Wednesday, September 30, 2015

National Science Foundation Links

When starting as a new PI, if you didn't have the training before, you'll probably be learning as much as I can about different funding agencies, applications, and procedures. It can seem a little overwhelming to know where to start. 

Here is a set of links I've come across, with some information, about applying for NSF funding:

About the National Science Foundation

Finding funding opportunities

Advice for writing proposals

Now that you have it

Monday, September 28, 2015

Year two begins.

Dear Journal,

In the midst of teaching, getting new research projects started, writing grants, meeting collaborators, and getting the lab set up, I find that the second year of my tenure track position has begun.

And it's awesome.

I have a fantastic group of people working with me:

Seriously, they're wonderful. I cannot express to you how inspiring it is to interact with everyone in lab. Their ideas and discussions make it a joy to come in to lab.

We're making headway on new projects. Papers are being written. Grants are... well, they're being applied for.

Science is happening.

And on this morning, I find myself unusually optimistic about the future.

new PI

Fetal microchimerism and maternal health: A review and evolutionary analysis of cooperation and conflict beyond the womb

We have a review and evolutionary analysis of the role of microchimerism in maternal health. It's open access for all to read and please share your thoughts on. My personal take-home, after completing this paper, is that there is still so much biology to understand. Perhaps my favorite part of the whole paper is that we start by stating how little we know:

The function of fetal cells in maternal tissues is unknown

Certainly there are associations, and many labs are focused on understanding the role of fetal cells in the pregnant body, and after pregnancy. At the minimum, microchimerism appears to have been present since placentation first evolved, with advances in sensitivity and specificity of techniques, we are understanding that microchimerism is likely common across eutherian (placental) mammals, and especially in our favorite eutherian, humans. But it is fantastic to me that there is no answer (and in my opinion will never be) to, "Are microchimeric cells good?" At the best, we can say that it depends. And for the pregnant body and post-pregnant body, the role of fetal cells likely depends heavily on the specific interaction of the fetal cells with the immune system.

Levels of explanationDefinitionExplanations for fetal microchimerism

ProximateThe immediate cause of the pathologyPlacentation allows for the transfer of small numbers of cells between the fetus and the mother
DevelopmentalHow the pathology arose as a result of events during an individual's lifeEvidence suggests that fetal cell microchimerism begins before the placental is completely formed, likely beginning with the initiation of placentation itself [26, 111]
EvolutionaryHow natural selection and other mechanisms of evolution (drift, migration) have left the body vulnerable to the pathologyMaternal-fetal genomic conflict, through genetic imprinting may have allowed for selection of higher proportions of fetal cell microchimerism
PhylogeneticWhen, in evolutionary history, did the vulnerability to the pathology arise?Microchimerism has thus far only been detected in eutherian mammals [14, 27-29], suggesting it arose at least in the common ancestor of eutherian mammals, approximately 93 million years ago [112]

With some very talented help, we made the video abstract below:

  1. Amy M. Boddy1,2,*
  2. Angelo Fortunato2
  3. Melissa Wilson Sayres3,4,† and
  4. Athena Aktipis1,2,3,†
Article first published online: 28 AUG 2015
DOI: 10.1002/bies.201500059

The presence of fetal cells has been associated with both positive and negative effects on maternal health. These paradoxical effects may be due to the fact that maternal and offspring fitness interests are aligned in certain domains and conflicting in others, which may have led to the evolution of fetal microchimeric phenotypes that can manipulate maternal tissues. We use cooperation and conflict theory to generate testable predictions about domains in which fetal microchimerism may enhance maternal health and those in which it may be detrimental. This framework suggests that fetal cells may function both to contribute to maternal somatic maintenance (e.g. wound healing) and to manipulate maternal physiology to enhance resource transmission to offspring (e.g. enhancing milk production). In this review, we use an evolutionary framework to make testable predictions about the role of fetal microchimerism in lactation, thyroid function, autoimmune disease, cancer and maternal emotional, and psychological health.

Popular coverage:
New York Times:
National Geographic:
Smithsonian Magazine:
Medical Daily:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rock Your Research

Hey, hey, I was interviewed by Chris Jones for the Rock Your Research podcast series about graduate school experiences and academic life. Good times. Check it out:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Write MOAR!

I was *super* flattered to have a couple people come up to me and say the read my blog.

I know I typically don't comment on posts, so I should know there are people reading and not commenting, but as someone writing, it is nice to have feedback every now and then (I know, I know, be careful what you wish for).

But, I've been pretty quiet this first year here at Arizona State University. So, what's it been like? Well, I'm planning (and really going to try to make it happen) and longer post on it, but let's start with something small.

I can tell you, this first year as an Assistant Professor, blogging has been so far from my mind, except for rare times when I miss the time to sit down and write for fun.

