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Q&A with Academy Board Member Grace Wang

Grace Wang is the President of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and also a member of the Board of Governors for The New York Academy of Sciences. With an extensive background in STEM, she brings a valuable perspective to the Board, helping to guide the Academy in its decision-making. We interviewed her to learn more about her background, what motivates her, and why she chose to get involved with the Academy.

*some quotes have been edited for length and clarity

What does being a member of the Board of the Academy mean to you?

I’m very proud of my association with The New York Academy of Sciences. I’m an engineer and have spent my whole career in STEM education and research in academia, industry, as well as government. The New York Academy of Sciences is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. It’s had a tremendous legacy and a lasting impact, so I’m very proud to be part of this organization through being a board member. It’s personal and very meaningful to me.

The New York Academy of Sciences looks to the future and continues to empower the next generation of STEM professionals. As the science and technology landscape rapidly evolves, this is particularly an exciting time to be part of the Academy.

How did you first become interested in the Academy’s work?

I became a member in 2018 when I was working at the State University of New York (SUNY), and I’ve been familiar with what the Academy does. My former Chancellor at SUNY, Dr. Nancy Zimpher, was a previous member of the Academy’s Board. I learned some about the Academy’s mission through her — she was very enthusiastic about her involvement.

How did either your professional or your personal background inform your commitment to the Academy?

WPI is a STEM university and focuses on enabling not only the future STEM professionals, but also the future STEM leaders. We are very proud to provide distinctive STEM education through project-based learning. Today, over 85 percent of our students can have off-site project experience – they work on real-world problems in real-world settings – at one of our over 50 global project centers. Through this transformative experience, our students learn to be great team players, communicators, problem solvers, and value creators. They are prepared to be future STEM leaders. The Academy’s mission resonates strongly with what we do at WPI.

Of all the various things that the Academy does and the various programs, is there a particular program or initiative that excites you more than the others? Why is that?

I am excited about the Science Alliance program. It supports emerging STEM leaders and continues cultivating their passion in STEM fields.

I also like the Academy’s awards programs. They not only recognize star researchers, which of course is important; but beyond that, they also inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers to explore research frontiers and pursue their careers in STEM.

“The New York Academy of Sciences is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the world. It’s had a tremendous legacy and also a lasting impact, so I’m very proud to be part of this organization through being a board member. It’s personal and very meaningful to me.”


Staff Spotlight: Brooke Grindlinger, PhD

This series provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with the people who power The New York Academy of Sciences.

Tell us what you do for the Academy.

As the Chief Scientific Officer at The New York Academy of Sciences, I lead the scientific development and growth of a diverse range of scientific programs, courses, and initiatives that support scientists-in-training, STEM professionals, as well as engage and educate science enthusiasts. By fostering collaborations among academia, industry, and government I help to drive advances in science and innovation for the betterment of society.

I also champion women in STEM, host thought-provoking conversations with scientific changemakers, and share my expertise through public speaking and writing to emphasize the pivotal role of science in shaping a brighter future for all.

What has so far been your proudest accomplishment working for the Academy?

Brooke at the Inaugural Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, Israel

Undoubtedly, collaborating with billionaire philanthropist and industrialist Sir Leonard Blavatnik to launch the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists program in the United Kingdom and Israel, offering the largest unrestricted prizes for early-career scientists. This program supports pioneering young scientists doing research in areas such as climate change mitigation, pandemic preparedness, sustainable farming, renewable energy storage, mental health treatments, cybersecurity, and water purification.

It has been incredibly rewarding to help scientists at that critical — and often vulnerable — juncture in their career when they are transitioning from trainee to lead investigator. It’s a time when recognition and funding can have perhaps the greatest impact. I often have the privilege of calling the award recipients to surprise them with the news that they have won. It’s a great day at the office when someone bursts into joyful tears in response to your phone call. Helping others succeed is one of the best ways to leave your mark on the world.

There are also quiet moments, one-on-one with someone, that have made me proud of the work I do. I love to host engaging conversations with dynamite scientists about their latest discoveries, and in doing so hope to elicit in audiences the same awe and wonder that I feel about the science of the world around us. A high school-aged girl approached me during a coffee break at a public scientific symposium that I hosted in London in 2022. She grabbed my elbow and said, “You are so inspirational.” I see every second of my work as an opportunity to be a mentor and role model for aspiring young women who harbor dreams of becoming scientists.

Tell us about your STEM journey. How did you first become interested in science? How did you get to where you are today?

