The Spark of the Blood and Bone Seminar Series: Conquering Scientific Isolation During COVID-19
By Maha Othman, M.D., Ph.D.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our resilience at all levels. Priorities, expectations, and approaches have changed multiple times during the past 18 months. Innovation was not a choice and became part of daily life. Societies like the ISTH with their journals, JTH and RPTH, played a pivotal role in the dissemination of the scientific information in the field of thrombosis and hemostasis. At individual levels, scientists and mentors had an obligation to support the global scientific community to ensure access, rapid knowledge translation and dissemination of research. Yet, as the pandemic forced the closure of labs, research institutions and universities, the normal avenues of scientific discussion, translation and dissemination were fragmented.
In the midst of this isolation, Kellie R. Machlus, Ph.D., created the global, open-access Blood and Bone Seminar Series, which quickly became a viral sensation among thrombosis and hemostasis researchers.
Machlus is currently an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School Department of Surgery, and member of the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. With a pure and serious desire to support colleagues and bring life to science communication in the middle of quarantine, Machlus generated the Blood and Bone Seminar Series. As one of the first and probably largest global interactive online research weekly meeting of its kind, Blood and Bone succeeded to reverse stagnation and isolation at a time when it was most needed.
Starting with a small group, a simple idea and a Google spreadsheet, the local effort blossomed and sustained this series for over a year. It brought together a large collection of seasoned self-selecting list of speakers and diverse topics and made it accessible online for whomever was interested across the globe. Topics included research on coagulation, hematopoiesis, platelet disorders, or myeloproliferative neoplasms. Over 160 faculty and 80 trainees have presented at this seminar series to date.
“I did not expect this,” Machlus said. “In less than a day of release, the google doc was booked for several months in advance.”
Hundreds attended these seminars, and very soon organizers switched to Zoom and YouTube to adapt further needs and promote access. The series was also fortified by a rich and elegant website created and maintained by Kirk Taylor, Ph.D., Melissa Chan, Ph.D., and Carsten Deppermann, Ph.D. This team compiles all speakers in a hall of fame, and a Slack online messaging forum enables communication of over 600 researchers. The outcome and impact exceeded expectations.
“The open access, networking, post-doc job opportunities and new collaborations are some of these outcomes,”Machlus said. “It has even helped give visibility to a broader array of speakers for selections at future conferences.”
Machlus realized that there is no better time than during COVID to re-think the way we research and collaborate. Local research lab meetings will remain important to support trainees and move research projects forward, but there is merit in including researchers from different countries and expanding the scope in support of interdisciplinary research and early career investigators.
Machlus credits much of her own rise as an early career scientist to the superb guidance of her mentors. Scientific minds can develop early but mentorship is key. Fascinated early on by chemistry and driven by curiosity about mechanisms, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute student scholar completed an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Delaware with Honors and Distinction. Two series of postgraduate trainings shaped the young scientist: a doctorate degree at the University of North Carolina with Alisa S. Wolberg, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as well as a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship with Joseph E. Italiano, Jr., Ph.D., Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.
“Joe provided the big picture and offered opportunities for independence and visibility. He showed me how to not take life too seriously and find joy both inside and outside the lab,” Machlus recalled. “Alisa pushed me with high standards and expectations while closely guiding. She saw things in me I didn’t even know I had; her dedication and support helped me to realize my potential.”
In addition to this encouragement, Machlus highlighted the important role her mentors served as advocates for her career. “Advocacy, visibility and networking were key; I am forever in debt to Joe and Alisa and one of my most important goals as a P.I. is to carry the lessons they have taught me forward in my own mentoring,” she said.
With her guidance, the Blood and Bone Seminar Series will continue to offer visibility and networking opportunities for a diverse network of scientists around the globe.
Learn more about Blood and Bone at bloodandboneseminar.com