CUR Building a Research Program Workshop and future plans

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research.  Amply titled “Beginning a Research Program in the Natural Sciences at a Predominantly Undergraduate Institution Institute,” this forum welcomed a group of promising young research advisors to Washington, D.C.  Led by several experienced facilitators, groups of faculty met to discuss such topics as advocating with administrators, building a cohesive group of research students, techniques to run a lab including time and resource management, and where to find grants to support research.  I also had several opportunities to network, which usually puts me way out of my comfort zone.  My breakout group was led by University of Nebraska-Kearney organic chemist Hector Palencia. He’s built a strong continuity of 3-4 students per year and has been externally funded, which enabled him to provide salient advice that we can apply to our research program.

Perhaps the most potent resource will be CURChem, a site built to connect and provide resources and encouragement to PUI researchers in Chemistry.  One of the site’s premier contributors, Muhlenberg College’s own Keri Colabroy, introduced us to the student research contract, the electronic notebook LabArchives, and Slack, a social networking app designed to connect her to her research group and promote accountability for progress. I’ve set up Slack and plan to try out LabArchives; however, I’m skeptical as to how structures and pictures (e.g., TLC plates) can be drawn into the program.  The great advantage is the ability to post videos and have a searchable archive of experimentation in the group over time.  Now, I just have to find a student willing to transcribe eight years worth of paper research notebooks into LabArchives.  Hmmm…

I was grateful for this opportunity, and had some creative time to plan out what I’m going to do when I return to campus, what I plan to accomplish before the end of the semester, and what I’m going to do this academic year.

One of my major professional weaknesses is my inability to delegate important but ancillary tasks to others.  I think I can and should do it all myself, and that whatever I delegate will not be done as well, as quickly, or as foolproof as I can do it.  I’ve got to abandon that line of thinking.  I must abandon that thought pattern.  My research students are eager and capable of helping, and probably can accomplish what I ask of them if I provide sufficient direction and follow-through.  Leveraging my team’s time and skills to handle the little things would free me up to work on the big-picture things, such as grant writing, coming up with new ideas to drive the program forward, maintaining collaborations, and ensuring the continuity of the group for the next year(s).

Other than catching up on grading, here’s what I plan to do when I return to campus and for the last month of the semester:  reboot our weekly writing accountability group, finally get my research lab all set up, get our NMR spectrometer connected to the campus network and write a training manual, train my students to begin working in the lab, plan a day/time for weekly group meetings, set up LabArchives and begin posting to it, organize and update my references once and for all and import them into Zotero,  and get my very eager students to begin doing chemistry.

Research-wise, here’s what I plan to do through the Christmas break and at the beginning of spring semester:  complete and submit my NIH R-15 AREA grant proposal, apply for a $5000 research grant from the American Society of Pharmacognosy, have my students apply for internal funds, and start assembling experiments and completing curriculum paperwork for an upper-division NMR-based synthesis lab/lecture course.  I must also get the Metacognition project off the ground with my internal collaborators, especially because I’m teaching two sections of Organic Chemistry I in the Spring.  To do that, I must get IRB approval, finalize my assessment documents, deploy them, and complete an internal grant proposal that will enable me to hire and train student graders.

I can and will do this. Please keep me accountable readers!

OrganiclinksPUI.net launched!

Awhile back, I thought the community of undergraduate research mentors, like myself, could benefit from an online network.  The main purpose would be to have a database of true peers, from peer institutions, to collaborate with, to recommend as journal article and grant proposal reviewers, and to network with online and at conferences.  This idea was inspired by organiclinks.net and chembiolinks.net, which have united faculty and students from doctoral institutions for years.  It now exists.  I hope this is the start of something promising, but this is the most ambitious endeavor I’ve undertaken.  Let’s see what happens.

Visit organiclinkspui.net, and see for yourself.

“Total Synthesis of Clavatadine A” receives the Jack L. Beal Award

The American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) bestowed the Jack L. Beal Award to Dr. Stephen Chamberland as corresponding author of the paper “Total Synthesis of Clavatadine A.”  This paper was published in the Journal of Natural Products in 2015.  Jointly overseen by the American Chemical Society and the American Society of Pharmacognosy, the Journal of Natural Products “invites and publishes papers that make substantial and scholarly contributions to the area of natural products research. Contributions may relate to the chemistry and/or biochemistry of naturally occurring compounds or the biology of living systems from which they are obtained (http://pubs.acs.org/page/jnprdf/about.html).”

