Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May 29, 2021

By:  Gabi Pugh

AAPIs in STEM: Overlooked and Overworked

Magandang araw!

In Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, this warm greeting simply translates to “good day!” but is one I have rarely been able to say to other Filipinos given that Asian diversity is minimal in my home state. I grew up in a small coal town in Eastern Kentucky that has an all-white population, hence I was exposed to little diversity both in-person and in the media. This lack of representation led me to wonder whether people who look like me have a place in science, which was one of my favorite subjects in school (surprising, right?). In middle school, I attended a summer camp at the University of Kentucky called ‘Girls in Research,’ which aimed to encourage young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Each year, we were assigned a mentor and during my first year I was assigned to a Ph.D. student. Now, imagine how extremely excited 11-year-old me was when I met her for the first time and found out that she was Filipina. This experience was my first exposure to other Filipino people, outside of my family, and was one of the major influences that led me to pursue a Ph.D. This is a prime example of the importance of representation as people are less likely to pursue careers in which they feel and look like the outsider or worse- the “token diversity hire.”

If you work in an area of STEM, you’ve probably worked with several Asian people. The common choice of Asians to enter the field of STEM is primarily influenced by culture. Poverty in Asian countries can be particularly tumultuous, and even fatal. If you’re not familiar with this topic, Bong Joon-ho provides a shocking and poignant description of the living conditions of South Korean impoverished families in his Oscar-winning film Parasite. Even here in the U.S., Asians are still predisposed to poverty. In California alone, 1/4th of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population lives in poverty, despite having labor-intensive jobs [1]. If you were to ask any of your AAPI friends and/or colleagues, they would most likely have at least one family member who has lived in such conditions. For instance, my lola (grandmother) grew up on an impoverished island of the Philippines and began working as early as eight years old. These stories are passed on across generations and inspire us (and, more often than not, pressure us) to strive for success, and we often do so by working in fields like STEM.

There is a long-standing claim that Asians are overrepresented in STEM; however, a 2021 study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that Asians occupy 13% of all STEM jobs in the U.S. versus their White counterparts, of whom make up 67% [2]. Conversely, Pacific Islanders are overwhelmingly underrepresented in STEM. In the Pew Research Center report, Pacific Islanders are grouped in the ‘Other’ category, which comprises a mere 3% of all U.S. STEM jobs. The claim of overrepresentation can be harmful for Asians when seeking job opportunities in STEM. For example, Asian pre-med students in the U.S. are expected to score significantly higher on the MCAT than their non-Asian peers in order to be considered competitive enough for medical school acceptance. However, a high MCAT score and GPA are still not a guarantee for Asian pre-med students. In fact, the American Association of Medical Colleges reported that between 2010-2012, Asian students had one of the lowest acceptance rates into U.S. medical schools, regardless of their MCAT score and GPA- a trend that was observed again throughout 2013-2017 [3]. This idea of Asian “overrepresentation” in STEM has created extensive barriers for Asians to pursue STEM careers that is spearheaded by racial profiling and discrimination. Furthermore, society’s dismissal of indigenous peoples, like Pacific Islanders, in combination with long-standing social and economic disparities promotes discrimination against Pacific Islanders in higher education and STEM [4].

Despite the contributions of AAPIs to the U.S. economy and advancements in medicine/technology, the U.S. still views AAPIs in America as “perpetual foreigners,” as described by Dr. Chen and colleagues in the American Journal of Surgery [5]. Anti-AAPI sentiment in the U.S. has resulted in their dehumanization in both society and the workforce. AAPI employees having financial constraints are more likely to be paid less than minimum wage and to have been required to work overtime for no pay [1]. Additionally, anti-Asian discrimination and violence in America has deep roots dating back to the late 1800’s, like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese people from immigrating to the U.S. [6]. During 2020, violent crimes against AAPIs in America has increased by approximately 150% due to racially-motivated assumptions about COVID-19 [7]. Furthermore, the cultural pressure and societal expectation for Asians to succeed are significant contributors to the fact that suicide is the leading cause of death of young Asian Americans [8]. Given these data, there is a dire need for our country to protect AAPI citizens and celebrate their contributions and success. Not only do AAPIs provide unique insights in STEM, they absolutely belong among everyone else. As scientists, we can protect our AAPI coworkers in the workplace by dismantling harmful stereotypes and removing toxic work culture principles, and we can begin to do so by starting meaningful conversations and providing education on anti-Asian biases.











the words "Go For It" written out in Scrabble wooden square tiles

March 24, 2021

By:  Reni Scaringello


Part 1: Carpe the %@&$! out of that diem.