Writing time the last year has been superseded (in no particular order) by:

1. Emails to students/department/colleagues/administration.
2. Preparing lectures.
3. Grant applications - research proposal writing, finding opportunities, re-writing.
4. All the random side documents that need to be filled out with grants (proposal intake forms, administrative forms for the funding agency, etc).
5. Recruiting/screening/training lab members.
6. Setting up the lab & troubleshooting.
7. Doing research!

1. Finding new childcare, doctors, dentists, optometrists
2. Finding a rental, then finding a home.
3. Actually seeing family.

This past year I have neglected working out, but excuse some of it because we bike in to campus/preschool and back most days (117F/47.2C is my cut-off).

It's also difficult to make friends, but in a way, the move, and all of the business of the first year, made it a little less obvious.  I am lucky to have some really good mentors/friends on campus. Knowing them, even if we don't hang out all the time (this isn't grad school anymore), has made a world of difference.

Now, back to work. I have two more early career fellowships to apply for this summer, and one bigger grant I'm hoping to get out before the Fall semester (and my new class!) starts.

Friday, July 10, 2015


I often watch conference hashtags go by, and while I learn a lot, I generally don't know what the actual name of the conference is.

In a few days I'll be tweeting (@mwilsonsayres) from #smbe15.

For your reference, this is the 2015 meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

More about the meeting:
More about the Society:
You can download both the schedule and the abstract book here.

J.J. Emerson and I are co-organizing and moderating a Symposium:
Symp17: Genomics of sex bias: Addressing questions with or without genomes
Wednesday July 15

Pooja Narang, a postdoc in my lab is presenting on some of our work:
Variable autosomal and X divergence estimates near and far from genes in great apes 
Wednesday July 15
15:00 (3:00pm)

I'll also be presenting a talk (on the last day of the conference, so don't leave early!):

Diversity varies across recombining and non-recombining regions of the human sex chromosomes
Thursday July 16

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What are we up to?

Often people complain about research lab websites not being updated. In an effort to combat this I'm going to try to keep up on posting any presentations given by lab members, including posters and slides.

Okay, okay, it's a little late, but here are links to six posters of research from the Wilson Sayres lab were presented at the inaugural meeting of the Society for Evolutionary Medicine and Public Health in March 2015. The posters have now been uploaded to FigShare, and represent current research being conducted in the lab.

1. Using diversity to measure boundaries of the pseudoautosomal regions in human sex chromosomes

2. Modeling the contrasting Neolithic lineage expansions in Europe and Africa

3. Characterizing sex-biased gene expression in the green anole

4. Evolutionary perspective suggests candidate genes for variation in Turner Syndrome phenotype

5. Patterns of evolution across vertebrate sex determining genes

6. Parent-of-origin effects in Turner syndrome patients

Monday, June 8, 2015

Applications: the first year

There is a lot of pressure (internally - from myself and to be able to support my lab members, and externally - expectations from the department/college/institution) to secure funding for the lab. It has been 10 months since I started my position, and feel like I've been learning a lot along the way. When it comes to funding, I needed to learn many things, and still feel that there is a lot of learning to happen. This year I worked on four areas: developing research ideas, finding funding opportunities, deciding what to submit, and setting deadlines. And I wrote. A lot.

This is what a scientist looks like.
1. Developing research ideas. 
Before we talk about the opportunities and the deadlines, I wanted to take a step back, because no funding is possible without a good idea. I've been keeping a document where I put "potential project ideas." Most of them are a little zany. Some will never see the light of day, but if I start to think of something that might be a good future collaboration, and I know I can't work on it now, I add it to this document. I also have a white board where I list the current projects in the lab, the ones with the most preliminary data (and hopefully most likely to be funded). At least this way, I feel like I can get the ideas out of my head and not worry I'll forget about them. We'll come back to research ideas at the end, when I talk about deciding what to submit.

2. Finding funding opportunities.
I started out by looking around the NIH and NSF websites. That got hairy real fast. So, I took a step back, and started asking around locally about where people found announcements, and learned that there is a whole office devoted to pulling together funding announcements for all areas of research across the university ( - though you have to sign in to get access). At other places there will be different levels of people who can help you find funding announcements. That said, even with this help, it takes time to read through and identify opportunities that are reasonable for me to apply to, but well worth the time. Even with internal resources like this, it is worth it, in my opinion, to periodically search for other funding opportunities that might be unique to you or your research area. For example, by listening to friends, I learned about some small grants available to support undergraduate research, that would never be listed on the main funding site because (in my opinion) they're not enough $ to warrant making the list, but can really help out a small lab.

