The big news in Juniata’s science community is that the College was selected to receive a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to initiate a new science education program called the Genomics Leadership Initiative. That was great news, but Vince Buonaccorsi, associate professor of biology, received pretty big news from the Hughes Institute a few months before the College knew about the big grant Award. It seems HHMI had invited Buonaccorsi to attend a conference on Bioinformatics Education at the Institute’s conference center in Chevy Chase, Md. Buonaccorsi, invited because he is coordinator for GCAT-SEEK, an 88-institution, genomics research-sharing consortium that Juniata is a part of, was able to share research and insights with scientists from across the country — all deeply involved with genomics and bioinformatics.
Q: So, was this a huge conference or a meeting where no one knows one another?
Buonaccorsi: No, this was a very small meeting of about 30 people. There were program officers from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Hughes Institute, researchers from large universities and I was one of perhaps five liberal arts professors. These were the movers and shakers who are at the center of all the national research initiatives on genomics and bioinformatics and I got to sit in discussions with them all and share Juniata’s methods for science education. I would have to say that was pretty cool.
Q: What was the format and how did you share viewpoints with the other attendees?
A: It was over two and a half days and there were oral presentations and poster presentations. Then there were a series of small group workshop sessions. Because there were just 30 people there and because you’re eating meals with them all three times a day you wind up being on a first-name basis with everybody there.
Q: What did it mean for Juniata to be asked to participate in the conference?
A: It was a triumph for our college to be in the room. It’s really Mike Boyle (recently retired von Liebig Chair in Biomedical Science) most responsible for seeing the bigger issues about science education and genomics and encouraging Juniata to change its focus to take advantage of this change. I ended up giving Mike the free hat I got from the conference.
Q: How did the conference affect you personally?
A: The smaller format and small working groups made it very easy to make connections. For someone who is inherently not very social — which most scientists are not — it makes it easy to interact with scientists from all levels of research and higher education. At the meeting I was able to react to ideas and exchange opinions with four or five people who can set the path for where bioinformatics research is going and I was able to tell them about such student-scientist partnerships as Amanda Epstein’s work on rockfish and seeing these scientists perhaps change their approach based on the work my students and I have done together. It’s sort of unbelievable.
–John Wall, director of media relations