Like most new graduate students, I started my first year (Fall 2020) doe-eyed and energized, despite starting during the midst of a pandemic.  Naively, I figured success in a PhD program would be as simple as wash-rinse-and-repeat the same good study habits from undergraduate years.   Interviews and orientation week quickly shifted that notion.  During this introduction, one thing that stood out to me was that some advice about navigating graduate school is not really advice – it is an unspoken rule.  Second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth year students as well as faculty all echoed some of the same wise words over and over, as if they were whispered laws to some secret society that I was unknowingly being initiated into.  

Truthfully, an entire section of a library could be dedicated to this topic and I’m not sure I am the most qualified (certainly not the most experienced) to write about it. However, hindsight is 20/20 and I have had the fortune of getting to know some truly remarkable scientists who are at different stages of their careers.  These mentors and friends have reflected on their grad school experiences and divulged their hard lessons learned – and the epiphanies they wish they had reached sooner. 

The unspoken rule I regularly find myself looping back to is “carpe the %@&$! out of that diem.”  This could be interpreted a number of ways from the Latin ‘seize the day’ to the formerly trendy ‘YOLO’.  However, the substance of this unspoken rule is to take opportunities as they come and seek them out if they aren’t there.  First year in a graduate school is filled with uncertainty and second-guessing.  Did I choose the right lab rotation? Am I studying enough for these exams? Rather than staying present in that fear, embrace them as new chances to learn and develop into a versatile professional and scientist.  Since a doctorate is a terminal degree, you get one chance to explore in grad school so make the most of it. By following this rule, I have had the opportunity to experience new things I never could have imagined.  I have characterized bone integrity with microindentation, created my first ever research poster, and cradled adorable parabiotic mice. On the flip side, I have also had the tough calls when “seizing the day” --well--it stunk.   Those days meant studying until the wee hours of the morning, getting nipped by a mouse, or coming in at night to a deserted lab.  The biggest takeaway from this philosophy is to forge your own path and not be left with the “woulda, coulda, shoudas.”  What if the lab you’ve dreamed of rotating in is not on the open lab list? Reach out to that PI anyways and show your genuine interest in their work.  Graduate students graduate, funding on a pending grant gets approved, or the PI’s kids are back in school (they have lives too!) – all of this mean there could be a place for you in that lab, if you ask.  What is the super-cool-techno-wizardry machine you need for your experiment is in Department Y and you are in Department X?  Be brave and cold-email a Department X faculty member who works with it and ask for training.  The point is that if you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘no.’  

The benefits to adapting this unspoken rule and revisiting it early and often are tremendous.  Of course, there is the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are forging your own journey and making decisions in your self-interest. However, I would say the biggest benefit is the networking you have gained and, as a result, the reputation you have built for yourself.  By following this unspoken rule, you have not told but shown others that you are a go-getter and in control of your future (even though things can feel out of control). Your reputation always precedes you, especially when you enter the workforce where everyone seems to know everyone.  A quick reminder, it can take an average of 5.7 years to go from start to finish in a PhD program.  Those 5.7 years are made up of 2,080.5 days; that is 2,080.5 opportunities to change the course you career by seizing the day and having #NoRegrets.  Ultimately, it is your future it is up to you to take the initiative and construct, so “carpe the %@&$! out of that diem” in the best way for you.

black and white scan of a tumor

February 20, 2021

By:  Taylor Senay

Ode to a Tumor

Tumors are odd things. In a laboratory context, they’re quite useful as cell sources or as evidence of cell cycle disruption. Entire branches of microbiology look at the intricacies of tumor biology and the tumor microbiome. We’ve even bred strains of rats and mice that spontaneously develop tumors to make it all the easier to study them. In many cases, at least from my limited perspective, study of tumors is synonymous with the study of cancer, and for good reason. According to statistics reported by the American Cancer Society, around 40% of men and women in the United States will develop some kind of cancer in their lifetimes, and about 20% of men and women will die of it[1]. It’s no surprise, then, that my first and greatest fear when I found out I had a breast tumor was that it was cancerous.