As an undergraduate student at university, I attended a lecture that had a reputation for turning stomachs, so much so that students were advised not to eat breakfast beforehand. Students were not required to take notes, just to watch and listen. What followed was a graphic slide show showing how infectious diseases can ravage the human body.

I left the lecture hall wondering: with all the organisms around us, on us, and inside us, how is it that we wake up essentially “healthy” every day? I was immediately hooked on the field of microbiology. As a graduate student in my native Australia, I studied the organism that causes tuberculosis, to develop a more effective vaccine against this now highly antibiotic-resistant infectious lung disease.

During college and graduate school, there were no female lecturers or women leading research labs in my field. This absence of female role models, mentors, and sponsors in scientific research made it challenging for me to envision a future for myself in the field. Back then, the typical paths for postgraduate research scientists were either securing a tenure-track faculty position at a university, combining research and teaching, or transitioning into the pharmaceutical or medical device industry.

Looking back, I didn’t have the inside scoop on alternative career options for PhD scientists beyond the lab. If I didn’t pursue a traditional academic career path I worried: Would I still be “a real scientist”? Unlike most early-career scientists, I found more satisfaction in writing my research thesis than in conducting bench research. Crafting the narrative, exploring the known and unknown, and revealing how my work contributed to a larger puzzle were my true passions. That was my signal that science communications might be my alternative career path.

I relocated from Australia to New York City in 2001 and joined the Editorial Board of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, a prestigious medical journal. As Science Editor, my responsibility was to identify, evaluate and solicit groundbreaking research from universities for publication. I had to swiftly shift from a niche science expert to a generalist, evaluating the work of fellow scientists and swiftly grasping cutting-edge research and treatments for many different human diseases. It was a remarkable chance to expand my biomedicine expertise, cultivate a global network of expert scientists, build my insider knowledge, and contribute to steering the direction of scientific research in the community, at scale.

As a medical journal editor, I frequented The New York Academy of Sciences, regularly participating in its scientific and medical conferences. I swiftly recognized the transferability of my technical and communication skills to the organization’s mission: bringing together top scientific minds to exchange new information and collaborate on science-based solutions for society’s pressing challenges.

Over a decade ago, I joined the Academy’s staff as the Director of the Life Sciences conference portfolio. Transitioning to the nonprofit sector marked another significant career pivot, my first foray into nonprofit business administration, a world apart from my expertise as a microbiologist. In addition to staying current with science and curating cutting-edge programming, my role expanded to include budget management for a standalone business unit, securing program sponsors and donors, negotiating partnerships and contracts, building and mentoring a team of former academic scientists (including many women), and serving as a spokesperson on various platforms to raise awareness of the Academy’s work.

This unique skill set combined science with business management; a path rarely envisioned at the start of a scientific career. Today, as CSO, on any given day my role might involve advocating for science-based policy changes at the United Nations, meeting with university or company leaders for collaborations, creating social media content celebrating women scientists during Women’s History Month, coaching young scientists on communication skills, or selecting deserving researchers for funding to support their ambitious scientific endeavors.

My scientific career represents a journey along the road less traveled — a shift not just from the traditional path of lab scientist to steering influential, mission-driven scientific initiatives, but also a response to the glaring absence of women role models in STEM, a desire to transition from deep expertise in a niche area to a comprehensive understanding of all facets of science and tech, and the need for trusted voices to challenge scientific misinformation. Once a singular force driving discovery in a niche domain, today as a C-suite leader of a nonprofit, I can empower countless scientists, shaping the collective future of science itself.

Brooke with Mae Jemison, 2017

Why, in general, are you proud to work for the Academy?

The Academy has brought together the leading minds in science to solve global challenges for over 200 hundred years. It’s a true privilege – for this moment in time – to serve as one of the stewards of scientific discovery, dialogue, and dissemination during the Academy’s history.

Why do you think science is so important to society?

Science nurtures our innate curiosity and is the primary tool for understanding the world around us. It transcends borders and cultures and leads to new discoveries and technological advances that improve our quality of life, from medicine to transportation.

Investment in science has led to economic growth and countless inventions that have evolved into products that today we’d all find hard to live without: from camera phones and the computer mouse to water purifiers and wireless headsets, from dust busters to memory foam mattresses. Science is also crucial for addressing environmental challenges like climate change and provides the data and analysis necessary for informed policymaking. The scientific discoveries made today will shape how our world looks over the coming century.

Which scientist (or scientists) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

Here’s who I’d love to have around my dinner table:

At the Pyramids at Giza, Egypt, 2023

One, the legendary naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. His lifelong dedication to wildlife conservation and environmental advocacy has ignited global awareness and action for the planet’s well-being. And let’s not forget that voice!

