Remarks from the JUSTL Co-Directors

21 May 2020

I asked the JUSTL Co-Directors, Professor Robert Baker (Professor Emeritus, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, New York University Medical School, New York, USA), and Professor Karen Crawford (Professor of Biology, St Mary’s College of Maryland) to describe their role in organising the programme in the US, and interacting with the Hong Kong students.

Professor Robert Baker

Professor Robert Baker JUSTL Programme Co-Director

“First and foremost, based on my lengthy scientific and funding history at MBL I acted as the interface/liaison with the Director and his Administration to secure both the research laboratory and necessary student housing during the most intense summer research and teaching season. This in turn created an important community research environment for the students along with allowing each student access to the multidisciplinary course lectures presented by the most outstanding scientists in each expertise.

Second, given my longtime acquaintances with many resident MBL scientists along with those establishing summer laboratories, I was able act as the intermediary for arranging appropriate student mentorships. This was essential because of the diversity of student interests that extended from botany through biology.

In turn, my awareness and contact with the expertise available at MBL helped in the student selection process.

Third, I interacted on a daily basis with all the students, under my direction or elsewhere, to ensure that their needs/adjustments where being satisfied.

Finally, for the vast majority of students, the MBL experience was their first venture from Hong Kong and contact with Western Culture, so we assisted in making sure that their social experience complemented their scientific.

In addition, I would add that the whole involvement from student interview through selection and mentorship led to long term connections in which I could facilitate individual careers and maintain communication.

Overall, I believe that the JUSTL programme was particularly worthwhile for the universities in Hong Kong to establish a collaborative arrangement with the international scientific community.”

Professor Karen Crawford

Professor Karen Crawford JUSTL Programme Co-Director

“My participation in the JUSTL programme grew from scientific collaborations and connections from my work as a summer scientist at the MBL. With the invitation to serve as a co-director, it was my great honour and privilege to work with Drs Miller and Baker over the years to mentor and coordinate the day to day scientific activities of the many JUSTL participants. In addition to serving as a research mentor to many, developing relationships that often persisted long after our eight-week programme, my presence in the JUSTL laboratory allowed me to keep my thumb on the pulse of the JUSTL participants. In this role, my job was to help each participant to navigate the challenges of arriving in a new country, settle in quickly, secure resources and equipment for their studies, and weather any unforeseen challenges they might experience. While the MBL had already become an important place in my scientific career, seeing it anew through the eyes of so many wonderful young scientists, experiencing their discoveries and sharing in their adventures, deepened my appreciation for the unique synergy, community and opportunity the MBL provides. It was rewarding to watch our participants grow through their eight weeks at the MBL to become as comfortable, confident and savvy, as any other graduate student or postdoctoral fellow at the MBL. Sharing their process and growth through daily research challenges, mid-programme progress reports and presentations, and synthesis of their projects into a formal final report and public presentation at our end of programme research symposium, exemplified the fundamental nature and power of collaboration in science. Throughout this process, it was evident that each JUSTL participant grew tremendously within our programme, developing both resilience and confidence, departing from the MBL with a new network of collaborators and mentors to support and influence their developing careers.

While our primary focus was always upon science and discovery, participants were encouraged to explore the many local destinations and environments around Woods Hole and New England. Whale watching trips out of Provincetown, MA at the tip of Cape Cod, ferry rides to nearby Martha’s Vineyard, and weekend bus adventures to Boston and New York City, all expanded their experiences and broadened their perceptions of life and opportunities within the United States of America. Moreover, taking advantage of being stateside, many of these trips included interviews for future graduate school and postdoctoral opportunities. It was a tremendous pleasure and privilege to hear about and share in their adventures.

At least once each summer, we would gather at my cottage for a meal. It was my pleasure to provide an opportunity to cook for this extraordinary group. Over great pots of rice, vegetables and meats, my heart warmed when the students, grateful for a break from dining hall food, would say, “it tastes like home”.

When I consider one of my fundamental roles in the JUSTL programme, a particular occasion comes to mind. Late one evening, just at sunset, I had a call to come back to campus. A JUSTL participant had caught a large Bluefish off the dock on a three-prong fishhook. Once landed, the angry fish managed to jump onto the foot of his captor, impaling one of the remaining prongs deep into the top of his foot. By the time I arrived, while the fish was nowhere to be seen, the hook was still deeply in place in the fisherman’s foot centred in a large and growing angry red welt. Piling into my car, I drove 4 JUSTL participants, the patient and his support team, to the Emergency Room at Falmouth Hospital. Upon registering, the woman behind the desk asked the patient, “who is your guardian?” Perhaps anxious in a new setting, it was clear he didn’t quite understand her question. She followed this with, “who takes care of you?” To that question, the fellow with the hook in his foot, raised his finger and pointed at me. Insurance information was transferred, the hook was removed, and we were off to pick up antibiotics at the all-night pharmacy. The next day I was grateful to see that the large red welt had resolved and there was no evidence of a developing infection. Both scientifically and personally, being so far from home, I believe each JUSTL participant felt that they had someone at the MBL who would take care of them. I am humbled and grateful to have played a small role in their scientific path, paths that for our participants can only be described as outstanding.”