Meet Your New Program Chair: An Interview with Erin Bolstad

Erin Bolstad

Erin Bolstad heads up the US-based consulting wing of ChemAxon, with focus on services and project management for life sciences and the drug discovery process. She has been with ChemAxon since October 2011. Prior to that Erin spent several years in a few various adventures: cheminformatics research associate with focus on connecting several CNS-based research units and extracting relevant chemistry/biology information, a senior scientist working on molecular biology-based antibiotic design, and a postdoc working on structure-based drug design. Erin received a PhD in computational organic chemistry from the University of Montana in 2006. She has published in several journals from her various collaborative and academic works, and holds a patent from her postdoc work on designing inhibitors for dihydrofolate reductase.

Svetlana Korolev:

Erin, congratulations on being the new CINF Program Chair! Please tell us a little bit about your career path and research interests. What brought you to the field of chemical information? How does CINF overall and its technical program specifically complement your professional ambitions? How does your organization, ChemAxon, perceive your volunteering for CINF?

Erin Bolstad:

Thanks Svetlana! My career path has always kind of circled around the “hand in many pots” syndrome, and finding a way to integrate those interests. As a college junior I realized I could not work on a studio art degree and research-based computational chemistry degree in parallel, so I decided to major in computational chemistry with art as a recreational “spare time” interest (it seemed like a more reliable career path than an art major with computational chemistry as a recreational past time). Computational chemistry/drug design was an obvious segue from my interests in art, biology, chemistry and computers. From there it rapidly lead to cheminformatics, to make sense of the incredible amounts of data available on both the biology and chemistry fronts. I’ve since fallen in love with the pursuit of solving complex questions via handling of large-scaled sets of data from the A to Z areas of drug design.

The consulting work in ChemAxon is perfectly in line with this from both a scientific and human perspective, as the large-scale project management and “cat herding” also appeals to my interests. This tied-in perfectly with the CINF Division and Program Chair position, as CINF is heavily geared towards new mechanisms of large data management and research, as well as looking at how these techniques lead to novel drug design. ChemAxon is a global company in cheminformatics services and toolkits, so volunteering for this position falls right in line with our own interests and research. ChemAxon were very supportive of this.

SK:

How did it happen that you became the CINF Program Chair? What major activities or goals do you have for your tenure in this position? Over the past decade the term of the Program Chair has been reducing gradually from as long as three years to one year in 2013. Are you planning on reversing this trend?

EB:

At the ACS Spring Meeting of 2013, I was asked by a colleague who had served on the Program Committee for some time if I would be interested in the Program Chair position. He knew of my interests and felt it would be a good fit. Despite having zero ACS committee experience at the time, I was excited by the opportunity! Due to the turn-over speed, the 2014 Fall Meeting is the first one I’ve actually organized, and it’s been quite the learning curve.

With current research in the life sciences field relying on big data, cheminformatics becomes more and more of a critical component for research. One of my goals for CINF Program Chair is to reach out to other divisions and look at this interdependency and how to bring it to the forefront of both awareness and research fronts. CINF is not just for “chemical libraries” and “data repositories” specialists as I once naively believed. I’d also like to look at novel ways for approaching the new generations of researchers who rely on several divisions (not just one) and how they can contribute across the board.

Yes, my tentative plan for the Program Chair term is for two years. With only two programs a year, it seems like that would be the most effective way to make an impact. Otherwise, I learn the ropes just in time to train someone else and pass them on. With a two-year term there’s actually time to let experience guide some progress.  

SK:

Erin, how do you evaluate the spring meeting in Dallas? What was the most exciting part of it? One noticeable hallmark was a high level of collaboration: all CINF symposia except for two were listed with cosponsorships, including a new partnership with RSC CICAG (Chemical Information and Computer Applications Group), an established relationship with the CSA Trust, and a blend of connections with many other ACS Divisions (CHAL, CHED, COMP, MEDI, ORGN, PHYS) and Committees (ETHX, PROF, YCC). What are the involvements and benefits of such cosponsorships? How do you establish alliances with other organizations?

EB:

Garritano

The spring meeting in Dallas was really a transitional time. While it was organized by the previous Program Chair, it was when I really stepped in as leading the programming for future events. I have to tip my hat to Jeremy Garritano (photo at right) for the excellent Dallas program, and I am looking forward to seeing how these future plans play out!

The questions regarding cosponsorships should be referred to Jeremy, who kindly shared his experience as follows: collaborations can be as simple as listing another ACS Division or Committee as a cosponsor. This gets a symposium cross-listed in the cosponsor’s program as well. Other collaborations can occur where one of CINF’s members helps to organize a session in another Division. In Dallas we had a great example of this where Tony Williams co-organized a symposium with Harry Pence on “Mobile Devices, Augmented Reality, and The Mobile Chemistry Classroom.” This session took place in the CHED program, but CINF was a cosponsor. Most of the time cosponsorship does not involve any financial commitment, so it is a way to cross-promote our program to other ACS Divisions or Committees. Another example is how the ACS Committee on Ethics and the Younger Chemists Committee (among others) agreed to be cosponsors for our session on “Ethical Considerations in Digital Scientific Communication and Publishing.” Often it is as simple as asking the corresponding Program Chair if we can list the other Division or Committee as a cosponsor. Sometimes we will even ask for suggestions of potential speakers in order to draw interest from cosponsor members.

