2014 Regional Meeting Highlights and Reviews
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If you missed the 2014 APSA Regional Meetings, you missed out! Held in California, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and New York, the 2014 Regional Meetings had an outstanding series of speakers and panelists and brought trainees from the undergraduate to the resident and fellow level together to discuss science and career development. Read on for reports from each of the Regional Meetings, and be sure to attend your own regional meeting in 2015!

Southeast Regional Meeting

Emory University

By Peter Mittwede

As always, the Southeastern Medical Scientist Symposium (SEMSS), jointly hosted by Emory University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), was a fantastic meeting. Undergraduate, medical, and MD/PhD students from around the southeastern United States gathered in Atlanta on the beautiful medical complex of Emory to network, present their research, and receive guidance from established physician-scientists.

2014 Southeast Regional Meeting Workshop Attendees enjoy a breakout session at SEMSS 2014.
Photo courtesy University of Alabama at Birmingham MD/PhD Students

Day 1 kicked off with a keynote speech by Dennis Liotta, PhD, Professor of Chemistry at Emory, who spoke about the role of CXCR4 modulators in cancer. A second keynote was delivered by Linda Cendales, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery at Emory, who discussed the transition from the training stage to a career as a physician-scientist, as well as her fascinating research in the field of transplant surgery. Following the keynote speeches, a number helpful breakout sessions took place, including an MD/PhD director’s panel, a women in academia and medicine panel, an MD/PhD student panel targeted towards undergraduates, and a session focusing on individualized development plans. A few excellent pieces of advice that I gleaned from these sessions included: 1) do the things you love to do and say no to things (e.g. committee service) that you are not passionate about; 2) choose your mentors (have more than one but fewer than ten) carefully because they can make or break you; 3) work hard, but strive to stay sane and have a healthy work/life balance. In poster sessions, over 100 undergraduates and professional students were able to present their research and network over drinks and delicious food. Prizes for the best poster presentations were given over dinner prior to a night out at the Park Tavern. The second day of SEMSS consisted of a networking breakfast, followed by entertaining hackathon pitches from attendees. The conference concluded following short talks by Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil, Dean of the School of Medicine at Emory, and Nate Gross, MD/MBA, co-founder of Doximity and Rock Health.

West Regional Meeting

University of Southern California

By Steve Chrzanowski

2014 West Regional Meeting Poster Session One of the perks of a Regional Meeting in Southern California: outdoor poster sessions!
Photo courtesy Steve Chrzanowski

I recently had the pleasure of attending the APSA West Regional Meeting at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles, California and would like to share some of the highlights with you. Dr. Steve Mittleman, the USC-Caltech MD-PhD Program Director, was one of the first people to greet me upon arriving to the event and did so with such great enthusiasm for both his program and APSA. The day proceeded with various talks from both quite accomplished MD-PhD trainees and professors and faculty, including Bruce Dobkin, Christianne Heck, Henry Chambers, and Arthur Weiss, over a broad variety of topics. On a beautiful southern California afternoon, a poster session was held outside, highlighting some of the research that the students have accomplished. To conclude the day, we mingled over a pleasant cocktail hour before everyone departed their own ways.

It was a great honor to speak on behalf of APSA at the APSA West Regional meeting, and I anticipate that this meeting will provide the impetus to help APSA continue to flourish in the west moving forward.

Midwest Regional Meeting

Case Western Reserve School of Medicine

By Daniel DelloStritto

2014 Midwest Regional Meeting Group Shot Midwest Regional Meeting attendees at lunch.

I had the pleasure of attending the Midwest regional meeting. I had the honor of working with a great group of individuals at Case Western (Pam Marcott and her committee) to provide some logistical oversight for the meeting. Pam and her committee did an excellent job and the attendee’s benefited highly. The diversity in speakers was refreshing in that we had many academicians talk, but we also had representation from industry. Dr. Anthony Ting of Athersys Inc. shared his story about how he ended up in working for a biotechnology firm in Cleveland and shared his insights on how his company is taking some really exciting biotechnology ideas to market. Dr. Clayton Wiley of Pittsburgh gave an interesting perspective about the future of Physician-Scientists and many of the attendee’s sure did talk about this topic over the next few hours. Finally, Dr. Mary Wilson shared her perspective about some rare infectious diseases that are mainly seen in more poor, less developed counties beginning to appear in different parts of the United States.

Following the many excellent talks a Poster session over lunch allowed those in attendance to share their areas of interest. The posters were all excellent and we even had a few undergraduate poster presentations. Finally, the meeting ended with two breakout sessions coving topics like, choosing a residency, choosing a mentor, diverse career-paths within Physician-Scientists, Grant writing, Global Health and Tech transfer. Overall, this was an excellent Saturday to share ideas between trainees and I look forward to next year’s meeting in St. Louis!

South Regional Meeting

University of Texas Health Sciences Center- Houston

By Daniel DelloStritto

Upon arrival in Houston, I was greeted by Vida Chitsazzadeh the chair organizing this event. I could tell this was going to be an excellent meeting by the excitement that came across when speaking about the day’s events. The meeting began with a tour of the hospital and the facilities. It was impressive that the medical center took up multiple city blocks itself. All the buildings you could see when you got to the highest point of the medical center were within the confines of the medical campus. Following this tour, the meeting began with two excellent talks by established Scientists. Dr. Mary Dickinson, spoke about her life in science as well as the projects in her lab. She was collaborating with multiple scientists across the globe to further understand embryonic development. Most impressively she shared some excellent images using state of the art microscopes. Following he, Dr. Peter Hotez, shared his travel stories as a tropical diseases specialists. He shared his perspective on many things but most importantly he made sure to tell all those in attendance that to continue to have successful biomedical research in the United States we need to be our loudest advocates. Needless, to say this was a topic brought up over lunch and from what I heard most of the trainees there would be in agreement.