I was two months out from an unrelated surgery requiring a full workup, including a mammogram. Interestingly enough, they didn’t find my tumor on that mammogram (or the targeted follow-up mammogram). It was an odd stroke of dubious luck that uncovered it during an ultrasound. The technician had finished examining the area she’d been directed towards and just happened to move the wand up. A black blob rose like a beast from the depths of white haze, perfectly round and very much unexpected. The tech took measurements from several angles and told me to wait for the radiologist, who assured me it was too small to be worth doing a biopsy. About a week later, I was called and told I would be having an ultrasound guided needle biopsy anyway, just to be safe.

Thankfully, the radiologist was right and biopsy confirmed my tumor isn’t dangerous. I have a 2cm bilobed fibroadenoma, which is a benign overgrowth of glandular and lobular tissue. They’re actually the most common type of benign lump and are most common in women in their 20s and 30s, according to Johns Hopkins[2]. More amusingly, their high mobility has given them the nickname “breast mice.” I think mine kind of looks like a snowman.

Since I’m young, the decision was made to not remove my tumor, so a titanium clip was inserted to mark it as already biopsied. My surgery proceeded as planned, and this adventure came to a close. So why am I bringing it up now? Nobody knows what causes fibroadenoma formation. There has been a casual association made between their occurrence and reproductive hormones, and some studies have shown an increased rate of MED12 somatic mutations in fibroadenomas[3], but no heritable genetic factor has been identified in connection to fibroadenoma generation. Maybe I’m biased, but that seems like a perfectly tantalizing challenge to me. I challenge you, reader, if you’re interested in tumor biology, consider looking into the etiology of benign tumors. Sure, you could cure cancer and win the Nobel Prize…but wouldn’t you rather be able to brag at parties that you figured out what creates breast mice?




  3. Lim, W., Ong, C., Tan, J. et al. Exome sequencing identifies highly recurrent MED12 somatic mutations in breast fibroadenoma. Nat Genet 46, 877–880 (2014).

cartoon drawing of people in face masks

January 5, 2021

By:  Zaria Elery

Scientific Distrust Leads to COVID-19 Vaccine Skepticism

Contributor: Zaria Elery, Chapter Secretary

The FDA has recently allowed emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and distribution has begun for some health care and frontline workers. When the vaccine becomes available to the general population it is imperative that members of minority communities get vaccinated, especially African Americans, given that black people make up 13% of the population but account for 21% of COVID-19 related deaths. Though many of us in the science field understand that the vaccine will be vital to slowing the spread of the Coronavirus and decreasing COVID-19 related deaths there will likely be push back against the vaccine by communities of colors because of the ongoing distrust they have in scientist. For black people this distrust stems from medical experimentation during slavery to more recent unethical events like the Tuskegee syphilis study and HeLa cell extraction.

  • In 1932 researchers from the U.S. Public Health Services (PHS) started the Tuskegee syphilis studywith 600 African American male participants. The participants were told they were being treated for bad blood, which was umbrella term used to describe several ailments including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. The purpose of the study was to observe the natural progression of the syphilis disease. Therefore, once penicillin became available the PHS researchers convinced local doctors not to treat the participants even as the men went blind, experienced other severe health problems related to untreated syphilis and died. Initially, this study was projected to last six months but was not shut down until 1972.

  • In 1951 Henrietta Lacks, a black woman receiving cancer treatment at John Hopkins hospital, had her cells taken without her consent. Henrietta’s cells (HeLa cells) have been reproduced and distributed countless times for medical research use around the world. Though, HeLa cells have played a significant role in many medical advancements such as the polio vaccine development and blood disorder treatments; her family had not received any significant reparations from the scientific community until recently when the Howard Hughes Medical Institute made a six figure donation to the Henrietta Lacks foundation.

When distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to the general population begins its important to understand that these past unethical events may cause some people to question the intentions of the vaccine and therefore they may not get vaccinated. As members of the scientific community, we need to listen to their concerns and provide resources to help educate all people on the safety and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine. We also need to continue to work to regain the trust of minorities by acknowledging past wrongdoings and being more accessible to our local communities.

