Urs Albrecht Winning Photographer of the Promega AG Art + Science Competition

The Albrecht Group in the Department of Biology at the University of Fribourg, investigates circadian rhythms in biological systems. Recently Urs Albrecht submitted a photo of baby squid for the Swiss Art + Science Competition sponsored by Promega AG. We have covered squid communication in a separate blog. Here we talk to him about the photo and the inspiration behind it.

How did you become interested in squids as an experimental model?

headshot of Dr. Urs Albrecht
Dr. Urs Albrecht

My lab works mainly with mice. Other professors work with different organisms such as Drosophila, C. elegans, plants, and yeast at our university. One of them, Simon Sprecher, became interested in marine biology and started a course for students. I immediately thought that’s a great idea because it is something different, and few actually look deeply into the biology of marine organisms. The literature on squids is scarce and old, and they are challenging to keep in lab conditions. Yet, my colleague ordered Loligo vulgaris eggs from Villefranche Sur Mer in France and started establishing them to hatch and grow in Fribourg. He was successful. The next step was setting up experimentation. However, squids have brains, and to carry out experiments with them, we needed to apply for authorization from the Swiss Government. I helped out, but it was challenging because there were no standards and regulations, as nobody works on these animals in Switzerland. Now we are interested in studying the communication between squids. It is easy to observe how they change color, because they are transparent. The change in color is related to their stress level and mood.

What went into taking the image “One Out”?

I’ve been a hobby photographer since I am ten years old. So when I went to my colleague’s lab and looked at the baby squids, I said, “Ohh, they are beautiful.” They looked really stunning, and some of them started changing colors in front of me. I thought that was a fascinating behavior, and I wanted to capture that.

One Out by Urhs Albrect Baby Squid communicating with color

Baby squids are transparent and colorful. I had to think about how I could best picture them. I decided to have them in a Petri dish and put them on a stand with lighting coming from below on a black background. I made several images. On one of them, there was this situation where one of the squids was changing color. It was very different from all the others. It immediately came to my mind that something was happening. They were communicating.

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Kornberg Innovation Seminars: Inspiring Creativity in Promega R&D

Kornberg Center was designed to accelerate scientific exploration.

“Are you going to the talk?”

The refrain regularly echoes through the halls of every academic lab building. During our education, we’re treated to a non-stop supply of speakers on every subject we can imagine. Prestigious speaker series gave us chances to hear from some of the world’s most prominent experts on subjects that would shape scientific pursuits for the next decade and beyond. When we leave academia, however, it can be difficult to find those same opportunities to learn. Sure, there are lab meetings and conferences, but when can you be treated to a renowned expert giving a talk just down the hall?

Promega Head of Biology Frank Fan aimed to address that problem when he developed a plan for the Kornberg Innovation Seminars (KIS), a recurring speaker series to be held in the new home for Promega R&D. Kornberg Center is an environment where Promega scientists are challenged to think outside-the-box and anticipate the challenges life science researchers will be facing tomorrow. Frank believed that opportunities to learn from a wide variety of guest experts would be critical for inspiring that type of thinking.

“Promega R&D focuses on understanding scientists’ needs and providing novel solutions,” Frank says. “The KIS program is about helping us achieve that vision.”

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Empowered Women Empower Women: Closing the Confidence Gap in STEM

Welcome back to the third and final part of our Women in Science series, where we’ve been exploring the key factors that perpetuate the gender gap in STEM. In Part 1 of this series, Breaking the Bias: Addressing the STEM Gender Gap, we dug into the key factors of gender stereotypes and male-dominated culture. Part 2, This is What a Scientist Looks Like: The Importance of Female Role Models in STEM, was all about the issue of fewer visible female role models in STEM. Last but certainly not least, this installment will focus on tackling the issue of the confidence gap, including the factors that play into it and the myriad ways we see it unfolds.

