In an age of clickbait and fake news, there is no question that stem cell outreach and education are critical to stem cell advocacy and the overall progress of the field. Quality outreach initiatives and education dispel misconceptions, clarify science, and enable the public to grasp the potential of stem cell research. However, there are arguably too few public stem cell events, limiting the layman’s access to engagement with the stem cell field. For the stem cell researcher, attending stem cell conferences and symposiums may be an intuitive way to learn more about the field. However, registering for a stem cell conference can cost upwards of $500 alone. For an average person, or even a student, this cost of attendance is steep and oftentimes prohibitive. To compound the problem, most stem cell conferences are geared towards experienced and educated scientists, usually too technical for the average individual to comprehend.
UC Berkeley’s Student Society for Stem Cell Research recognizes this gap, hosting its annual stem cell conference with the goal of providing everyone–students, teachers, patients to name a few–the opportunity to intellectually engage with stem cell experts without breaking the bank. With the support of its generous sponsors, Berkeley SSSCR held its fifth annual, undergraduate student-organized, stem cell conference in October: Culturing a Stem Cell Community. Culturing a Stem Cell Community has a tradition of inviting speakers across a variety of expertise and disciplines, from scientists, to patient advocates, to policy experts. This year, the conference consisted of two keynote speakers, patient advocate talks, a presentation by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, and a number of technical research talks around the theme of tissue engineering.
In organizing its fifth conference, Berkeley SSSCR was driven by a commitment to enabling and fostering curiosity. As a conference organizer, Berkeley SSSCR President Annika Anderson focused on the barrier between top researchers and students, and expressed her desire for attendees to get a taste of the field and realize that “there’s so much happening in stem cell research.” While preparing for the conference, Annika and Berkeley SSSCR Conference Chair Sneha Rao strove for a variety of presenters who were not only doing exciting work, but were able to communicate that work to an equally diverse audience. Sneha endeavored to unveil the breadth of possibilities with stem cells and demonstrate how stem cell can be applied to different parts of the body, working in complex systems. Together, the SSSCR Berkeley team “cultured” a one of a kind stem cell community.
There’s no doubt that this event fostered communication across the audience, with students and members of the public posing questions and creating discussion amongst the presenters and themselves. Perhaps the most telling moment of the conference’s “stem cell community” for me was during the poster session when I saw a well regarded principal investigator, jotting notes with laptop in hand, absolutely captivated by an undergraduate student’s poster. The two spent several minutes discussing the presenter’s research findings, learning from one another. This dynamic of interaction presents itself as an example of the dialogue that can (and should) be achieved as stem cell organizations commit themselves to accessible stem cell outreach and education.
UC Berkeley Student Society for Stem Cell Research’s Culturing a Stem Cell Community was made possible by the generous support of Americans for Cures Foundation, Genetica DNA Laboratories | LabCorp Brand, the Berkeley Stem Cell Center, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Umeet has been an SSSCR member since 2012, previously serving as the Conference Chair and President of SSSCR-Berkeley, and presently SSSCR-International’s Editorial Coordinator. Passionate about the intersections of science, law, and technology, Umeet graduated from UC Berkeley with BAs in Molecular and Cell Biology and Legal Studies. In the past, Umeet has conducted research both in the lab and in empirical legal studies. Currently, Umeet is working as a Litigation Paralegal at Computerlaw Group LLP before heading off to law school. In her free time, Umeet likes to dabble in programming and data science over a cappuccino.