The Drive with Peter Attia, MD. I don’t agree with everything on the podcast, but Peter covers so much related to health, medicine, physiology, and nutrition. He frequently has on guests with amazing expertise. I also like the Freakonomics podcast with Stephen Dubner, WorkLife with Adam Grant, PhD, and I recently started listening to A Slight Change of Plans with Maya Shankar, PhD. The latter three cover a lot of science but the content is more related to economics, organizational behavior, and the psychology of change.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about physiology/physiologists?
It seems kind of cliché but my sense is that a lot of people think we just toil away reading papers and doing molecular biology all day. Physiologists are very versatile. We perform all types of research in cell and animal models, and with human research participants. We teach, we do administrative work, we train the next generation scientists, we do podcasts, some physiologist are really big on social media and YouTube, and we work in advocacy. The list goes on and on. I also don’t think a lot of students realize you can actually make a decent living depending on what physiology career path you choose without having as much debt as some professional degrees require.
Most valuable quality in a colleague?
Someone who is reliable and good communicator.
Tell us a surprising fact about yourself?
I enjoy gardening and yard work a lot. As I get older people don’t find it as surprising, but these have been hobbies of mine since my late teens or early 20s and people always found it surprising.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring physiologists?
See my answer to most valuable quality in a colleague. Additionally, don’t be afraid of failure because it’s part of the process. Work really hard because the field is competitive and you want to make an impact, but also make sure to take care of your mental and physical health. That might mean turning down opportunities or taking a longer to get something done, but you only have one body, so you have to take care of it.
As an active social media user, how has social media proven helpful in your career?
I have made several virtual acquaintances, including a lot of scientists I really admire. I also follow a lot of journals on Twitter so between the various scientists and journals posting links to papers, that is how I find a decent amount of new or exciting scientific literature. Apart from papers, sometimes other scientists or scientific organizations will post links to helpful resources like updates from funding agencies, various Zoom seminars, etc. I also think just seeing other scientists going through the same stuff as you sometimes can be helpful.
Some of your social media activity is dedicated to advocacy, specifically #BlackInSTEM and #BlackInPhysiology. How has this advocacy helped shape you to become the scientist you are today?
I must give credit to scientists who put in a ton of work behind the scenes on the #BlackInSTEM and #BlackInPhysiology awareness on Twitter like Clintoria Williams, PhD (@clintoria), Henry Henderson, PhD (@DrHJHenderson), Dexter L. Lee, PhD (@dllee_phd) and many others. In particular, Clintoria did a ton of work with #BlackInPhysiology. Clintoria featured me in the #BlackInPhysiology on Twitter. Outside of that I largely retweeted a lot of other people’s posts to try to help amplify their influence and reach. Even before these hashtags I would also tweet articles from sources like Science, the American Physiological Society (APS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on issues like the importance of diversity in science and disparities in representation in STEM. Outside of social media, I served as an associate editor for the special call for papers on racial differences in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular physiology for the American Journal of Physiology; Heart and Circulatory Physiology. I have also made it a point to try to mentor BIPOC students by serving as a mentor/judge at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and recruiting BIPOC students to the lab. Going into this academic year I will have mentored or co-mentored five BIPOC students as a third year Assistant Professor.
The obvious criteria for success in my role as a professor includes publishing in high-impact journals and securing federal and foundation funding. However, additional criteria I use as benchmarks of success include being an excellent mentor and a strong commitment to action regarding improving the state of diversity in the biomedical science workforce. I think it’s really important because ethnic minorities are sorely underrepresented in the biomedical workforce. According to the NIH, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “In 2013, only six percent of science and engineering doctorate holders employed as full-time, full professors at all institutions were from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and at Research Intensive institutions, this proportion falls to only four percent.” Clearly there is a huge disparity in the field, and I would like to be part of the solution. I also think greater diversity in science will also facilitate stronger research.
What resources have you found helpful in your advocacy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
The NIH, which I linked to above also has a lot of information on the importance of diversity in the biomedical workforce. Brookings.edu has a ton of free helpful information on their website about factors that cause disparities in access to education and resources, which also likely contribute to disparities in STEM representation. The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, JD is an excellent book as well. It is about discriminatory housing policies and redlining, which no doubt contribute to health and opportunity disparities to this day. Other good books include The Broken Ladder by Keith Payne, PhD and Tightrope by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn which are both focused on the consequences of growing inequality and disinvestment in at risk communities. I took a course on organizational behavior during grad school that I thought was eye opening as well. I would also suggest that reading about organizational behavior and working with people in general is really important. In regards to mentoring, insidehighered.com has several helpful articles on mentoring students from underrepresented backgrounds.
The question we didn’t ask, but should have?
What I like to do outside of the lab/work! I enjoy resistance training and cardio, listening to podcasts and music, gardening/yardwork, reading, and hanging out with my family (Chaos; dog and Sofia; wife).
Meet the Executive Committee
Jeremy Smyth, Ph.D. (He/Him)
dmvCAPS Vice President
Assistant Professor, Uniformed Services University
It is an honor to serve as the Vice President of dmvCAPS! I am an assistant professor at Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, MD, and I have been actively involved with dmvCAPS for approximately four years. dmvCAPS has been a really important community for my own professional development, and one of my goals as Vice President is to ensure that our society endures as a welcoming and accessible scientific community for all physiologists in the DMV area. I am particularly interested in new and innovative ways that we can involve young scientists in our activities and support the development and training of the next wave of physiologists. My research through the years has spanned the gamut from reproductive physiology, to single cell physiology and muscle and heart function. But the unifying theme through all of this is a love for calcium signaling and understanding the role of intracellular calcium in human health and disease pathogenesis. When I’m not writing grants or staring down a microscope, I enjoy spending time outdoors with my family and traveling all over the area for kids sporting events.
2022 Annual Meeting Updates
We plan to hold our next Annual Meeting in-person at
The George Washington University on Monday, March 14, 2022
Important Dates for the Meeting:
- January 7, 2022 – Abstract Submission Opens
- January 31, 2022 – Abstract Submission Closes
- March 14, 2022 – Annual Meeting
We will relay more information over the coming months. Please not that these plans remain tentative due to changing institutional pandemic guidelines on large group meetings. If circumstances do not allow for an in-person meeting we will plan to move forward with a virtual meeting.