Two, astronaut, physician, and engineer Mae Jemison who made history by becoming the first African American woman to travel in space. She was a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavor launched in 1992. I met her at an Academy event in 2017 and had to try very hard not to cry with joy in what was a very special moment meeting an inspirational woman in STEM.

Three, primatologist Jane Goodall for her depth of understanding of chimpanzees and their behavior, and for promoting animal welfare and conservation.

Then, let’s throw in fictional intrepid archeologist Indiana Jones and the always rational, skeptical, and analytical FBI Special Agent Dana Scully from the X-Files. Add me as host, and my dinner table for six is complete!

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

Travel, travel, travel — for the thrill of discovering new cultures, savoring exotic cuisines, forming connections with people from around the world, and marveling at the beauty and diversity of our planet. I just returned from exploring Egypt. The legacy of Egyptian engineering, seen in the precision of their architectural marvels, serves as a timeless testament to human creativity, innovation and determination.

Q&A with Chike Aguh: ISR’s Newest Advisory Council Member  

The International Science Reserve is pleased to announce that Chike Aguh, former Chief Innovation Officer at the U.S. Department of Labor, has joined ISR’s Advisory Council. 

Under the Biden administration, he led efforts to use data, emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing, and innovative practice to advance and protect American workers. We sat down with him to talk about what he learned from previous crisis response experiences and why it’s not a time for business as usual.   

As an advisor to the ISR, you are applying your expertise in data innovation to ensure that scientists worldwide have the resources to prepare for and respond to the next crisis, such as climate-related disasters or the next pandemic. What role do you believe data and innovation can play in crisis response? 

Data and innovative technology or practice are critical to crisis responses, respectively. During the fast-moving times of a crisis, data that can tell us what is happening and what has happened previously can be scarce. Who has access to data can be a life-or-death situation: people or governments who have it will weather the storm and those who don’t will be swept away by it. Whether it is mapping what symptoms people are searching on Google to determine what type and where pandemics may spring up, to analysis of large research data sets to mitigate these crises, data helps increase the confidence interval of the interventions that leaders must take to keep us all safe.  

Whether practice or technology, innovations are also indispensable during a crisis because the general operating procedures generally do not have the scale or speed required to stay ahead of the crisis. Innovations allow us to operate at “the speed of the fight” as my old boss, US Army General Stan McChrystal used to say.  

At ISR, we help researchers connect to emerging technologies and resources for collaboration across borders to address the worst impacts of crises. What are some lessons from your time in the Biden administration that could apply to researchers in ISR’s network?  

The lessons I learned were elegant and devastating in their simplicity. One, even the most cutting-edge technologies are not a replacement for strategy. Leaders must do the hard intellectual work of identifying the key problems and questions to be solved in a crisis. Only then can these technologies be applied intelligently and effectively.  

Two, sociology will overwhelm technology every time.  In the space of collaborative research, we can only achieve the collective brilliance of all involved if we have the goodwill and effective means of working together.   

And three, the most important power of these technologies is to help us think outside the parameters of normal practice and try things we would never attempt in normal times.  We should not simply use these technologies to do the same old things with incrementally better speed or effectiveness, but rather use them to take quantum leaps in impact. 

You once said that for any problem we are solving, “Those problems cannot be solved by any one person, one organization, or one sector alone.” Do you believe that more people are thinking and operating through a lens of collaboration in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis? What more could we do to implement this new way of working within crisis response?  

I do. Some of the greatest successes of the COVID-19 response, from vaccine development, testing innovation, treatment deployment, to the High-Performance Computing Consortium (HPCC) show what is possible when traditional siloes are sublimated for the sake of helping everyone.   

The key question is: how do we make this new collaborative lens not simply a feature of crisis response, but a key part of operating procedure for all of us?  My biggest recommendation is to keep the institutions that we have created like the HPCC running.  Then, they can be applied not simply when responding to crises but can help prevent crises before they ever start.   

ISR pre-positions resources, like high-performance computing, remote sensing, and geospatial models, so that scientists can connect to them quickly across borders to address the worst impacts of a crisis, without a long wait or extensive application.  Why should businesses make data innovations more available to researchers worldwide during crisis? 

When crisis events like COVID-19 occur, we have seen the impact on the economy and how it hits the bottom line of businesses. It is in a company’s best interest to do anything it can to fight and end these crises as quickly as possible, and that means making data and cutting-edge technology available to the scientists who are working on just that.   

Secondly, I also believe that business and business leaders feel a sense of duty to their communities and their countries.  This is a tradition that we have forgotten but one can go back to businesses like Bell Labs, who helped develop critical technologies like radars that helped during WWII.  We need to remember and keep this tradition alive now.  Business and the world will benefit as a result. 

