I have always been a believer in attending seminar talks. I think this was ingrained in me while I was undergraduate student at Hope College. Early in my time, I was encouraged by faculty members to attend the external speaker talks (sometimes bribed with extra credit), and by the time I was a senior, I was attending every week. In addition, I got to go to lunch with a number of the speakers which allowed me, and a number of other students, to get some more individualized time getting to know the speaker’s career path and their life outside of the job. Entering into graduate school, I wanted to attend as many seminars as possible and soak up as much knowledge as I could. I knew that attending talks outside of my primary field would help expand my knowledge and develop my ways of approaching science in general. Of course, as time goes on, you get caught up in the daily activities of working in a research lab – you have deadlines, experiments to finish, papers to write, dissertations to defend, etc. – so the attendance at seminar wanes a little bit. I still made it to most all in my field, but I didn’t expand my horizons as much. Moving to my post-doc position was so refreshing. I had the opportunity to attend seminars in a variety of disciplines – chemistry, chemical biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, toxicology, and computational chemistry. It was an invaluable experience!
I am grateful the chemistry department (and the biology department!) at University of Richmond has an extensive external seminar series. We are lucky to have an endowment (Thank you, Powell family!) that allows us to fund and bring in people from all subdisciplines to speak to us about their work. In the previous 3 years, I have invited some phenomenal people – Prof. Alison Narayan of University of Michigan, Prof. Lou Charkoudian of Haverford College, and Prof. Meghan Blackledge of High Point University. They have introduced our department to biocatalysis, biosynthetic clusters, and antibiotic adjuvents, respectively. And they have done it in clear, approachable, and enjoyable ways. This post was inspired because today I hosted my 4th annual speaker – Dr. Chris Mayne – from Celgene Pharmaceuticals. Chris and I met while I was a post-doc in Prof. John Katzenellenbogen’s lab at the University of Illinois. He has an interesting career path starting in medicinal chemistry and moving towards computational chemistry. I thought he would be a great role model for our students and I believe he lived up to my expectations. I know I was invigorated by his talk and I hope the rest of the department enjoyed his visit as much as I did.
So I’ll leave you with advice if you are going into science – attend seminars, interact with people outside your field, talk about their science, engage with them. It will help you grow and cultivate your love for your own work! At least, it worked for me.