Research Communications

Graduate students organize first Appalachian cell biology conference 

By Andrea Gibson
Oct. 31, 2012

Scientists regularly attend professional conferences to present study findings and learn about new advances in their fields. For students who have never participated in a meeting that might attract hundreds or thousands of fellow researchers, the first time can be a real learning experience.

That’s why Yanrong Qian, a doctoral student in Ohio University’s molecular and cell biology program, accepted the opportunity to co-organize the first Appalachian Regional Cell Conference in October. The conference, held in Charleston, W.Va., brought together 73 students and faculty from West Virginia University, Marshall University, the University of Kentucky and Ohio University, which had the largest contingent of participants. Vinay Pathak of the National Cancer Institute delivered a keynote talk about a virus linked to prostate cancer and other diseases.

“It was a great chance for students to communicate, network and learn more about the academic environment for graduate students in Appalachia,” Qian said.

Yanrong Qian conducts cancer research at the Edison Biotechnology Institute. (Photo by Andrea Gibson)

The conference, which was sponsored by the American Society of Cell Biology, featured dozens of presentations on topics such as cancer cell biology, neuroscience, cardiovascular disease and biochemistry. Ohio University had a strong interdisciplinary showing, with 34 participants from chemistry, physics, biological sciences, and several engineering disciplines.

Four Ohio University students received awards. Ellen Lubbers was runner-up in the Best Poster Presentation category, Amrita Basu and Maria Muccioli (who co-organized Ohio University’s participation in the event with Qian) won a one-year membership to the American Society for Cell Biology, and Qian won Best Presentation in her group. In addition, Lingying Tong was selected to give a special oral presentation.

Qian conducts research on novel approaches to inhibiting cancer cell growth with Xiaozhuo Chen, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and a principal investigator at the Edison Biotechnology Institute. At the conference, she had a chance to discuss her work with a University of Kentucky student examining a complementary piece of the cancer metabolism puzzle.
The conference attracted 73 students and faculty for discussion of science and medical research findings. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Hall, West Virginia University.)

“Students were able to network with other student peers that have similar interests, and could start regional collaborations that may develop into long-lasting relationships that will help them in their future careers,” said Robert Colvin, a professor of biological sciences and director of the interdisciplinary graduate program in molecular and cell biology.

In addition to the intellectual benefits, Qian and her colleagues also learned about the hard work of organizing a professional conference, from recruitment and promotion of the event to scheduling and securing financial support. She successfully applied for funding from Ohio University’s Council for Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (CRSCA).

“I learned a lot about cooperation, teamwork and management skills,” Qian said.

The Ohio University effort impressed the regional partners so much that they selected the university to organize the autumn 2013 event.
Qian and Maria Muccioli, at left, managed Ohio University's participation in the event. Students from West Virginia University, Marshall University and University of Kentucky also organized aspects of the conference. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Hall, West Virginia University).

“(Qian’s) tireless efforts, along with the other student organizers at Ohio University, in promoting the conference was the reason that Ohio University participation was the strongest of the four institutions at the conference and ensured the success of the first conference,” Colvin said.

Qian and Colvin hope to increase participation in the event next year, and are optimistic about the prospect after the success of the inaugural conference. Muccioli, the main organizer from Ohio University for the 2013 event, is determining whether the conference will be held in Athens or at another location.

Watch a video about the Appalachian Regional Cell Conference, produced by Bixi Tian, a student in the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.