Staff Spotlight: Carrie Bates

A woman smiles for the camera.

This series provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with the people who power The New York Academy of Sciences.

A woman smiles for the camera.

Tell us what you do for the Academy.

I help donors identify the areas of the Academy’s work that they care most about, and I share ways for them to support that work. I also help donors understand that their collective support makes it possible for the Academy to drive innovative solutions to society’s most pressing challenges.

What has so far been your proudest accomplishment working for the Academy?

One of my proudest moments thus far has been securing underwriting support to ensure the success of the many cancer-focused conferences that are organized by The New York Academy of Sciences. Many of my extended family members and friends are cancer survivors or cancer patients and two years ago I decided to move back to New York to be able to spend more time with them. I am proud to be able to work with The New York Academy of Sciences and know that we are convening researchers, clinicians, and industry leaders to create a brighter future in cancer treatment.

A tiny tree front is perched on a woman's hand.

Why do you think science is so important to society?

I think science is important to society because science helps us address the top challenges that we all face together, like creating a sustainable future for life on this planet.

What scientist (or scientists) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

A family of four and their dog pose outside for the camera.

I would most like to have dinner with Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson. She is a trailblazer and has had a long career as a scientist, educator, and leader. She believes in being intentional in the inclusion of women and people of color in the STEM fields. She believes that in order to use the power of science to uplift people’s lives, we must tap the complete talent pool and provide the resources needed to grow the talent pool. She recognizes that there has been progress, that more progress is possible, and that more progress is needed. In every place she goes, she strives to make a positive difference. She is relentless, tenacious and resilient, and I look forward to learning more from her.

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

My family and I enjoy the outdoors and we spend as much of our free time as we can with our extended family and friends exploring and learning through outdoor activities like hiking, viewing wildlife and camping.

Staff Spotlight: Sonya Dougal, PhD

A woman smiles for the camera.

Sonya Dougal, Senior Vice President of Scientific Programs and Awards, talks about her STEM journey.

A woman smiles for the camera.

Tell us what you do for the Academy.

When I first came to the Academy, I was a program manager on the conferences team. The very first conference that I planned from start to finish was on neural prosthetics, called Building Better Brains: Neural Prosthetics and Beyond (or something like that!), which was funded by the Aspen Brain Forum. It was awesome.

Now, more than ten years later, in my current role I provide strategic oversight for the conferences portfolio across life sciences, physical sciences and engineering and sustainability. I also oversee our awards portfolio, which includes the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, as well as the Takeda Innovators in Science Award and the Tata Transformation Award. I also oversee our fellowship programs for postdoctoral sciences, which include our AI and Society Program with Arizona State University, as well as the Leon Levy Scholarships in Neuroscience.

What has so far been your proudest accomplishment working for the Academy?

I have two answers. I’m really proud of some work we did to develop the Alzheimer’s disease and dementia initiative. We brought together a public-private partnership and a consortium of scientists across sectors who shared the common goal of accelerating drug development for Alzheimer’s disease. This was a few years ago, during a time when pharma was reducing their spending because we just didn’t understand the disease mechanisms.

So we brought that council together, and they came up with recommendations that were provided to the G10—the global summit on Alzheimer’s worldwide. We also launched the global Alzheimer’s platform for recruiting more subjects into clinical trials for Alzheimer’s, because that was one of the bottlenecks to accelerating research and development. So that was really nice to be able to see an idea become actionable programs that were impacting patients.

More recently, I’m really proud of the Leon Levy scholarships. When I was a postdoc in New York City in cognitive neuroscience, I would have loved to have had the opportunities that this scholarship provides. Not only is there a salary benefit, but the professional development opportunities that these scholars are receiving are going to be invaluable to them, no matter what career path they choose. If they stay in academia, it’ll help them set up their lab. If they leave academia, it’s going to help them to find a new job because they’ve been properly prepared. So it’s just been so gratifying for me to be a part of launching this new partnership.

Why, in general, are you proud to work for the Academy?

Well, for one thing, the Academy is a very old and esteemed scientific institution. But it’s an institution that’s changed and grown to meet the challenges in society and in science over the past 200 years. I love that the Academy has risen to the challenge during really important times in history. For instance, we were one of the first organizations to hold a scientific conference on HIV in the 80s when there was a lot of stigma associated with HIV.

I think that’s really important. I’m also really proud of the way that we bring scientists together across sectors and across disciplines and across stages in their careers. At one of my conferences, I had a line of postdocs and graduate students waiting to meet Jim Allison after he had won the Nobel Prize. That’s really special. There aren’t that many venues where, as a young trainee, you can meet your heroes in real life and have a chat with them about your research.

