On Friday, over 150 Yale microbiology and microbial pathology faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral associates gathered in the West Campus Conference Center to celebrate the 18th annual Microbiology Program Retreat.
The day’s program, which started with breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and ended with a reception at 5 p.m., included research poster presentations and a smorgasbord of diverse faculty talks, which featured topics such as the Zika virus, microbiome variation and genetic analysis. Both graduate students and postdoctoral associates were invited to present their research during the poster session. Bonnie Lemelin, senior administrative assistant to Yale’s Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and event organizer of the retreat, said that 58 posters were presented and, from them, the judges chose one postdoctoral and one graduate student as the winners.
The origins of this microbiology retreat are rooted in the history of microbiology at Yale, a department that disappeared for a period of almost 20 years in the late 20th century.
“Yale dissolved the microbiology department in the ’70s,” said Craig Roy, vice chair of Yale’s Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and the event’s chair. “Their thinking there was the war on infectious diseases is over, so microbiology could be broken down into different roles.”
But the Yale administration quickly found out this was not the case, Roy explained. Microbiologists had become experts at manipulating different biological systems, and so microbiology still possessed great tools for studying biological systems. That is when the University realized it needed to bring microbiology back, Roy said.
Out of the rebirth of the new microbiology department 18 years ago came the Microbiology Program Retreat, a program initially started in order to create more dialogue between faculty members, Roy said. But in recent years, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have also played a more direct role in the dialogue by presenting research posters.
The graduate student and postdoctoral presentations provided not only a platform to showcase their personal work but also an opportunity to represent their lab and illustrate the scope of research that their lab conducted, said Maren Schniederberend, an associate research scientist in Barbara Kazmierczak’s lab.
Stephanie Shames, a postdoctoral associate in Roy’s lab, spoke about her research involving Legionella pneumophila, an opportunistic pathogen of humans that infects freshwater amoebas. After Shames presented to the small crowd that had gathered around her poster, microbiology faculty members offered suggestions for methods that she could use in future research.
Sam Fels, a postdoctoral associate in Department of Microbial Pathogenesis Chair Jorge Galán’s lab, agreed that hearing from others was an added benefit to presenting research at an event like the Microbiology Program Retreat.
“I wanted to get feedback [on my research] because I’m in the early steps of my project,” Fels said.
The retreat was not only beneficial for the presenters: over 60 of the 150 attendees were simply there to experience the event. Justin Toh GRD ’21, a second-year graduate student, said that the retreat was “a really nice way to see all of the topics and projects that are going on in this area at Yale.”
He added that the retreat’s showcase of research projects helped him choose which labs to rotate in during his first year as a graduate student.
Christina Lin ’11 MED ’20 said that having attended Yale as an undergraduate interested in research, but not knowing the best way to begin, the retreat was something she thought would be helpful for undergraduates in the same position.
“To undergrads, know that every [science] department [at Yale] has an event like this,” Lin said. “So if you’re interested in a particular field of research, you should find out when the retreat is, go to it and look up whatever you’re interested in. It’s the best way to explore your interests and see what’s really out there.”
Nineteen Yale labs were represented at the 18th Annual Microbiology Program Retreat.