Part of my exploration of this topic included having conversations with a handful of my incredible female colleagues at Promega about the challenges women in STEM face. These colleagues were (in no particular order): Becky Godat, Instrumentation Scientist; Jacqui Mendez-Johnson, Quality Assurance Scientist; Johanna Lee, Content Lead, Marketing Services; Jen Romanin, Sr. Director, IVD Operations and Global Support Services; Kris Pearson, Director, Manufacturing & Custom Operations; Leta Steffen, Supervisor, Scientific Applications; Monica Yue, Technical Services Scientist; and Poonam Jassal, Manager, Regional Sales.

What is the Confidence Gap?

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This is What a Scientist Looks Like: The Importance of Female Role Models in STEM

Welcome back to Part 2 of our March Women in Science series! In Part 1 of this series, Breaking the Bias: Addressing the STEM Gender Gap, we took a closer look at gender stereotypes and male-dominated culture and their roles as key factors in perpetuating the gender gap in STEM. In this installment, we will be continuing the conversation about the STEM gender gap and focusing on the key issue of fewer female role models in STEM.  

Part of my exploration of this topic included having conversations with a handful of my female colleagues at Promega about the about the challenges women in STEM face. These colleagues were (in no particular order): Monica Yue, Technical Services Scientist; Poonam Jassal, Manager, Regional Sales; Becky Godat, Instrumentation Scientist; Leta Steffen, Supervisor, Scientific Applications; Kris Pearson, Director, Manufacturing & Custom Operations; Jacqui Mendez-Johnson, Quality Assurance Scientist; Johanna Lee, Content Lead, Marketing Services; and Jen Romanin, Sr. Director, IVD Operations and Global Support Services.

Eight Promega scientists discuss the importance of female role models in STEM

What Does A Scientist Look Like?

If someone asked you to draw a scientist, what would that person look like? Over the past 5 decades, this question has been asked of over 20,000 students across all grades from kindergarten through 12th, and evaluated in nearly 80 studies. A meta-analysis of these decades of studies revealed some interesting findings.

Between 1966 and 1977, of the 5,000 drawings collected from students during the original 11-year study, only 28 of those 5,000 drawings (less than 1% of the drawings) depicted a female scientist, with all 28 of them being drawn by girls.

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Breaking the Bias: Addressing the STEM Gender Gap

Within the broader March-long observance of Women’s History Month, March 8th marks the annual International Women’s Day. It’s a day of both celebration and reflection, dedicated not only to honoring the accomplishments and contributions that women bring to the table, but also to critical analysis of the areas where gender inequality still persists. 

Although we’ve made big strides in the last few decades, women are still significantly under-represented in many fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Women make up nearly 50% of the US workforce, but less than 30% of that number are STEM workers, and with women comprising less than 30% of the world’s researchers

In honor of this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, Break the Bias, and as a woman in science myself, I was interested in exploring the challenges of anyone who identifies and lives as a woman in science, and the key factors that continue to perpetuate the gender gap in STEM fields. I invited eight of my female colleagues at Promega—diverse in roles, age, educational background, ethnicity, and experience—to sit down with me (virtually) to learn more about them and their experiences as women in STEM.

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Promega Ibérica Partnership Helps Students See Careers in Biotech

Graduate students often struggle to envision careers outside of the academic world. A partnership between Promega Ibérica and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) is helping change that for students in UAM’s Cellular Dynamics and Biomolecules master’s degree program.

María Jurado Pueyo, an application support manager with Promega Ibérica’s technical services department, leads a lab session on protein:protein interactions at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. As a part of the course students can explore careers in biotech.
María Jurado Pueyo, an application support manager with Promega Ibérica’s technical services department, leads a lab session on protein:protein interactions at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
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Hiring Undergraduates and Recent Graduates in these Unprecedented Times

Today’s guest blog was written in collaboration with Melissa Martin, a former global marketing intern with Promega. She is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is double majoring in zoology and life sciences communication, with a certificate in environmental studies.

Image: a young woman at a computer. Recent graduates may have transcripts and resumes that look different because of their pandemic experience

Writing to PIs and hiring managers is a new experience for me, and one that is interesting to reflect upon as I will soon be graduating college and pursuing a career myself. I think it is important that PIs and potential employers understand my fellow undergraduates and recent graduates. This is crucial to ensure that they can find a fitting job for themselves, while employers also benefit by hiring an individual that will fit in to the work environment and make positive contributions.