Tell us your STEM journey. How did you first become interested in science, and how did you pursue it to become who you are today?

I actually started out college thinking I was going to be a professional clarinet player. I wanted to go to a conservatory but my parents thought I needed to have a well-rounded liberal arts education, so I ended up going to a state school where I majored in music.

The thing was, I had really bad performance anxiety—I just hated going on stage. And that made me think a lot about what happens when we’re performing and how anxiety can impact skilled memory—the things that are so well practiced. So I ended up taking a psychology class, which really hooked me on thinking about the mind. Around that time, I found a research lab that was studying skilled memory. I loved that you could use the scientific method to answer questions and collect data and get some evidence for or against a hypothesis.

I loved that so much. So I switched majors, and the rest is history. I went to graduate school in Pittsburgh where I did behavioral research, and then when I came to NYU for my postdoc, I used brain imaging techniques to get to the same questions I had been studying as a graduate student.

Why do you think science is so important to society?

Because all of the major challenges in society can be addressed by science. Because science is at the heart of everything that we do, from explaining how the molecules in the matter that makes our desk fit together, to understanding how I choose the people I want to spend my time with. There’s science to explain everything in our lives.

Which scientist (or scientists) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

I would have dinner with Rudy Tanzi—he’s a neurologist at Mass General. He plays piano and he’s so much fun. Another person I think is really amazing is Richie Davidson, the cognitive neuroscientist who did the brain imaging studies of the Buddhist monks while they were meditating. He’s a personal friend of the Dalai Lama.

I’d also include Roland Griffiths—he died recently but since we can include those who have passed, I’m including him. He studied how psychedelics influence human behavior and disease can be used therapeutically. And I would also say Marie Curie because she was the only female scientist to win the Nobel Prize twice, and she’s Polish. I’m Polish too.

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

Spending time with my son Thomas and my cats Cleopatra and Claude, going to the beach and gardening. And I love reading. Nabokov is my favorite author—you can’t go wrong with anything he’s written. One of the reasons I think I like his prose so much is he was trained as a scientist—he studied butterflies before he became a writer.

Another thing I still love to do is play the clarinet. I quit for a really long time, but a few years ago my son told his teacher I could play the clarinet, and she asked me to come in and play for the class. I hadn’t picked up the instrument in 20 years! And because I don’t do anything half-way, I went and found a teacher to get me ready to play for this little class of first graders! And I’ve continued to take lessons from him for the past few years.

Q&A: Meet ISR’s First Science Community Manager 

Earlier this year, the ISR launched a Beta version of a free, digital hub for the 4,000+ scientists in the ISR network. The ISR Community builds on the learnings from our first readiness exercise in 2022, a test case around wildfires, where we asked scientists to submit proposals for how they would manage a cross-border wildfire crisis and consider what tools and resources they would need.   

In the wildfire test readiness exercise and throughout our ongoing conversations, ISR members were clear about the need for interdisciplinary, cross-geographic collaboration, and for easier and faster ways to engage in preparedness. We heard you. That’s why we built the ISR Community and have been working closely with Beta testers to ensure it is effective across disciplines and regions. A full, network-wide launch is expected in Fall 2023.  

Recently, we sat down with Jadson Jall, the ISR’s first Science Community Manager to learn more about the digital hub’s progress. Jall is a geneticist from Brazil and has a passion for bringing scientists together to unlock the power of scientific collaboration as a key to solving humanity’s greatest challenges.  

Why do you think the global science community needs a network like the ISR now? 

The global science community needs a network like the ISR because we live in a world with many compounding crises, such as pandemics and climate-related disasters. These crises are huge, affecting people and the environment in different countries and regions, and they are complex. That means they need lots of different kinds of responses and resources. So, one country’s scientific capabilities, or a single national science policy, can’t begin to resolve crises at that scale. An open, global network of scientists, such as the ISR, means individuals and institutions can pool resources and solve problems together, leading to faster and more effective responses to crises. Furthermore, the network’s principles, such as bringing together Scientists Without Borders and ensuring fair resource access, promoting collaboration, and including different voices, make it a much-needed platform for the current global scientific community. 

What would you like the ISR’s digital hub to look like a year from now, and how would scientists be using it?  