3. Deciding what to submit.
For smaller and individual awards (e.g., 1-2 pages, undergraduate funding, etc), as long as there is interest, and someone to support, I'd say it is worth the time to apply. Securing trainee funding gives confidence to the trainees, provides support for an additional person, and small success can really keep you going, when it seems like other aspects of the funding game are stacked against you.

For larger awards (e.g., NIH R01, NSF proposals), for me, as a new PI, I don't have a ton of preliminary data, nor a slew of collaborators, so I felt like I really needed to focus on ideas that I could be really confident would go forward. For each of these largish grants, for each idea I had, I wrote up a one page of the Specific Aims (and Broader Impacts, where necessary), and then inquired with the program officer about whether it fit with their agency/group. I tended to get very prompt (at most a few days) and candid responses from the program offers. A few times, the answer was, "Can I be blunt? No, this isn't something our agency would consider funding." And honestly, I was so glad for the direct feedback! In these cases, I did not spend my time writing up a proposal. In a couple cases, I did receive positive feedback, and constructive criticism on what to adjust/change in the aims. For these, I did submit complete proposals.

I should pause here to say that I have no delusions that I'm going to be any more successful than my peers when applying to these, but I feel like at least I'm not starting out with a grant idea that is dead in the water. And that's something, right?

4. Setting deadlines.
When I started my position I made myself a table that lists four columns to help me stay focused and organized: 1) Award; 2) Deadline; 3) Amount awarded; and, 4) Notes.

The first three are pretty self-explanatory. Notes includes a link to the funding announcement if applicable, information about the PI/coPIs/trainees on the award, and general topic of the proposal. Then, I separated rows by Fall/Spring/Summer deadlines, and started propagating the table with planned or possible funding opportunities.

Below is the list of funding opportunities I applied for this year:
Blue - primarily or exclusively supports trainees
Crossed out - not awarded/invited
* - awarded
Italics - not yet submitted

Fall 2014
  • Bidstrup Undergrad Research Fellowship (Barrett Honors College)*
  • Mindlin Science Communication
  • Mindlin Undergrad Research Award (x 2 students)*
  • SOLUR program to support undergrad research at ASU (x 1 student)*
Spring 2015
  • NSF pre-proposal – IOS
  • SOLUR program to support undergrad research at ASU (x 3 students)*
  • NSF BEACON center award*
  • Arizona State University CLAS Undergraduate Summer Experience (x 1 student)*
  • NIH R01 - Feb 5 deadline
Summer 2015
  • Biodesign Institute Engaging Multi-Center Research internal seed (x 2 applications)
  • NIH R01 - June 5 deadline
  • Rosalind Franklin AGS award
  • Pew Fellowship (to be submitted for internal ASU evaluation)
  • Searle Fellowship (to be submitted for internal ASU evaluation)
  • Sloan Award (to be submitted for internal ASU evaluation)
  • Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Award (to be submitted)
So, in the grand scheme of things, as far as grants that "count," I've submitted one NSF pre-proposal (that was not invited for a full), and two NIH R01s (that I'm waiting to hear back from).

My sense is that this isn't too bad for the first year, but my internal pressure says I need to apply more, and I'll find out what my external pressure says in January at our annual evaluations. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Deep breath

Wow. Two months since I've written here. That isn't to say that I haven't been writing, a lot. Just not here.

It was a good end of the semester.

I really enjoyed my first semester teaching, despite hiccups here and there (like not realizing that one version of the final exam mysteriously was missing an image, even though both versions were submitted in the same format).

Research is going well - I'll be heading to SMBE to present a talk on some new research from the lab, and Pooja Narang, a postdoctoral scholar working with me was chosen for an SMBE travel award to present new data that we've been working on together.

I've also submitted a some grants, big and small, with varying levels of success (still waiting to hear about the big one).

Overall, it's been a great first year, but nothing, nothing like a postdoc. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Something had to drop

I miss writing about science, and academia, and life. For fun. For you all. For me.

Before I started as an assistant professor several people told me to prepare, because I would be juggling lots of balls, and I would drop a ball. First, I think that is terrible advice. There are many better ways to convey the same concept than the "impending doom", "prepare for failure" attitude. 

But second, perhaps it is a little true. Between setting up the lab, finding and writing grant applications, mentoring students, writing lectures and teaching, emails (so many emails), and hoping to spend any time with the people around me, I have severely limited the time I spend writing for fun.

The posts are usually written from notes taken for some other reason.

I guess this is just check in that things are crazy busy, exciting, exhausting, and something had to drop. That something was sharing in depth here. For now.*

#newPI out

*I had a few "extra" minutes this morning because the dog got me up earlier than usual. I could have taken a short run (I do remember a time when I exercised regularly), but prioritized this. Today. Now on to answering emails.