Raymond H. Wittcoff Distinguished Professor, Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Washington University in St. Louis, USA
Attracting talent…This needs to begin early. As an undergraduate researcher, I was exposed to the mass spectrometry field and never left. We need a better plan and the resources to get undergraduates hooked on analytical chemistry. This may involve new analytical chemistry courses that focus on the wide application of analytical chemistry on human health and life, and as well as more resources to support summer and year-round research for undergraduates. I would love to see the major societies and organizations in the analytical field (e.g. ASMS, Pittcon, etc.) get more aggressive about supporting undergraduate researchers.
An inspirational leader?My undergraduate research advisor Carlito Lebrilla has always inspired me. He was an immigrant to the U.S., and is an example of someone that has just worked his way up to be a pioneer in the mass spectrometry field. He maybe goes under the radar a little bit, as he is a very humble guy, isn’t out there self-promoting, and doesn’t ever seek attention. However, his place in the field as a leader is undeniable. He was using mass spectrometry for glycan analysis (glycomics) long before it became popular, and took a lot of criticism from people for doing it. At the time, sugars were not thought to be important biomolecules, so he was often asked why he spent so much effort analyzing oligosaccharides, but he persisted and helped start the glycomics field. Now he is essential known as Mr. Glycomics, and his methods are the state of the art for glycan composition and characterization. Of course, he wasn’t alone here, but he played huge role over the last 25 years to help bring the glycomics field to where it is today. On top of being a great scientist, he was and is an amazing mentor to all his trainees, including me to this day. I still often go to him for advice and he continues to support me as a mentor.
Raising the field’s profile…I feel this will come if we as analytical chemists deliberately attend more non-analytical chemistry type conferences and meetings. We all go to the analytical conferences to see the latest approaches or technology, but that is somewhat preaching to the choir. Going to other conferences such as ASBMB, AACR or cell biology conferences will continue to promote and honestly educate other non-analytical scientists about how our new technology can be beneficial for their research or patient health, etc. Specifically, in my field (mass spectrometry), there are scientists outside the field that only view MS as an identification technique for proteins or metabolites. They have no clue about all that mass spectrometry can do for structure biology, clinical analysis, etc. We have to make a real effort as an analytical field to attend non-analytical conferences consistently. Additionally, with social media, we need to embrace it and use it to fight disinformation, and also continue to promote and lift up each other to the outside world.