Watch the Microbes and Social Equity seminar from Feb 24th

The human microbiome and cancer risk: setting the stage for innovative studies to address cancer disparities 

Dr. D. Armen Byrd, MPH, PhD

February 24, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. 

Watch the recording.

About the speaker: Dr. Byrd received a B.S. in biology and an M.P.H. in epidemiology from the University of Florida. She completed her Ph.D. in epidemiology at Emory University, where her dissertation research focused on the development and validation of novel, inflammation biomarker panel-weighted dietary and lifestyle inflammation scores, and their associations with colorectal neoplasms. In January 2019, she joined the National Cancer Institute Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics as a postdoctoral fellow. During her time there, she conducted methodologic microbiota studies and investigated associations of the microbiota with cancer risk and of diet with the gut metabolome. In January 2021, she joined Moffitt Cancer Center as an Assistant Member in the Department of Cancer Epidemiology, where she will continue to contribute to the reduction of cancer disparities using an integrative, interdisciplinary approach to study microbiota-mediated mechanisms for cancer risk among diverse populations.  

Twitter: @d_armen_byrd 

About the seminar: This seminar will focus on current understanding and future directions for targeting health disparities with gastrointestinal microbiota research using a multidimensional framework. Examples will be provided from the colorectal and breast cancer literature. 

About the series: Microorganisms are critical to many aspects of biological life, including human health.  The human body is a veritable universe for microorganisms: some pass through but once, some are frequent tourists, and some spend their entire existence in the confines of our body tissues.  The collective microbial community, our microbiome, can be impacted by the details of our lifestyle, including diet, hygiene, health status, and more, but many are driven by social, economic, medical, or political constraints that restrict available choices that may impact our health.   

Access to resources is the basis for creating and resolving social equity—access to healthcare, healthy foods, a suitable living environment, and to beneficial microorganisms, but also access to personal and occupational protection to avoid exposure to infectious disease. This speaker series explores the way that microbes connect public policy, social disparities, and human health, as well as the ongoing research, education, policy, and innovation in this field.  The spring speaker series will pave the way for a symposium on “Microbes, Social Equity, and Rural Health” in summer 2021.

Watch the Microbes and Social Equity seminar from Feb 17th

Extended Health

Dr. Joshua August (Gus) Skorburg, PhD

February 17, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. 

Watch the recording.

About the speaker: Dr. Joshua August (Gus) Skorburg is Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Academic Co-Director of the Centre for Advancing Responsible and Ethical Artificial Intelligence (CARE-AI), and Faculty Affiliate at the One Health Institute at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. He is also Adjunct Professor in the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. He received his PhD in Philosophy in 2017 from the University of Oregon. His research spans topics in applied ethics and moral psychology.  

https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/people/joshua-august-gus-skorburg

About the seminar:  Dominant views about the nature of health and disease tend to assume the existence of a fixed, stable, individual organism as the bearer of health and disease states, and as such, the appropriate target of medical therapy and ethical concern. However, recent developments in microbial biology, neuroscience, and social and personality psychology have produced a novel understanding of the individual and its fluid boundaries. Drawing on converging evidence from these disciplines, I will argue that certain features of our biological and social environment can be so tightly integrated as to constitute a unit of care extending beyond the intuitive boundaries of skin and skull. Call this the Hypothesis of Extended Health (HEH). Using the example of obesity as a case study, I show how HEH is well positioned to accommodate recent research on both the human microbiome and relationship partners. I conclude by suggesting that HEH helps us to break free from unhelpful dichotomous thinking about obesity – between individual behaviours (e.g., restraint, diet, exercise) or constraining socio-economic structures (e.g., food deserts, advertising).

About the series: Microorganisms are critical to many aspects of biological life, including human health.  The human body is a veritable universe for microorganisms: some pass through but once, some are frequent tourists, and some spend their entire existence in the confines of our body tissues.  The collective microbial community, our microbiome, can be impacted by the details of our lifestyle, including diet, hygiene, health status, and more, but many are driven by social, economic, medical, or political constraints that restrict available choices that may impact our health.   

Access to resources is the basis for creating and resolving social equity—access to healthcare, healthy foods, a suitable living environment, and to beneficial microorganisms, but also access to personal and occupational protection to avoid exposure to infectious disease. This speaker series explores the way that microbes connect public policy, social disparities, and human health, as well as the ongoing research, education, policy, and innovation in this field.  The spring speaker series will pave the way for a symposium on “Microbes, Social Equity, and Rural Health” in summer 2021.

Watch the Microbes and Social Equity seminar from Feb 10th

An Indigenous Micro- to Meta-Narrative: Microbes and Social Equity

Dr. Nicole Redvers, ND, MPH

February 10, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. 

Watch the recording.

About the seminar: Indigenous Peoples have scientific narratives and traditions that span thousands of years rooted within concepts of relationship. The microbial microcosm itself is a lens of relationship that situates us as humans within our own communities and in the biome of the planet. How these relationships intersect and how we view them as an evolution of knowledge in theory and practice impacts how we view equity and its applications in the scientific process. This seminar will seek to bridge Indigenous knowledge traditions and scientific discourse with the intent of situating microbes and social equity within a larger relationship within research and practice.

About the series: Microorganisms are critical to many aspects of biological life, including human health.  The human body is a veritable universe for microorganisms: some pass through but once, some are frequent tourists, and some spend their entire existence in the confines of our body tissues.  The collective microbial community, our microbiome, can be impacted by the details of our lifestyle, including diet, hygiene, health status, and more, but many are driven by social, economic, medical, or political constraints that restrict available choices that may impact our health.   