2014 South Regional Meeting Poster Session Poster session participants at the South Regional Meeting.

Following the lunch, we had an intimate poster session where great conversations and the exchange of scientific ideas occurred. With the breakout session to follow lunch, we all went off to different rooms to listen to experts speak on many different topics including: Applying to MD/PhD programs, Women in Science, Applying for funding and many more. With the last speaker of the day being the most anticipated, we gathered back in the auditorium to listen to Dr. James Allison tout the advances made within the last few years on the treatment of melanoma using antibody mediated targeting. The data was quite impressive to see the increase in survival and the fact if you reached a certain time point the survival rate seemed to flatline. Overall, this meeting was an excellent exchange of ideas and the APSA leadership team looks forward to next year’s South Regional meeting being held at Texas A&M.

Northeast Regional Meeting

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center

By Alex Adami

This past November, over 100 trainees gathered at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai for APSA’s 2014 Northeast Regional Meeting. Trainees from schools across the Northeast heard from leading physician-scientist speakers and built connections with each other that will far outlast the meeting.

First to speak was Patrizia Casaccia, MD, PhD, a neurologist who studies multiple sclerosis (MS) at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Casaccia had much to say to trainees, advising the audience to not be afraid to challenge the dogma in your field if the evidence on your side is solid and to not be afraid to explore multiple scientific fields so long as you have one central focus. She spoke of balancing maternity and science and the challenges therein. For her, blending the two was a solution, including involving her daughter in experiments and bringing her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to visit the lab. In her current work, she studies how to halt the progression of MS, currently impossible to do. Interestingly, one of her pending clinical trials came from a student staining axons and noticing something odd about histone deacetylase. Her lesson, and one that many speakers returned to throughout the day: pursue interesting findings! You never know where they will take you.

2014 West Regional Meeting Poster Session From left: APSA Past-President Evan Noch, Patrizia Casaccia, Sohail Tavazoie,
and Northeast Regional Meeting Organizer Rajal Sharma
Photo courtesy Alex Adami

Sohail Tavazoie, MD, PhD spoke next. A young investigator at Rockefeller University, he pursued a short track residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he is an attending physician today. He studies the metastasis of cancer and has found that a group of microRNAs are instrumental in pushing a cell toward metastasis. He had much advice for the audience, including a caution that metastasis is more than the biology of cells growing in a dish and to not neglect health and family as you pursue your career.

After the first two speakers and lunch, multiple panel sessions were held in the upper floors of the Annenberg Building. One panel focused on choosing a residency program and was led by Salvatore Cilmi, MD, Director of the Medicine Residency Program at Mount Sinai. Many in attendance had questions for him, and his answers were very helpful for all present. Among his suggestions to the group were the following:

  1. It is absolutely okay to go into a clinical field that does not match your PhD research. This is very common.
  2. Residency may be a good time to get involved with a mentor in the field you seek to enter, not necessarily before.
  3. Choose a PhD research topic you like so that your passion can come through in interviews.
  4. The number of publications you receive matters much more for short track applicants than for categorical applicants. First author publications from the PhD are important for short track programs. That being said, programs understand that we are still students and that publishing is not always something we can control. Dr. Cilmi did note that fellowships look much harder at publications than residency programs do.
  5. Board score cut-offs do exist, and they apply to both MD and MD/PhD applicants. Some programs do more heavy cut-offs and interview fewer students, but if you get an interview, you are probably in.


Returning to the lecture hall, attendees heard from Moses Chao, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at NYU and former President of the Society for Neuroscience. He spoke much less about his science and much more about his career and the many decisions he had to make throughout it. He encouraged the audience to not be afraid to try new things or to teach. When he first arrived as a faculty member at Cornell, one of his teaching assignments was to teach histology, a course he had never taken. Learning histology taught him much about biology, and he eventually became director of that very course. Avoid tunnel vision, as Dr. Chao put it, and do not be afraid to look beyond your discipline for ideas and collaborators.

Dr. Chao spoke also of the problems facing young investigators, calling them “young, brilliant, and underfunded,” reminding us that most Nobel Laureates had their winning idea between 35 and 39, while the average age of a first R01 is in the 40s. He did not have an easy answer for how to solve this problem, but noted that many are trying, and it was heartening to see that very senior investigators do recognize the problem and are trying to fix it.

The last speaker of the day was Scott Mellis, MD, PhD, Vice President of Clinical Sciences and Translational Medicine at Regeneron. Dr. Mellis joined industry after deciding that he did not like bench science, beginning at Pfizer and eventually moving to Regeneron, where he wears many hats today. He was instrumental in the success of rilonacept, an IL-1 trap and Regeneron’s first approved drug. Dr. Mellis spoke of many different opportunities in industry, from the earliest phases of preclinical benchwork to post-approval pharmacovigilance. There are many similarities between industry and academia, and many of the same requirements for academia also cover industry, including the need for passion, healthy skepticism of all data, a willingness to work in a team, and a desire to continuously learn. However, Dr. Mellis did caution that there are important differences to consider. For example, as an physician-scientist in industry, you may be asked to switch projects by management, so flexibility and the ability to adapt rapidly to change is critically important.

Dr. Mellis also mentioned a classic article by Goldstein and Brown, The clinical investigator: bewitched, bothered, and bewildered--but still beloved, a reminder that the problems facing physician-scientists are not new and remain to future physician-scientists (we among them!) to solve.

Overall, the 2014 Northeast Regional Meeting was a rousing success. Planning for 2015 is already underway, and we hope to see many of you at the next meeting!