Resources to help explain the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine:

turkey created out of 4 petri dishes

November 20, 2020

By:  Jamila Tucker

Survival Guide to a Successful Thanksgiving: Microbe Edition

Contribution by: Jamila Tucker, Graduate Diversity Representative

When many people think of the month November, they think: pumpkin spice lattes, sweater weather, and of course Thanksgiving! We know that Thanksgiving is a time of family gatherings, football games, and a variety of delicious foods. However, while you are busy prepping and preparing all of those festive goodies; Some microbes are patiently waiting for you to leave out the casseroles and turkey. Providing the perfect environment for bacteria to prosper and grow, potentially ending with an upset stomach for you. To avoid a disastrous Thanksgiving here is a guide of dos and don’ts so that those pesky bacteria won’t ruin your holiday cheer. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),1 in 6 people typically suffer from food poisoning every year [1]. Food poisoning is an illness usually accompanied by cramps, nausea and stomach pain, which is caused by eating food contaminated with an infectious organism [2]. These infectious organisms can include viruses, bacteria, and parasites [2]. During the Thanksgiving holiday a variety of these organisms can inoculate both cooked and raw food products that are stored at room temperature. By following the tips listed below you can ensure a microbe-free Thanksgiving dinner: 

Tip 1: 
The USDA recommends that all meat (turkey, chicken and seafood) are cooked thoroughly. They suggest using a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is high enough (greater than 140°F) to kill microbes. Keep in mind, bacteria can replicate rapidly during the “danger zone” (between 40°F and 140°F), so within 2 hours of cooking all food should be refrigerated or frozen. [3]

The microbe offender: Clostridium perfringens is a gram-positive bacterium that can be found on raw poultry and meat. It is also known to be the second most common cause for food poisoning in the United States. When ingested, the symptoms include diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 8 hours and they last about 24 hours. Clostridium perfringens grows best when meat is kept at “danger zone” temperatures. [4]

Tip 2: 
The CDC recommends to use pasteurized eggs when making eggnog, tiramisu, Caesar dressing, and hollandaise sauce. It is also important to remember to never eat raw dough or batter that is meant to be cooked, especially if it’s made with flour and eggs. [1]

The microbe offender: Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica are both gram negative bacteria that are common causes of food poisoning. After ingestion, symptoms typically arise between 12-72 hours later and include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. These symptoms can sometimes last as long as 1 week and although these illnesses can go untreated, dehydration is a major risk. [4]

Tip 3: 
Never consume unpasteurized milk or products made with it. This will include ice cream and soft cheeses. It is also advised that cheeses such as mozzarella, cream and other processed cheeses be used instead of brie, feta and goat cheeses when making your Thanksgiving casseroles. [1]

The microbe offender: Listeria monocytogenes is a gram-positive bacterium that has the ability to grow at temperatures as low as 39°F. This allows it to replicate on refrigerated foods such as cheeses and ice cream. It typically causes gastroenteritis which occurs 24 hours after ingestion and is cleared within 2 days. However, in pregnant women the infection can progress and lead to spontaneous abortions. This is why not consuming/using unpasteurized milk when making these products is essential. [1]

Tip 4: 
According to State Food Safety, all thanksgiving leftovers that are refrigerated should be thrown out after 7 days. To preserve leftovers longer it is suggested that you freeze them. You can find a table of common foods and how long they can be stored in the refrigerator before they spoil here: [5]

The 4 tips described above are sure to keep those harmful microbes out of your thanksgiving meal, however, there are some beneficial microbes that we may want to keep around and include in our meals. According to the American Society of Microbiology, there are some things found in foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome [6]. Below are some foods that promote the growth of some advantageous microbes that you may want to include in your Thanksgiving feast:

The microbe good guys:
•    Garlic and Leeks: increases the concentration of Actinobacteria in our gut. This is a gram-positive bacterium that is thought to promote a healthy immune system. It is also known to defend against pathogenic infections [6].
•    Almonds and Pistachios: increases the amount of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Eubacterium rectale in the gut. These bacteria produce a fatty acid called butyrate to help your gut work efficiently. They also are involved in the colonic mucosal health of the large intestine [6].
•    Artichokes and Asparagus: These veggies contain a large amount of insulin which promotes the growth of Bifidobacterium. This bacterium plays a role in the prevention of IBS and colon cancer [6].

This guide covers a list of the most common food handling discrepancies that occurs while preparing Thanksgiving dinner and a few of the microbes that accompany them. There are many other helpful tips and important information about food safety in the links listed below. 

