Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Local Postdoc Foodie Adventures: The Sequel

By Natasha Wadlington, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar

At our last adventure, a few members of the BSD Postdoctoral Association Social Committee had the pleasure of going to the first Hyde Park Restaurant Crawl hosted by the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce (HPCC). So impressed were we with the food, we jumped at the opportunity to go again when the second crawl was announced. This time we were accompanied by postdoc, Wenqi Yu, for her first social meet up with the Postdoctoral Association. 

After arriving, we had the chance to talk with HPCC’s Executive Director, Mr. Wallace E. Goode, Jr. and staff. I was particularly delighted to find out that I was the first person to sign up for the second crawl.  Once we checked in, we received a map of all the 8 local businesses participating: Cafe 53, Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen, Hyde Park Produce Market, Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, The Sit Down Cafe, Shinju Sushi, Yusho and ZBerry

Across from the registration area was Yusho so we decided to go there first. This was a new addition to the 53rd street restaurants and I was highly anticipating what I would get there. We were told to go to a side window to pick up our soft serve ice cream.  Luckily, the weather was cooperative this crawl and we looked forward to the cool treat. The ice cream was very flavorful and reminded me of a popular cinnamon based cereal.

Next, we stopped by the three places in the Kimbark Plaza shopping center. Cedar’s was first, where we were invited to sit in and share fresh hummus on pita bread. The warm bread and hummus was a nice contrast to the ice cream we had previously. 

Eating our fill, we decided to go to Kimbark Beverage Shoppe next. This was a welcome addition because one of the problems we had at the previous crawl was the lack of drinks available after eating all of the good food. There, we grabbed a mocktail to quench our thirst.    

From there, we proceeded outside to Hyde Park Produce and were greeted warmly by the staff. They suggested that we try a little sauerkraut on our Boar’s Head hot dog. We never thought of trying that combination on a hot dog and we were glad we did. The combination complemented each other nicely.  We topped that off with a big fruit cup filled with watermelon, kiwi fruit, grapes, oranges, and more.

While the first restaurant crawl was filled with delicious food, it took us while to get full but this time around no one was holding back and gave us very satisfying portions. Despite the filling dilemma, we continued our trek to the next restaurant which was The Sit Down Cafe. We were greeted and allowed to sit down at a table. The atmosphere was really nice and the presentation of the food was really good. Once again, the portions were very generous with our Asian salad and spicy crab rolls. 

Our next restaurant stop was Zberry. This place I was looking forward to because a woman we met at the first crawl was the owner and she had informed us that she would be participating in this second crawl. We were not disappointed as we tried samples of their selected frozen yogurt to see which flavor we liked the best. We also had the option of picking a swirl of two flavors for our sample cup. Although we did not have it on our sample, we saw several customers come in and put on multiple toppings that looked delicious. It was really good and it’s a nice place to stop by after lab or work to get a tasty froyo treat.

The second to last destination was Shinju Sushi. Although the place was a little crowded, we were greeted warmly by the staff. Luckily for us, the rolls were already prepared for us to eat. Not only did they have for us the California roll sample and the vegetable maki roll sample but they also gave us a nigiri piece and seaweed salad on the side. The most appealing part of this restaurant is that it offers an all you can eat buffet for lunch and dinner. So any postdocs that want to gorge themselves on sushi but don’t want to travel too far from campus, this would be the place to go.

Our final destination was Cafe 53. When we got to the counter we ordered our food and was told to go to the back patio. This would have been fine but it was pitch black outside. The other food crawlers had a great sense of humor and turned on their cell phones so that we could see the available tables.  Despite a wait, when the corned beef panini came out it complimented the outdoorsy feel of the situation. We joked how it was like dining under starlight at a camping site.

