Forget the petri dish—many of UC’s basic science researchers are getting together over the pasta primavera.
That’s because periodically, at a restaurant near the UC medical campus, collaboration is on the menu. It’s the theme for the dinners with researchers hosted by David Stern, MD, vice president for health affairs at UC and dean of the College of Medicine.
Stern instituted the dinners in 2009 as a way to promote collaboration among the researchers—many of whom are meeting each other for the first time. In some cases, they’ve even worked together on scientific papers but never met in person.
"It’s most important to me that the faculty become better acquainted with each other’s work and share concerns so we can develop new strategies for moving the research mission forward,” says Stern. "With these dinners we can relax and visit, and talk about work at the same time.”
The location for the dinners varies, but is usually a short drive from the medical campus. At one recent dinner, the group occupied a cozy upstairs room at Arnold’s restaurant downtown, with framed Bockfest posters lining the walls.
Nine researchers were on hand, plus Stern and his key institutional leaders for facilitating research efforts: Marsha Wills-Karp, PhD, associate dean for basic sciences and special projects, and Robert Highsmith, PhD, associate dean and director of the UC Office of Research and Graduate Education.
The evening began with mingling, followed by dinner. Con-versation ranged from the finances of research ("So that’s about two R01’s worth?”) to family matters, with Stern asking to see a photo when Tom Thompson, PhD, of the department of molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology, talked about his 2-year-old daughter. (Thompson happily complied.)
Once everyone was well into their meal, Stern made a few opening remarks stressing the importance of working together.
"We want to see if there are any potential collaborations or ways we can help with what’s going on,” he said.
Then, it was time for each faculty member to talk about his or her research, with Stern calling on them one at a time. "We’ll start with our junior member, Jerry Lingrel,” he joked as Lingrel, closing in on half a century of service to UC, joined in the laughter.
"There are two people here I haven’t met previously but have common research interests with,” Lingrel reported before updating the group on his research involving gene expression and function primarily in the heart and the vascular system.
More updates followed on research topics as varied as iron overload, myostatin inhibition and the role of ginseng in weight loss. Questions flowed, along with coffee, as the evening wound to a close.
The dinner was an excellent idea and accomplished its goals, attendees agreed.
"It served to increase the visibility of Dean Stern and reinforced his commitment to basic research,” Thompson said. "I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to talk one-on-one with him.”
"I thought the dinner was a worthwhile occasion, and kudos to Dean Stern for attending personally,” added Wallace Ip, PhD, of the cancer and cell biology department.
As a follow-up, Stern e-mailed the researchers the next day and sought out their impressions of the gathering and ideas for improving upcoming dinners. The goal is to hold them monthly.