In my dream world, a year from now, the International Science Reserve (ISR) hub would be a globally recognized and effectively functioning platform facilitating seamless personal connections and collaboration among scientists worldwide. It would have grown beyond its current network, and its resources would be even more diverse and plentiful. Scientists would use the hub to conduct and participate in readiness exercises and explore crisis scenarios, helping them prepare for various kinds and aspects of disasters and emergencies. The hub would also be a place where scientists would know where to go and how to apply to connect to different scientific and technical resources in different situations. Ideally, the hub would have a track record of successful crisis response efforts. That will demonstrate its effectiveness and reinforce its value, most importantly, by having a positive impact. 

Can you share more about how you see early adopters using the online community, and their feedback? What do they want to see more of?  

Active community pioneers – our earliest testers – engaged in discussions on diverse topics, from climate change crisis simulations to challenges in research collaboration. Our testers from varied locations and research backgrounds provided invaluable feedback, helping us to consistently refine our virtual environment to better foster scientific engagement and collaboration. For example, they helped us figure out which formats could work for the ISR’s Readiness Exercises and helped us try out various types of activities and collaborations. During the current Beta phase of the ISR Community, we continue to learn from our early adopters. It is clear that our community is eager to collaborate across borders, and I am doing my best as Community Manager to facilitate these connections and collaborations. 

Why did the ISR choose to use “serious games” as an approach to crisis readiness? And how will the readiness exercises work in the ISR Community? 

The ISR chose to use serious games as part of crisis readiness because it’s a fun way to learn about and improve the decision-making process, so that participants can feel they are undertaking the process themselves. Role-playing puts the participant in the position of learning about the crisis in real time and actively experiencing the dilemmas and decisions of how to respond, rather than learning about it afterward. These scenario-based simulation exercises allow researchers and decision-makers to practice analyzing available, often limited, information and making the best decisions, as quickly as possible.  

Serious games will help members of the ISR Community explore decision making around issue areas such as water resource management, climate change adaptation, weather disasters, public health crises, and urban planning. These games serve as a hands-on and immersive way to understand the complexities and nuances of various crises and try different strategies for dealing with them. 

The ISR’s serious games will be conducted online, in a collaborative, interactive format. These exercises will simulate various real-world crisis scenarios, and participants will devise and implement strategies to manage these crises. The activities are being designed to help participants better understand how resources will be deployed and managed in future crises and explore related decisions, helping to prepare us for scientific work in times of global crisis. 

What kinds of resources are available to researchers in the ISR Community? 

 The ISR Community offers a rich suite of resources to its community of researchers and other stakeholders. They can be organized around two main areas. The first of these consists of specialized scientific resources such as high-performance computing, remote sensing, geospatial-temporal mapping, and databases. The ISR partners with organizations like IBM, UL Solutions, Google, Pfizer, and the National Science Foundation, offering various technical tools, data, and other resources. During a declared crisis, researchers will be able to log on to the ISR Community to gain access to resources like IBM’s Geospatial Discovery Network

The other key resource of the ISR Community is our global network of over 4,000 scientists who have come together around a common goal. The ISR Community provides a space for this growing network to prepare, learn, collaborate, and be ready for crises. We will be offering different types of preparedness activities to help facilitate some of the community’s collaborations, and we are also planning special features for the fall based on the interests of the community. 

One last question: why should your fellow scientists join you on the ISR Community 

I recommend that my fellow scientists join me in the ISR Community for a multitude of reasons, including: 

  • Joining is completely free, and you will receive global exposure and appreciation for your contributions to crisis resolution. Being part of the ISR is a unique opportunity to apply your research in a real-world context, contributing to tangible crisis solutions. 
  • As a member of the ISR Community, you will be part of a borderless network of experts, allowing for valuable collaborations and exchanges of ideas. It’s also an excellent space for professional development, offering opportunities for knowledge sharing, networking, and building community connections. 
  •  Being part of the ISR Community ensures that you stay in the loop, with critical crisis communication updates.  

So, the ISR Community is not only an opportunity to contribute to global crisis resolution but also a chance to grow professionally and expand our scientific horizons. 

Collaboration is Key for 2023 Ross Prize Awardees

Two researchers stand at podiums and address a crowd.

Ask Helen Hobbs, M.D. and Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D. about the secret of their research success, and it will come down to one core element: their partnership.

The pair were recently awarded the 2023 Ross Prize in Molecular Medicine by the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and the journal Molecular Medicine for their pioneering and collaborative work in defining the genetic risk factors for dyslipidemias and metabolic liver disease that have led to the rational design of new therapies.

Hobbs trained as a physician and a human geneticist, while Cohen trained as a bench scientist and a physiologist. But they also recognize how the different perspectives they bring to their work contributes to its success.