“In 2001, the Foundation Board of the American Society of Pharmacognosy began a new initiative as a result of the Arthur E. Schwarting and Jack L. Beal Awards for best papers in the Journal of Natural Products. In this manner, two former distinguished editors of the journal are fondly remembered. The Schwarting Award is open to all papers published in the journal within a given year (either in print or electronically). In turn, the Beal Award is awarded to younger investigators [i.e., persons within 12 years of receiving their Ph.D. degree or within 10 years of gaining their first professional appointment (e.g., Assistant Professor or equivalent position in industry or government)]. A two-tier process was used to determine the winners for papers published in J. Nat. Prod. every year. The journal editors nominate eight papers for the Schwarting Award and four paper for the Beal Award, and the ASP President appointed an ad hoc committee to make the final selections (http://www.pharmacognosy.us/grants-and-awards/grants-and-awards-archive/schwarting-beal-awards/).”

I am profoundly humbled, honored, and thrilled that our manuscript was chosen from among many deserving submissions to receive the prestigious Jack L. Beal Award.  I thank the Journal of Natural Products Editorial Staff and the ASP ad hoc committee members for their distinguished service and for recognizing our work.  Without substantial contributions from undergraduate student co-authors Stephanie J. Conn, Shannon M. Huffman (Vreeland), and Alexandra N. Wexler, the first total synthesis of the Factor XIa inhibitor clavatadine A would not have been possible.  Our efforts engendered a synthesis that is simple, robust, and, most importantly, repeatable.  Such recognition of our work is encouragement that my students and I may have something worthwhile to contribute to science and to human health.

We are working to extend this approach to prepare a reversible Factor XIa inhibitor, and are especially intrigued by the potential that clavatadine A derivatives might have to treat coagulation disorders.  This proposed work will build upon our successful route to clavatadine A and aminoguanidine-containing natural products, and will be the subject of a forthcoming CAREER proposal to the National Science Foundation.  I especially want to thank our Australian collaborators, most notably Distinguished Professor Dr. Ron Quinn and Dr. Rebecca H. Pouwer, for providing the biological assay data that helped to confirm the structure of our synthetic clavatadine A and to authenticate its inhibitory activity.

Small Splash, Big Waves Invitation

Steve Chamberland recently received an invitation to speak at the Small Splash, Big Waves symposium at the Fall 2015 national meeting of the American Chemical Society.  This symposium, offered by the American Chemical Society Division of Organic Chemistry, is designed to highlight the research successes that can be achieved at primarily undergraduate institutions.  This is the first invited seminar at the national level for Dr. Chamberland.  He will speak at the fall ACS meeting in Boston, MA about the group’s research over the last few years and what’s coming on the horizon.  Congratulations to the current and former group members whose achievements made this opportunity possible, and to Central Washington University for providing a platform for launching our successful research program.

ACS Abstract Accepted

Chris Malmberg’s abstract entitled “Total synthesis of clavatadine A analogues to produce a viable reversible inhibitor of factor XIa” was accepted by the American Chemical Society Division of Medicinal Chemistry.  Chris will present his poster at the Spring 2015 national meeting of the ACS in Denver this March.  Congratulations Chris!  If you go to the meeting, please visit his poster on Sunday evening, March 22, 2015.

Clavatadine A paper published

Since 2010, our group has been working hard to complete the first total synthesis of clavatadine A, a chemical that is a natural blood coagulation inhibitor.  Our group completed the total synthesis in November 2013, and then quickly wrote and submitted the paper for publication in December of that year.  Reviewers universally recommended acceptance of the manuscript once key enzyme inhibition data was gathered on our synthesized compound.  Without the ability to do this work at CWU, I reached out to Dr. Ronald J. Quinn of the Eskitis Institute of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.  Dr. Quinn first isolated clavatadine A from the ocean sponge Suberea clavata in 2008.  We collaborated with Dr. Quinn and a postdoctoral researcher in his group, Dr. Rebecca N. Pouwer.  In October 2014, the enzyme inhibition data from Dr. Quinn and Dr. Pouwer revealed that the synthetic compound bound to the target coagulation factor with almost exactly the same affinity as the natural compound, which paved the way for the paper to be published, finally.  After almost a year of waiting since we submitted the paper, it appeared online today on the Journal of Natural Products website (see our Publications section).  For a small research group at a regional teaching college, this is a big accomplishment.  I thank my former research students and co-authors Stephanie Conn, Shannon Huffman (nee Vreeland), and Alexandra Wexler, without whom this work would not have been possible. Working with dedicated and talented students and scientists like Stephanie, Shannon, and Alex makes my job worthwhile.  I also thank Dr. Quinn and Dr. Pouwer.  We’ve never met, but I hope to make your acquaintance on my next trip to Australia.  Cheers!  -SC