SK:

The thematic programming at ACS meetings has gained a strong upwards trend recently. The themes are being proposed for future meetings up to Fall 2017 (http://bulletin.acscinf.org/node/539). How far in advance do you plan the Division’s technical program and how does the ACS thematic programming impact it overall? What kind of support does CINF have from the Multidisciplinary Program Planning Group (MPPG)? Which of the upcoming themes are easier (or harder) for our Division to tackle?

EB:

During our meetings we put heavy focus on actual symposia topics for one to two years ahead and keep our eye on thematic programming for as far in advance as four years. We had a few sessions that we were all a titter about organizing promptly, but they were shifted to a later year in order to match with the program overall. At the same time we keep an eye on the geographical location. For the upcoming Spring 2015 Denver meeting getting involved in some of the environmental-based symposia is a key objective we’ve been excited about.

We have been lucky to have Guenter Grethe on board as a proactive contributor to the CINF Program Committee meetings. Guenter is a well-experienced member of the MPPG Executive Committee, who has been involved in thematic planning over many years, including his being MPPG Chair in 2009.

Some of the upcoming themes are a little more challenging for CINF simply due to their vague nature such as “Innovation from Discovery to Application,” while others have us falling out of our chairs with excitement like “Computers in Chemistry”: hello! CINF has both the blessing and the curse of being applicable to almost any theme, as just about everything relies on chemical information. Trying to decide when to go all out on thematic programming is a delightful “burden of choice” type exercise for CINF.

SK:

Erin, we have seen questions at CHMINF-L about the availability of CINF presentation slides and/or recordings (audio synchronized with slides). ACS has been offering “Presentations on Demand” in the past few years and, moreover, as a member benefit since last year. Unfortunately, only a very small portion of the presentations (from two or three CINF symposia) become available online after the meeting. As CINF Program Chair do you have an influence on the selection of the symposia for “Presentations on Demand”?

EB: 

The “Presentations on Demand” is a pretty complex issue. There are a lot of technical intricacies involved, that limit the number of recordings ACS can make. Beyond that, once a symposium has been selected, is the matter of the speaker giving permission to ACS for being recorded at oral sessions and then posting the audio and slides on the Internet. Thus, this makes for several steps in the process. Some members may recall that CINF was at the frontline for symposium recordings and did some experimental audio recordings (MP3) of technical sessions in 2006-2008 as a pilot funded by an ACS Innovative Projects Grant, and this turned out to be too labor-intensive and time-consuming to be continued by a division volunteer. We would certainly like to see more CINF talks available online.  In the meantime, the Division can suggest which presentations we’d like to have recorded (hot topics, thematic relevance, awards symposia, etc.), but ACS has the final say. We’ve also had a renewed push to make presentation slides (with the speaker’s permission) available immediately after ACS Meetings. Dallas was a renewal of this initiative and we ended up having most of the slides available within a week of the Spring 2014 ACS Meeting closing. We’ll be trying to make this happen even faster with the upcoming meeting in San Francisco.

SK:

Erin, let me ask you a personal question about your "dream" conference program. What is the ideal conference for Erin Bolstad? Which venue (city) would you pick for such occasion? Is it going to be long or short program considering a number of days? What theme would you organize it for?

EB:

There’s a lot of human dynamics to work around for a “dream” program. A geographical destination that everyone wants to go to, but attendees can afford to attend (Hawaii is thus right out, alas). San Francisco is pretty close to an ideal geographical location, with San Diego trailing a close second. I’m biased being a local, but Seattle would be also super fun.

I think a lot of people burn out over the course of four long, intense days; so a high-quality shorter program might keep people’s interest till the very end. Put in an open forum in the middle, followed by a lightning round of up and coming software and methods from researchers and commercial developers as a general “state of the field” update, then settling down for an afternoon of deeper analysis with more talks. Also, there should be an open coffee bar and settle down an infinite number of freshly-baked cookies because it helps with scientific inquiry.

I like diversity and part of an ongoing personal initiative for me is CINF outreach, so I’d want to attract people from other realms of research to present their work from an informatics perspective: both academic and industrial. Informatics is everywhere! Come and see!

SK:

We’ve seen many interesting calls for papers for the upcoming ACS National Meeting in San Francisco, August 10-14, 2014. Please share with us some highlights of the CINF technical program planned for the Fall Meeting.

EB:

The next meeting is where we’re starting to ramp up some broad perspective and then with spring of 2015 looking at some experimental programming (stay tuned!). For the Fall 2014 ACS National Meeting we have several nifty symposia: an entire day around the theme of global challenges and communication in scientific research, several symposia with a biological tilt (biosimilars, natural products, epigenetic drug discovery), and sessions on how new technologies are playing into cheminformatic research (like Google Glass, the Maker movement, and 3D printing). Start planning now for San Francisco!

SK:

Erin, thank you so much for your time and the privilege of introducing you to the readers of this Bulletin. Best wishes for you as Program Chair leading the CINF Division into the future.     

 

CINF slides or links to the speaker presentations given at
the Spring 2014 ACS National Meeting are at:
http://bulletin.acscinf.org/node/557