BCA News: Winter 2020
The Power of the Network
One of the most important side effects of becoming involved in a professional organization like the BCA is meeting many like-minded people and developing long-term relationships that can help with our work, enhance our careers and create lasting friendships. Through these interactions, we discover new colleagues, learn who is working in fields we might be interested in, who might be operating in our geographic area, and generally get a toe in the professional door that may open up opportunities in the future. Through our actions, we can also provide secondary influences in ways that we may not even realize.
It is encouraging to know that there is someone living and working just about anywhere you might wish to go that you can call upon to visit, share information, ask for professional advice or just hang around with. Such was the opportunity that I had in November when I met up with Elliot Goldstein and Kait Sobiesiak in Philadelphia. A year ago, we hadn't met. However, we all came together last June at Asilomar for BIOCOMM 2019 and there I learned that Elliot and Kait lived nearby in New York, worked at NYU as a photographer and illustrator, respectively, and had an abiding interest in the macabre. As it happens, I have contacts at the famous Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia and suggested that, if they ever found themselves in Philadelphia, I might be able to set them up with some behind-the-scenes views.
So it was that we all met again on November 5th for a personal tour of the medical oddities that make up the collections at the Mutter. As with all museums, there is a lot of material that never goes on display for various reasons, but is fascinating, nonetheless. In the Wet Lab, we learned about the amazing value of pig bladder for sealing old jars (better than Parafilm!), and about the dangers of arsenic exposure from old samples. Where else could Elliot and Kait look at each other lovingly on their wedding anniversary (really!) through jars of stomach and renal outflow (according to the sign on the shelf) from 200 year-old specimens? As only creative minds can do, we then started discussing how we might be able to come up with a method to photograph these old specimens, residing in old, round jars that aren't allowed to be opened. The curvature of the jar essentially acts like a barrel lens, affecting any image taken through the glass. However, a well-designed algorithm should be able to correct for the distortion. Anyone want to try?
Skeletons in various levels of attachment, an old iron lung in the corner, ancient microscopes and surgical instruments; all had stories to tell before we made it out to the main exhibit areas. There, plaster casts of Siamese twins, rows of skulls used to counter the claims of turn-of-the-century phrenologists, slides of Einstein's brain and a body that turned to soap took over our attentions. At this point, we separated and Elliot and Kait finished their day at the museum, then met me later at my lab in The Wistar Institute for a look at what I do in cancer research with some advanced microscopy. The day ended with a nice evening over a pint at a local tavern, where discussions of careers, BCA and future ideas rounded out the day.
Opportunities like these form the nucleus of a good network - one that can benefit all parties and enrich your professional development. Elliot and Kait now know how I might be able to help them in my own way. Likewise, the next time I'm in New York, I may stop by to touch base. We can never see where such opportunities may take us, but it all begins with a bit of shared interest and professional curiosity. This is one of the enduring benefits of being involved in BCA and having the chance to attend meetings in person to make these connections.
I firmly believe that all things in life are interrelated and my chance to provide Elliot and Kait with their day at the museum actually started about 30 years ago when I was first acquainted with the Mutter. Our local BPA chapter hosted a weekend regional meeting at that venue, a bit before it hit the notoriety that it enjoys today. Over 100 people joined us that day, including some of the founding members of our Association. My relationship there continues because, years later, a young Post-doc at UPENN needed pictures of monkey teeth and came to me when I was recommended by the local Nikon microscopy representative. That Post-doc is now the Director of Public Outreach at the Mutter. In her role there, she invites me to talk to inner city students who are interested in science and I invite them to Wistar every year when we host the Nikon Small World exhibition. So, based in large part on BPA-centered activities early in my career, I now have the opportunity to help my professional colleagues and ignite the spark of science in a new generation.
Such is the power of a good network.
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