“Helen’s got a very good feel for the big picture in terms of the scientific direction pathway areas to choose and which observations we should follow up…she is far more selectively curious than I am,” says Cohen of their research styles, “(while) I tend to pay attention to experimental details.”

Their complementary differences can also be seen in their personalities, “Helen is ‘s very exuberant and very extroverted, and I tend to be more introverted and certainly more self-contained,” says Cohen.

Hobbs adds, “Jonathan is very easy to work with… he’s got a very level disposition. We both need each other to balance each other out.”

In addition to their strengths both also cite good mentors as pivotal guides in their careers.

“A lot of people want to look for a lab that’s doing the latest technique or, you know, papers in Science and Nature,” says Cohen, “I think having somebody who’s a good first-rate mentor is a number one priority.”

Where it All Started

Cohen was fortunate to connect to Weiland Gevers, chair of biochemistry at the University of Cape Town in South Africa while he was still in high school. A similar relationship with Scott Grundy, head of the Center of Human Nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, made it possible for Cohen to relocate to Dallas.

There, he soon would meet Hobbs, who moved to UT Southwestern in 1983. A trained physician, she was encouraged by Donald Selden, M.D., head of internal medicine at UT Southwestern to join Nobel Laureates Michael S. Brown and Joseph L Goldstein’s lab whose work in the regulation of cholesterol metabolism, laid the foundation for Hobbs’ own study of the genes that caused severe hypercholesterolemia.

In 1999 Hobbs was asked to help design an epidemiological study for a large grant that scaled from genes to populations. She knew she needed the right partner if she was going to take on the challenge.

“I was used to working with families, not populations,” recalls Hobbs. “I knew immediately if I was going to do this, … that I really needed a partner who had more quantitative skills than I did.”

She started talking to Cohen, and in just six weeks they launched the foundation for the Dallas Heart Study, a large multi-ethnic population study.

“We spent nights up in our labs writing this study, talking to each other, thinking about it, and getting advice from epidemiologists.”

Looking at Gene Variations

While most researchers in the field at the time were operating under the assumption that gene variations found frequently in the population were the cause of common diseases (like hypertension), Cohen and Hobbs took a different approach – they looked for gene variations that were rare but were more likely to cause disease if a person had that variant.

The multi-ethnic nature of the Dallas Heart Study, made up of 50% African-Americans, the most genetically diverse population in Dallas, and including Hispanic and European participants, led them to quickly zero in on mutations in a gene called PCSK9 that were associated with reduced plasma levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and decreased risk of heart disease.

This revolutionary discovery meant that new drug development could be targeted at PCSK9 to lower cholesterol levels in patients, and two therapies have since been FDA-approved to do just that. Despite the opportunities such a discovery could yield, the pair are more focused on how their work solves problems, rather than profiting from their foundational work.

“I am really thinking about solving a problem in a lab and answering a question, and the thrill I get is in getting that answer,” says Hobbs.

Doing What They Love

Ultimately, the two are happy to be in a lab doing what they love.

“I like the whole package of being an academic scientist,” says Hobbs. “I love the research, and I like the teaching, the mentoring. There’s just so many aspects of our job that I enjoy, and I just didn’t want to be distracted from them.”

Cohen can’t picture himself as anything other than a scientist, “I can’t imagine…doing anything other than what I do.”

Today, The Hobbs-Cohen Lab continues to use human genetics to identify new therapeutic targets to treat cardiovascular and metabolic disorders and to define key pathways in lipid metabolism. More recently, they discovered the first genetic cause of fatty liver disease in humans. They also continue to employ their dynamic partnership in the way they run their lab.

“There’s always somebody in the lab for the students and post-doctoral fellows to talk with. I think that if you were to talk to the people in our lab, they would see this as a very good thing,” says Hobbs. “But one thing’s always true. Nobody can split us.”

“To have our work recognized by such an honor (as the Ross Prize) is incredibly gratifying, especially for us to be honored together…there’s just no way any of it could have been done without the other,” said Hobbs.

Cohen agrees. “I was just going to say the same thing.”

Read more about Ross Award winners: Collaboration Is Key to Breaking New Ground in Genomics

Staff Spotlight: Thomas Gilbert

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This series provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with the people who power The New York Academy of Sciences.

A man poses for the camera.

Tell us what you do for the Academy.

I advise programming and research directions for the newly launched AI & Society initiative. This includes mentoring of postdocs, maintenance of the weekly research seminar, and the preparation of new public-facing programs on critical societal topics.

What has so far been your proudest accomplishment working for the Academy?

