SDB e-news

  FALL 2016

   Society for Developmental Biology

Back to Fall 2016

SDB e-news Home

Ida Chow Awarded 2016 Viktor Hamburger Outstanding Educator Prize

By Marsha E. Lucas

The 2016 Society for Developmental Biology Viktor Hamburger Outstanding Educator Prize was awarded to Ida Chow, Executive Officer of the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB), for her outstanding contributions to developmental biology education. Chow has championed science education since she began managing the Society in the early 1990s. She prioritized the mission of the SDB Professional Development and Education Committee (PDEC)—to nurture the professional development of SDB members and facilitate learning and teaching of developmental biology within and between the academic community and the public. Education sessions became an essential component of all SDB regional and annual meetings ranging from outreach activities for K-12 teachers to grant writing workshops for young investigators.

Chow and PDEC member Karen Bennett developed a biennial 2-day Bootcamp for New Faculty which is held in conjunction with the SDB Annual Meeting. Since 2006, more than 120 postdocs and early career faculty have gone through the program learning best practices for teaching developmental biology, mentoring students, and running a laboratory. This is one of the society’s most successful programs.

In 2005, Chow secured a Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute (PASI) program grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a satellite course to the Latin American Society for Developmental Biology (LASDB) meeting in Brazil. This cross-cultural exchange brought together students and postdocs from the United States and Latin America to explore diverse organisms and tools for addressing essential questions in developmental biology. Chow went on to co-organize three more PASI short courses in conjunction with LASDB meetings in Argentina (2008), Chile (2010), and Uruguay  (2012).

Chow, who was born in China and raised in Brazil, began her career as a physiologist. She earned her bachelor’s degree in morphology and embryology at Escola Paulista de Medicina in São Paulo in 1969. In her senior year, she conducted research on gut epithelial development in the mouse with José Merzel. After graduation, Chow continued to work with Merzel, but was also hired by Carlos Alberto Magalhães, a physiologist at the University, to teach a physiology lab to psychology students at a nearby institution. In a July interview, Chow described Magalhães as her “first real mentor.” He gave her career advice—from how to deal with people to how to teach.

Chow left Brazil in 1971 to attend graduate school in anatomy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She studied the turnover rate of mouse mesothelial cells for her master’s with Charles Philippe (CP) Leblond, a cell biologist best known for perfecting the use of autoradiography in the detection of radioactive isotopes (and the first to identify stem cells in adult tissues with Yves Clermont). She earned her master’s degree in 1974.

Wanting to get back to physiology, Chow switched departments for her doctorate to study neuromuscular junction formation with Monroe W. Cohen. She used her training with radioactive isotopes to label acetylcholine receptors and study their distribution during development in the frog.

Chow completed her doctorate in physiology in 1980 and headed to the University of California, Irvine for a postdoc with neurobiologist Mu-ming Poo. There she studied synapse formation in Xenopus nerve-muscle cultures and electrical coupling between muscle cells. After her postdoc, she took a research physiologist position at the University of California, Los Angeles before landing a faculty position at American University in Washington, DC in 1989.

Today, Chow stresses the importance of mentoring at all levels. As a postdoc looking for a job and as an early career faculty member, that was something she missed.

“I really didn’t have knowledge about the undergraduate system here—how things are done,” she said.

As a result, she ended up in a situation where she had to maintain an active research program, advise students, publish regularly, all the while teaching a heavy course load each semester. She approached running a lab the same way she was trained—every graduate student got their own project. The problem was, at American University she only had master’s students who left after two years. Her approach was ineffective and left her with unfinished projects and unwritten papers.

After seven years at American University, despite having an active NIH grant, she was denied tenure. It was a “lack of mentoring and lack of my own knowledge,” she said.

“Because of my own experience, I feel that I need to at least provide some opportunity for people to learn about it.”

She has provided many such opportunities for trainees and early career scientists in the developmental biology community. In 1993, Chow began organizing SDB meetings with support services from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). After leaving her faculty position in 1996, she began managing SDB along with the Society for Leukocyte Biology until 2002.

Since the 1990s, SDB’s educational programming has grown tremendously. Chow’s latest venture is called Choose Development! (see Scientia profile). Initially funded by NSF, the program matches undergraduates from underrepresented groups to labs of SDB members for multiple summers of research and multilevel mentoring. The program aims to increase the number of underrepresented minorities and people with disabilities in the field of developmental biology.

Chow with Choose Development! mentor and fellows at the 75th SDB Annual Meeting in Boston, MA. (l-r) Iliana Hernandez, Jesus Martinez-Gomez, Chow, Dylan Faltine-Gonzalez, Talia Hart, Davys Lopez, Luis Colon Cruz.

“Scientific societies were not thought [of] by the federal agencies as a means to reach out [to underrepresented groups],” Chow said. They primarily focused their program funding on universities. That viewpoint has changed in recent years as agencies have realized that scientific societies have a national footprint that reaches beyond a single campus, she said.

SDB was one of only three groups to receive the Broadening Participation grant from the NSF Division of Integrative Organismal Systems. To date, 19 students have participated in the program. All but three who have completed their Bachelor’s degree have gone on to graduate or medical school.

NSF funding for the program will come to a close in 2017, however, the program will continue to be supported by the Society. Moving forward, Chow would like to form partnerships with schools that have Summer Undergraduate Research Programs (SURPs) to share some of the costs of hosting students. The other alternative she said, “Finding a sugar daddy or sugar mommy who will give us a million dollars [laughter].”

In 2010, Chow was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and in 2011 received a Service Award from the Society for Developmental Biology. She is currently chair of the Coalition of Scientific Societies—a partnership of 17 scientific organizations formed in 2005 in response to challenges in teaching evolution in science classrooms across the country. In 2006, the Coalition conducted studies to support the National Academy of Sciences in updating their publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism.

Reflecting on her career she said, “I think the most rewarding part is to work with people. To have the opportunity to work with a variety of people from all over the world, from all kinds of places.”

Interacting with people from different backgrounds has taught her many things. “I used to be a little bit more opinionated. Not that I’m not anymore [laughter]. ...At least I learned I need to listen a little bit more. I need to be a little bit more understanding—at least try to see their point. It doesn’t mean that I have to agree...but still, you need to be more open.”

Winning the Hamburger Prize was a big surprise for her. “Whether I think that I really deserve it or not, I’ll let other people say,” she said.

She is honored though to share the prize with so many great developmental biology educators. “It’s a very high bar. I’m not sure that I can really reach that bar. But, I’ll try to make it,” she said.

“It’s been fun. I think that is the most important thing.”