Wash your hands, stay safe and have a great microbe-free Thanksgiving!

Cover image from IG: stylish_streaking with permission. 

Display of traditional Hispanic fabrics laid beside each other

October 14, 2020

By:  Andrew Krusenstjerna

¿Dónde están? Underrepresentation of Hispanics in STEM

Last week marked the end of the National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Initially established in 1968 as just a week of commemoration, it was later expanded in 1988 to span an entire four weeks. The aim was simple: to celebrate the traditions and contributions of the Hispanic community. Given the current social, political climate, and xenophobic vitriol, I believe this event is more important than ever. It offers us all a time to stop, honor, reflect, and focus. To reflect on all the good that has been done and focus on what still remains to be done. One struggle that still pervades the community, that I am acutely aware of as a Chicano and student of science, is the underrepresentation of Hispanics in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) [1].

Since the tech boom of the 1990s, STEM jobs have skyrocketed. According to data from Pew Research Center, employment for this category grew 79% from 1990 to 2018. While this growth rate has slowed as of late, STEM jobs are still projected to top 8 million by 2028. This employment increase also comes with substantive pay. The average median hourly wage for STEM careers being $38.85 compared to around just $19.30 for non-STEM [2]. The field is obviously expansive and fruitful but there are obstacles to overcome to enjoy its bounty. For instance, high educational requirements. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [3], for entry, 99% of STEM jobs require at least some post-secondary education. This is substantial when compared to 36% of total employers. This educational demand is a clear stumbling block for disadvantaged populations who struggle to receive quality education.  

Many inroads have been made in terms of Hispanic educational access in the US. For example, between 1996 and 2016 high school graduation rates increased from just 65.5% to 90.1% [4] and between 2002 and 2012, bachelor’s degrees awarded increased 110% [5]. Despite these gains, Hispanic participation in STEM is still alarmingly low. The Hispanic population in the United States is estimated to be about 18.5% [6], but in STEM they account for just 7% [1]. This disparity is shocking and demands answers as to why it exists.  

Recently, the Student Research Foundation published a report [7] where they tried to explain possible reasons for Hispanic underrepresentation in STEM. They quickly ruled out discrepancy in STEM intellectual interest as the reason. Young Hispanic students had roughly similar interests and aspirations in the field(s) compared to overrepresented groups (ORGs). Instead, they narrowed the reason down to four factors: coursework, grades, confidence, and college plans. Compared to their peers, Hispanic students took less STEM classes, had lower GPAs and confidence, and tended to prefer community college over traditional four-year college. While these are rather simple and intuitive explanations, their causes are ugly and solutions complex. 

Many organizations are working to combat this issue of disparity. While, a majority of these organizations offer lucrative scholarships, which are usually the first proposed idea for attaining equity, they are only a small part of their missions. Initiatives like forums, internships, and mentorships are just as, if not, more important. Personal connection and guidance will help young Hispanics navigate the tumultuous path to STEM careers. 

We in the ASM Student Chapter can’t exactly do all that these organizations do, what we can do is strive to invest our time. As outlined earlier, underrepresented groups suffer from a deficit of resources. As advocates and students of science, it is our responsibility to lead and mentor, to be a resource to all of those who wish to follow. That is what we in the Student Chapter believe. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, this is what I hope we all do. 


black rectangle

September 25, 2020

By:  Chapter Admin

Justice for Breonna Taylor

Recently, a grand jury indicted one of the officers involved in the unjust murder of Breonna Taylor. This officer was charged with three counts of “wanton endangerment in the first degree.” According to the Kentucky state law, this is when someone, “wantonly engages in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person…with indifference to human life” (Section 508.060). These charges are for the shots fired through Breonna Taylor’s apartment wall, which entered a neighbors’ apartments and endangered them. One count was charged for each neighbor. The maximum penalty for each charge is up to five years of imprisonment. There are no charges against any of the officers involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor pertaining to her death. 

This is not justice for Breonna. 

The FBI is still currently investigating whether the three officers violated her civil rights. This means that we can’t give up. We must continue to stand up for what we believe in and use our voices! As members of the ASM student chapter, we are taking a stand. We believe that everyone deserves justice and as an organization will continue to stand for Breonna Taylor! 