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A Day in the Life of a Technical Services Scientist

Technical Services Scientists answer questions such as "Which product is right for me?" "How does this product work?" and "Help! Something went wrong!"

As a student, I wasted so much time wondering which assay would work best or muddling through problems on my own. I wish I had known I could reach out to get help from another knowledgeable scientist: A Technical Services Scientist!

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The Power of Vulnerability

Today’s blog is written by Malynn Utzinger, Director of Integrative Practices, and Tim Weitzel, ESI Architect.

If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we must rehumanize work.

-Silicon Valley CEO of Several Start-ups

If we want to rehumanize work, we need to be more human in the workplace.

-Promega’s ESI Bootcamp

Vulnerability is the birthplace of intimacy, trust connection, creativity, innovation. For leaders, it is the birthplace of trusted influence. But it is not permission to overshare.

-Brené Brown

Myths of Vulnerability

It’s important that we start off by making a few things about vulnerability crystal clear:  being vulnerable is not about over-sharing, being emotional—or worse, gushy. It is not about sacrificing necessary boundaries or letting go of all discernment when speaking. Vulnerability, as we intend it, is about being real with others. It is about being clear and honest enough within yourself that you can use courage and clarity to state a need or a perspective. Quite the opposite of requiring tears or grand displays of emotion, vulnerability can be expressed with utter command of one’s emotions, so that the clarity and authenticity of the message is what remains.

Vulnerability is also knowing that you cannot know everything or do your work perfectly or even to your full satisfaction sometimes, and it is having this same understanding and acceptance for others. It is being able to speak to that honestly so that we can build sustainable bridges between ourselves and others. We call this speaking our truths–with discernment.

Finally, vulnerability is knowing that while we must give our best efforts where and whenever we can, we must also know what we can’t control.  In most cases, what we cannot control is outcomes.  Therefore, vulnerability is embracing the uncertainty in how things will go in our relationships and in our work if we risk emotional exposure.  We cannot always know how others will hear what we share, but we can learn to take that risk and speak in service to a common goal.  For example, we might decide to share that the reason we are being so obsessive or insistent on a process is because of a past failure (perceived or real) that we still carry with us.  Even though we cannot control what others will think of our story, we trust that the sharing may help them share a need of their own or to hear our own need differently, so that we can all work together.  This is true in every relationship of our lives, where we learn to share something true for the sake of allowing another human being to know us as we are. 

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Reflections: King’s College London iGEM 2020, Renervate and Future Prospects

Today’s guest blog about the 2020 virtual iGEM Giant Jamboree is written by Abigail Conner, Co-Team Leader of iGEM King’s College London (KCL).

In October 2019, I returned to London from Boston feeling elated after an unforgettable week at the Giant Jamboree. My team, Capacity, had just won a Silver Medal. I had the privilege of presenting in front of the judges about our work. The Giant Jamboree presented me with a vision of where Synthetic Biology will take us and its potential to radically transform our society for the better. Words cannot describe the deep sense of pride I felt to be a part of this community. For the first time, I felt truly empowered as a young scientist and was hugely inspired by the brilliance of my peers. As a result, I was beyond happy to assume the role of Team Leader of KCL’s 2020 team.

Almost immediately after touching down in the United Kingdom, I began to plan our project. Throughout the recruitment process and setting up applications, Stephanie Avraamides—the Head of Human Practices in Capacity—joined me in leading the team. As Co-Team Leaders, we would establish Renervate, a team of 19 undergraduate students from various STEM backgrounds, from Nutrition to Biomedical Engineering. Although we were fortunate to have met up in person several times before March, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic scattered us across the world. Our team members represent sixteen different countries, meaning we had to navigate a range of time zones when working virtually. Despite this, we adapted to the virtual setting and worked tirelessly to develop Renervate. Come November, we would be rewarded for our endurance and commitment. I am thrilled to say that Renervate won a Gold Medal, Best Therapeutics Project, and nominations for Best Model and Best Supporting Entrepreneurship at last year’s Virtual Giant Jamboree.

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