During my second week here, I gave testimony to the New York City Council on the integration of AI into public schools. Our schools are asking whether or how chatbots should be used. Should they be banned? How should teachers assess students’ work? These are important questions. But we might ask a different question: Are the challenges AI poses to schools also an opportunity to re-articulate the aims of education itself? The Academy is drawing on our deep ties to both leading AI professionals and the academic institutions of New York City, with the goal of facilitating discussion on generative AI as the value of education is transformed. I invite students, parents, teachers, administrators, and citizens to join us on this journey and help generate a new articulation of the aims of AI and education in tandem.

What makes you proud to work for the Academy?

I agree with the Academy’s values as a scientific society, motivated to advance the public interest towards democratic ends. All three of these values are frankly missing or massively undervalued in the AI space at present.

Why is science important to society?

Science is important because it helps keep outlandish claims about technology and the future in check. Very few of the leading voices in AI right now have substantive, meaningful commitments to science, but they draw from its language and methods in order to lend objectivity and authority to their work. Restoring the relevance of science means clarifying how it actually works and why it is important, so that it is not mis-appropriated by bad actors. I have a blog, The Retort, whose theme is the fact that most technical work in AI is more like medieval alchemy than modern science.

Which scientist (or scientists) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

Top of mind for me is Carl Sagan. Sagan was a unique combination of scientific integrity and public communication. He was a genius at both and in particular how to use one to inform the other. Over dinner I feel I would both learn a lot about astrophysics and about human nature—about our collective relationship to the cosmos.

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

I jog around the reservoir and garden in Riverside Park (my wife and I live on the Upper West Side of New York City). I also like to read for pleasure—my favorite books of all time are The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky and Moby-Dick by Melville. I reread them both on a semi-annual basis! A recent book I would also recommend is  Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen.

Staff Spotlight: Sanaz Masserat

A woman having fun and making a goofy face.

This series provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with the people who power The New York Academy of Sciences.

A woman having fun and making a goofy face.

Tell us what you do for the Academy.

I coordinate logistics, contact vendors, negotiate contracts, and manage platforms to support internal and external events.

What has so far been your proudest accomplishment working for the Academy?

Bringing together different departments to work together to host an Open House event that marked the official opening of the Academy’s new headquarters at 115 Broadway. Marketing helped Meeting Ops with printing and laminating; Meeting Ops supported Development with logistics; and on the day of the event, our executives helped us hang paintings! It was a mix of enthusiastic minds and tireless hands, and that collaboration delivered a successful evening.

Why do you think science is so important to society?

It spreads knowledge and improves education.

Which scientist (or scientists) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

Sir Isaac Newton. He was very shy—so shy that he would not share his findings on gravity! If not for a bet with friends that changed everything from there on, where would we be? I would love to sit down with him and just get him to talk, talk, talk and I would just listen, listen, listen.

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

I love taking care of myself by spending time at a spa.

Staff Spotlight: Melanie Brickman Borchard, PhD, MSc

This series provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with the people who power The New York Academy of Sciences.

Tell us what you do for the Academy.

In my role as Director of Life Sciences, I’m responsible for supervising a diverse range of scientific symposia, evening events and workshops encompassing the fields of life sciences and public health. My role involves facilitating meaningful connections between academics, industry leaders, non-profit representatives, government officials and various stakeholders to foster innovation in science through the exchange of ideas.

What has so far been your proudest accomplishment working for The Academy?

One of the most fulfilling experiences during my tenure at the Academy was orchestrating our inaugural event post-pandemic. After two years of exclusively virtual conferences, the opportunity to reunite stakeholders from across the globe for the Advances in Pain conference was truly gratifying. Being the catalyst for the resurgence of enthusiasm within the scientific community and witnessing the restoration of in-person idea exchange and networking was immensely gratifying.

Why, in general, are you proud to work for the Academy?

I take immense pride in my long-standing tenure with the Academy because we serve as a beacon for the most accomplished and innovative individuals who are dedicated to advancing science, often through unconventional pathways. We are united by a shared aspiration to champion the highest standards for the progression of scientific knowledge.

A painting of a colorful flower bouquet.

Why do you think science is so important to society?

Science plays a vital role in society as it drives innovation and technological advancements, improving our quality of life. It helps us understand and address pressing global challenges, from climate change to public health crises. Furthermore, science empowers informed decision-making, fostering a more sustainable and prosperous future for all.

Which scientist (or scientists) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

If given the opportunity, I would like to have dinner with Dr. Paul Farmer, who is now deceased. He was a global health hero who brought medical care to the poor and marginalized. I have been a long admirer of his work pioneering community-based healthcare and championing equity in health care.

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

I like to spend time with my family, go hiking in the desert, and paint.