What we can do now is come together and make our voices heard. The way they will hear us is by who we choose to represent us. I urge you to vote in the upcoming election. Not just on the presidential level but to research the candidates for your local positions that are up for election. Change happens on the local, state and federal levels. If you have not yet registered to vote and would like to, I have included the links here:




Jamila Tucker 
ASM Student Chapter 
Diversity Representative

Ways you can help get justice for Breonna Taylor can be found in the link below:

drawing of a fist with scientific symbols surrounding it in a halo

September 4, 2020

By:  Charles Seaks

Science Education and Impacts on Political Opinions

As has been discussed in previous blogs, there seems to be a decline in the public trust in scientists, and science as a whole, during the course of the ongoing pandemic. Despite this sentiment, FiveThirtyEight published an article in May with polling results showing that both Republicans and Democrats had a tremendous amount of trust in scientists and researchers, as well as doctors and hospitals (1). The survey consisted of 20,000 individuals, with over 80% expressing strong trust in scientists and doctors. Obviously, this was published in May, and opinions may have shifted in the interim, though such an extreme shift would be unlikely. This leaves the question then of why we, as scientists, feel so under attack and untrusted during the pandemic. The first likely answer is that the vocal minority of anti-science factions of each party have been given an ever-increasing platform in the form of social media, inflating their presence and voices. Secondly, the election of very publicly anti-science politicians over the past decade or so has inflated the influence of this vocal minority. Despite the evidence that most people still trust scientists, there seems to be a large disconnect when it comes to any scientific issues that have become politicized (i.e. Facemasks, global climate change, vaccines, smoking risks, etc.). Much of this separation has been attributed to fundamental differences in understanding of the science between those for and against certain issues. Whether that be blatant lack of comprehension or vulnerability to predatory, unethical scientists with ulterior motives. The core measure of this, for years, has been science education and literacy.

Another article by FiveThirtyEight back in March of 2019 examined the connection between science education in the US and political opinions on scientific policy (2). The typical assumption is that the US public is resistant to scientific policy changes due to their inability to understand it, owed further to the perception that the American public lacks sufficient science education. The results of a study from Pew Research Center, however, paint a very different picture. The study demonstrated an almost tripling of scientific literacy in the US over the past 30 years (3). It also shows a majority of Americans understanding the basics of experimental design, general/basic science knowledge (e.g. The connection between deforestation and soil erosion), and current issues in science (e.g. The relevance and importance of antibiotic resistance). The study essentially concluded that for the American public, scientific education and attitudes about science do not correlate strongly, if at all.

I think this is important to consider, given the preconceived notion that more science education is connected to improved attitudes toward science and related issues. As scientists, I think it is our responsibility to try to understand how we can better the environment we work in. How can we avoid widespread denial of critical issues and solutions? How can we effectively provide information and guidance to the general public? How can we ensure the public is receptive to scientific knowledge? Understanding that scientific education is not at the heart of the attitudes preventing a stronger relationship between science and the public, gives the opportunity to think about what else factors into these attitudes. How does politicization of certain issues affect attitudes? How do business interests and advertising tactics interfere with scientific diaspora? What changes are reasonable to expect of the general public in response to scientific research?

These articles help to illustrate the issues science faces in its relationship with the general public in this country as we enter into a new, pandemic/post-pandemic world. There is no easy solution. Science education does not seem to be the panacea one would hope for. The intertwinement of science with business and politics is a reality, but one that has had very real, very impactful consequences.





Cover image is from iStock/Getty images

provider giving vaccine to person; child in person's lap

July 24, 2020

By:  Gabby Keb

Ethical Challenges Facing COVID-19 Vaccine Development

In response to the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, scientists in research and         development are racing to produce an effective vaccine. The U.S. government has named this goal Operation Warp Speed and aims to deliver 300 million doses of the vaccine by January 2021. Operation Warp Speed is a partnership between multiple groups such the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug administration (FDA), Department of Defense (DoD), and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

    In June, Operation Warp speed gave billions in federal funding to support vaccine candidates. As of July, the top candidates reaching Phase 2/3 trials are a nonreplicating vector from The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and an RNA-based agent from Moderna. Both candidates have been shown to produce good immune responses, but it is still unclear whether these responses will be protective and prevent infection or keep people from falling ill while remaining infectious. Studies to answer these questions will take more time and delay vaccine distribution.