This restaurant crawl was very impressive to say the least. We were all pleasantly surprised with how much food we were given and the quality of it all. There are truly some restaurant gems in Hyde Park and I would personally encourage all postdocs out there to explore the many options presented at both crawls. Hopefully in the future, there will be another installment. I’ll be ready and hope to see some of you postdocs join us next time. (Photos by Natasha Wadlington)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Scientists on Capitol Hill -- by Elizabeth Little, PhD

On Tuesday September 9th, I joined 19 other young scientists to take over Washington, D.C. as part of Hill Day, sponsored by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).  Twice a year, ASBMB hosts this jam-packed day of meetings to communicate the needs of the science community to members of the United States Congress.  Chiefly, we were putting out the call to increase NIH funding for Fiscal Year 2015 to $32 billion (and $7.2 billion for NSF).  These numbers may seem mind-boggling (one member of my advocacy group kept confusing billions and millions…pretty big difference) but the fact is that it doesn’t even represent an actual increase for NIH funding; instead, science advocates are just trying to keep up with inflation rates and maintain purchasing power, which has decreased 22% over the last 10 years. I can confidently state we’re all feeling the effects of the deflated NIH budget. 

During Hill Day, ASBMB splits up the young scientists to groups of 2 or 3, each led by a Public Affairs Advisory Committee member (an established researcher serving an advocacy role in the ASBMB).  My team was led by a department chair at University of Massachusetts and included an undergraduate at Ashford University in Iowa and a PhD candidate at University of Nebraska.  We spent the day running around Capitol Hill meeting with Congressional staffers from our group’s states (12 meetings in total for our little group!).  From the Illinois side, we got to meet with the offices of Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and Representatives Bobby Rush (IL District 1) and Robin Kelly (IL District 4).  All told, ASBMB Hill Day incorporated 102 meetings with delegations from 32 different states.  Our objectives were pretty simple: provide a “face” to science advocacy.  We went into each meeting, briefly described our research before speaking about the general benefits of biomedical science and how we help improve society.  Then we led into our “ask” to increase NIH and NSF funding along with other ASBMB-supported policy issues, such as immigration reform to retain foreign scientists, enhanced STEM education, and research and development tax credits.  ASBMB provided helpful information on each Congressman we were meeting (biography, policy interests and committees) and some broad advice (“avoid partisanship”, “don’t suggest a program that can be cut to increase NIH funding”) but I was surprised how easy the conversation flowed in the meetings.

Here’s the good news: ultimately, everyone wants to fund biomedical research.  After all, it’s difficult to argue against improved therapies and healthier citizens.  Furthermore, scientific research benefits the national economy, with an estimated $2 return on every dollar invested in the NIH budget.  It’s not too difficult a sell in prosperous times, but in the current economy, it’s important to remind Congress of the worthwhile investment in scientific research.  The real challenge is to communicate why science requires steady, predictable funding and why the government should contribute instead of relying on industrial research.   Only one Congressman questioned how we should fund our proposed NIH increase.  Overall, we met with very encouraging staffers, including those from offices of Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Senator Dick Durbin (IL’s own), both well-known science proponents.  I even had to opportunity to personally meet with Representative Jim McGovern (MA) while he lectured me on all the benefits of funding science research (easiest meeting I’ve ever had). 

 (L to R): Dr. Bob Matthews (UMass Med School), the author, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)

Unfortunately, our efforts to increase the NIH/NSF budgets will not likely amount to much this year; on September 19th, a Continuing Appropriations Resolution was signed to fund the federal government through December 11th, 2014.  This Continuing Resolution prevents another government shutdown but generally maintains appropriations at the current rates.  Until the government is able to pass a true annual budget, it’s improbable that any continuing appropriations will allow for increased biomedical funding.   That said, it’s increasingly important that scientists take a more active role to promote these interests.  I recommend ASBMB’s Hill Day to any grad students or postdocs who are interested in policy and/or advocacy.  It was a really enjoyable and well-organized adventure (and quite an adrenaline rush).  Spring Hill Day is generally in March and you’re not required to be a member of ASBMB to participate.  In previous years, other professional/advocacy societies – including the Coalition of Life Sciences, Society for Neuroscience, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, PanCan, and American Association for Cancer Research – have hosted similar events.  Short of dedicating a few days to head to D.C., all scientists should help the cause by contacting their representatives in Congress or by getting involved with different professional societies to speak on behalf of biomedical research.  We all understand that the research we do is important, but science cannot live in a vacuum; therefore, it’s essential that we better communicate our value and concerns to both society and our government representatives.

Elizabeth Little is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Medicine.