2022 Society for Developmental Biology Midwest Regional Meeting Report


by Andrew Montequin

A cold wind whipped off Lake Mendota, and the sting of the season’s first snow flurries greeted a crowd of developmental biologists descending upon the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus on a Friday afternoon in mid-November. The inclement weather might have been cause for panic or delay in other regions of the country, but not here. This was the 2022 Midwest Regional Meeting of the Society for Developmental Biology, attended by Midwestern natives and transplants who have learned to adapt, thrive, and even draw inspiration from the frigid surroundings.

After attendees found their seats in the wood-paneled auditorium of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the conference fittingly began with a keynote talk given by Richard Amasino, professor at UW-Madison, on the flowering response of plants after exposure to periods of cold temperatures. This session, titled “Development through an environmental lens,” was the first of six sessions of talks throughout the weekend designed to highlight the diversity of questions and approaches that fall under the umbrella of developmental biology.

“If the committee is diverse, you’re going to get a diverse slate,” said Ahna Skop, professor of Genetics at UW-Madison and Head Organizer of the meeting, in reference to the organizing committee tasked with selecting speakers and crafting these different sessions. “We don’t want to exclude people, we want to include people here,” said Skop.

While talks within sessions were tied together by research themes such as “Organ development and differentiation” or “Germ cells, polarity and development,” no session was restricted to talks on a single model organism or technique. Some speakers even ventured away from giving a strictly research-oriented talk and shared stories about their roles as scientific educators. Hannah Seidel, professor at Eastern Michigan University, shared updates during the evo-devo session on research identifying genes responsible for variation in the patterning of snake skin that was carried out as part of an undergraduate lab class. In between sessions, meeting participants could be overheard expressing their wish that classes such as Seidel’s had been available to them during their time as an undergraduate.

On the second day of the meeting, Loydie Jerome-Majewska, professor at McGill University, prefaced her keynote talk with a personal story of how a regional SDB meeting was the first conference she attended as a graduate student. After multiple years of pandemic-induced cancellations, this tradition of regional meetings serving as entry points for young scientists has only been strengthened. With scheduled events including poster presentations, flash talks, and lengthier research talks, there was room for scientists with all levels of experience to participate.

For Natalie Gilbert Gonzaga-Saavedra, a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University who had not previously attended a developmental biology conference, a flash talk seemed like a good way to pique interest in their poster while also practicing a unique communication skill. “You’re trying to learn different ways to communicate your science at different depths, so I think that it was a challenge to figure out what to talk about with a very broad developmental field, but I think it was a good challenge,” said Gonzaga-Saavedra.

Photo of 2022 SDB Midwest Regional Meeting Presentation Award Winners on stage holding certificatesOther attendees took the opportunity to build on their previous experiences presenting at conferences. “I had always presented posters…and I really wanted to challenge myself and give a talk,” said Isabella Cisneros, a fourth-year undergraduate at the University Chicago. Her talk comparing gene expression patterns during butterfly development was selected by the organizing committee to receive an SDB Travel Award to fund her attendance at the national meeting this summer, an opportunity that she is looking forward to. “I’m trying to find labs that I’m potentially interested in for grad school, so I think it will be a really great opportunity for networking,” said Cisneros.

According to Ahna Skop, regional meetings like this one provide accessibility and community to SDB members. “When you realize you have a local community - you don’t always get that on the international level – but when you realize how much SDB impacts you locally, I think that’s really a positive,” said Skop.

These sentiments were also shared by the trainees who were interviewed about their conference experience.

“I think it was a bit intimidating at first because I was going without my lab,” said Cisneros, “but everyone I met with was so friendly ... I felt a lot of support and community despite not knowing these people.”

“It was pretty cool meeting people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, learning about different model systems, and there were some talks that stuck with me even though I didn’t previously know about these systems,” said Gonzaga-Saavedra.

By the end of the weekend, all the signs of a successful conference were showing. Physical fatigue was setting in, but the conversations remained lively as attendees began to bid farewell. Following the last session of talks and presentation of awards, the committee made a pitch for the next regional meeting. It will take place once again in Madison, WI August 11-13, 2024. Until then, we can look forward to gathering again at the upcoming national meeting in Chicago.

Last Updated 03/01/2023