    One way to determine if a vaccine is effective is to wait for enough vaccinated volunteers to encounter the virus in their daily lives then test whether they become infected. Another way is through ethically controversial “challenge studies.” For these studies, vaccinated volunteers are willingly exposed to the virus to accelerate vaccine development and presumably save lives. Challenge studies have been used against other disease agents like cholera, malaria, typhoid, and dengue fever; however, treatments were available for patients who fell ill unlike COVID-19. 

    It is unethical to knowingly put a volunteer at risk of illness or death without being able to ensure safety. Individuals in support of challenge studies argue that the risks leading to hospitalization and death are low in healthy, young, and fit individuals that challenge studies would be limited to and argue that it would be unethical not to accelerate development. A group of more than 100 individuals including expert scientists, Nobel Laureates, and government officials have signed an open letter in favor of challenge studies and emphasize the need for ethical discussions. 

    A recent article published in Science Insights nicely summarizes the ethical framework for COVID-19 controlled human infection studies (CHIs). As students in science, I think it is important for us to also engage in ethical discussions with our peers and colleagues. So, I ask you, should challenge studies be pursued?


3 technicians or researchers completing laboratory testing

June 19, 2020

By:  Beth Oates

Insight Into Scientific Distrust

During global health crises and science-based issues, the voices of mistrust of science and scientists feels deafening. Often times, this is because members of the public consider scientists responsible in some way. Other times, there is a sense that scientists are unwilling to accelerate the scientific process to help the suffering. As a scientist, my mentors have always stressed the importance of “good” and “reproducible” science. Like most scientists, our credibility and the integrity of our work is of the utmost importance. Our names are directly below the titles of our papers, meaning that we have approved the validity and rigor of not only our results, but also the process by which we obtained those results. In this recent article by the Pew Research Institute, they share data that shows individuals with higher levels of education are, on average, more willing to trust research. Additionally, the survey found that 48% of respondents believed medical doctors provide fair and accurate information all or most of the time while only 32% believed medical research scientists of the same field do the same. Although the article only presents the data and does not go as far as to identify why these disparities exist, it does clearly illustrate a need within the scientific community to become more approachable and transparent about our research. We can all begin taking small steps in our own lives and research:

  • We are not better or above people that have less education or lack scientific backgrounds. If people do not understand why our research is important and can be trusted, that is OUR problem not theirs.

  • It is imperative for trainees and early career scientists to learn to be transparent in all aspects of their research. Be honest, admit mistakes, and trust in yourselves. Only then will others trust you. Our own recent history of research misconduct in this country illustrates just how easy it is to permanently damage public trust.

  • Interact with your community. You are part of a community that wants to know and understand how your research helps/affects them. These opportunities can be as small as talking with your neighbor or a community science night.

I understand it’s hard to not feel personally attacked during periods of public mistrust. However, we need to understand it’s not a personal. Mistrust is learned. As a scientific community, we need to rebuild trust, and we can do that by generating dialogue in our communities.

Pew Research Center article:…

Poster says "Black Lives Matter" and a crowd below

June 3, 2020

By:  Chapter Admin

Diversity & Equality

Statement About Recent Events:

Our nation faces challenges in the wake of the recent tragedies that have taken place.  As members of the ASM Student Chapter, we believe that everyone deserves to be respected and heard despite the color of their skin. As the diversity representative it is my goal to ensure often unheard voices become heard. We believe in diversity and equality. We will not tolerate racism, discrimination, intolerance, or injustice. The recent events that have occurred have highlighted the fact that a change must be made. That change starts with all of us coming together to take a stand!

We stand with anyone that has fallen victim to injustice and police brutality.  

We stand for Ahmaud Arbery. 

We stand for Breonna Taylor. 

We stand for George Floyd.

We stand with black community.



Jamila Tucker 

ASM Student Chapter 

Diversity Representative 


The Official ASM organization response is in the link below. On all levels, ASM stands together.…;


Additional resources and ways to support the movement can be found below:

9 Ways to Help Fight Racial Injustice

Ways to Support Black Owned Businesses

Books on Race and White Privilege 

UK General Wellbeing Resources

Surviving and Resisting Hate: A Toolkit for People of Color

Self-Care Tips for Black People Who Are Struggling With This Very Painful Week


Cover Image: Flickr: Stephen Melkisethian