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First-year STJR student Mary Beth Schaefer recently attended the
2013 Beckman Initiative for Macular Research (BIMR) Conference in
Irvine, California, as a science writing scholar.
The conference, held by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation
on January 24-26, included breakout sessions where
multidisciplinary groups tackled challenges relating to atrophic
macular degeneration. In addition to experts from different fields,
each group had a science writing scholar who wrote a report on how
the group approached the problem and sought to solve it.
Age-related macular degeneration, a disease affecting
the retina, progressively impairs vision in the affected eye or
eyes. Currently only limited options exist for treatment.
Several million people in the United States have age-related
macular degeneration, and more are expected to develop the
condition in the next decade as the population ages.
Mary Beth told us about her experience at the BIMR conference,
and she described how the STJR program prepared her to attend as a
I wanted to attend the BIMR conference because it seemed to be
unlike any other conference I had ever attended-or heard of. The
conference brings together scientists from a range of fields, from
microbiology to nanotechnology to genetics. [These scientists]
spend the conference collaborating to work toward a better
understanding of a disease that affects millions of Americans:
atrophic age-related macular degeneration. I wanted to observe how
scientists from different disciplines unite and deliberate to
pursue a common goal.
As a science writing scholar, I was assigned to a task group to
write a summary of their discussion during the breakout sessions
and their conclusions made at the end of the conference. There were
eight or nine science writing scholars, each assigned to different
task groups, and we were led by professional science writer Barbara
Culliton. I was also asked to write the summary for the entire
conference as well as a report of the presentations made by
recipients of grants from the Beckman Initiative last year. I will
be completing these reports over the next few weeks.
I was assigned to the stem cell task group. Each task group is
given a specific challenge along with guiding questions to help
facilitate the discussion. Each group also had a leader to moderate
the discussion. The leader could use a dry-erase board, poster
board, or a computer projector to record major points or draw
diagrams. The task groups were also free during some sessions to
visit other task groups, usually to ask questions or gain insight
about the disease from another perspective.
The STJR program helped prepare me in quite a few ways to be a
science writing scholar at the BIMR conference. First of all,
because I have had practice interviewing researchers and writing
stories, I am much more comfortable interacting with scientists,
and I am not afraid to ask questions. STJR courses have also taught
me the value of preparation before going into a conference or
interview scenario. Lastly, I am much more self-aware about my
writing because of STJR. We put a lot of emphasis on revising our
work as well as receiving feedback from others. For this reason, I
know what my strengths and weaknesses are, which makes doing
independent revision (and receiving critiques from others) much
You can find out more about the BIMR Conference here.
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