Access to resources is the basis for creating and resolving social equity—access to healthcare, healthy foods, a suitable living environment, and to beneficial microorganisms, but also access to personal and occupational protection to avoid exposure to infectious disease. This speaker series explores the way that microbes connect public policy, social disparities, and human health, as well as the ongoing research, education, policy, and innovation in this field.  The spring speaker series will pave the way for a symposium on “Microbes, Social Equity, and Rural Health” in summer 2021.

Microbes and Social Equity at UMaine

Last week, I chatted about Microbes and Social Equity with Ali Tobey, Marketing and Communications Graduate Assistant for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Maine. The MSE working group has been meeting for a year to discuss how microorganisms are what connects us to each other or to the environment, how microbes are involved in so much of human health, how disparities in access to basic needs can affect your health and your microbes, and how social policy can be used to resolve social inequity and improve health for all.

This spring, the MSE group and the University of Maine Institute of Medicine are hosting a semester-long speaker series. The talks range from basic to applied science, from research to education to medical practice, and touch on a variety of topics. The series is free, and open to the public, but registration is required.

The full list of speaker and registration links for the Microbes and Social Equity spring 2021 speaker series can be found here, and Ali’s piece is below:

Reblog of the story by Ali Tobey, University of Maine

Screenshot from an online seminar. The video of the speaker is in the upper right corner, and the title slide is the rest of the image. The seminar is "A crash course in the gut microbiome" by Sue Ishaq at the University of Maine.

UMaine Institute of Medicine seminar available online

Last Friday, I gave a seminar on “A crash course in the gut microbiome” to the University of Maine Institute of Medicine as part of their fall seminar series. You can find the previous seminars in that series here.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to share my science to researchers around Maine, and to have so many engaging questions!

You can find my seminar recording here, and a pdf of the slides with my presenter notes as annotated comments can be found here:

Teaching Statement development series: accessibility

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing selected portions of my Teaching Statement here as part of a development series, as I refine my philosophies for the submission of my second-year review this fall. I welcome feedback! Feel free to comment on the post (note, all comments require my approval before appearing publicly on the site), or contact me directly if you have more substantial edits.

*Please note, these are selected portions of my Statement which have been edited to remove sensitive information. These are early drafts, and may not reflect my final version. Tenure materials that I generate are mine to share, but my department chair, committee, and union representative were consulted prior to posting these. Each tenure-granting institution is unique, and departments weigh criteria differently, thus Statements can’t really be directly compared between faculty.*


Improving the accessibility of course materials

While course content might seem like a more pertinent place to begin this Statement, the intellectual content of a course is predicated on the ability of students to access and connect with those materials. The pandemic and social turmoil of 2020 has made this a year like no other for our students, and in conversations with them, I have gathered that it has created new challenges for them and exacerbated existing ones. The primary obstacle for students to attend live lectures and provide effort on assignments is the general increased workload related to online classes, the necessity of employment, and the inflexibility of employers who schedule student employees in a way that precludes them from attending live lectures.  Further, students are under an overwhelming amount of stress, and this has exacerbated learning disorders and created its own obstacles to engaging with course material. To that end, I have made a number of improvements in my course presentation to make materials more approachable and inclusive to learning style and student life outside of the classroom, which have been adopted in 2020 but will persist.

All the course materials for these classes are made available in Brightspace at the beginning of the semester, so students may download readings and lectures when they have access to internet services.  This also allows them to a priori assess the coursework and gauge the expectations on their time, to better plan their effort over the semester in relation to other engagements.  Assignments may be submitted early, and are accepted late with grade penalties applying in some cases.  In 2020-2021, grade penalties are waved to facilitate student scheduling during the pandemic.  For presentations, students may schedule time blocks well in advance, or may opt to record their presentation and submit videos.  Live lectures are recorded and videos are made available to students immediately after class, and previous to the pandemic I gave students the option to attend via remote video conferencing when they were home sick but did not want to miss class.

The availability of coursework in advance and the flexibility of format allows for students to engage with the work at their own pace and in a way that feels more comfortable to them.  In particular, the use of online discussion forums in Brightspace has given a voice to even the quietest of students and allowed for more diverse perspectives to contribute to the topic.

The use of online teaching platforms also allows for more accessibility in the materials for students with additional challenges. For example, after conferring with a student about understanding course materials, I added audio instructions to assignments (a recording of me reading the directions), which allows students with language dysmorphia or visual impairment to more easily understand what is being asked of them.

The use of online teaching software helps me curate assignments to more accurately test student learning and not just how clearly I asked the quiz questions.  For example, it is much easier to track student performance over time and per assignment, and assess which portions of the assignment should be revised to improve their clarity.

Finally, one barrier to student engagement in coursework appears to be a lack of student confidence stemming from an underestimation of their own agency in asking for help, accommodation, or more visibility in the class. Students appear resigned to accept a zero instead of asking for deadline extensions, or for asking for more effort from their instructor. Students appear to internalize poor performance as a personal failure, rather than a discrepancy between how the information is communicated and how it is received.  To that end, I solicit feedback using anonymous polls, and in lectures or assignments which do not generate student engagement I ask students how they would have rephrased the questions I pose to them.  

Something which I have not yet tried, but intend to implement in the future, is a self-reflection assignment at the beginning of the semester for each class. The goal is for students to feel welcome, to feel that they have agency in their education in this class, and to feel that they can let go of control in order to try something new. First, students will be asked to watch a reading of the children’s story, If You Give A Mouse a Cookie (https://youtu.be/QCDPkGjMBro), about a mouse that keeps asking for things.  Next, students will watch a TEDTalk, “Asking for Help is a Strength, Not A Weakness” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akiQuyhXR8o&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=TED). Then, students will watch the TEDTalk “The Art of Letting Go… Of The Floor” (https://www.ted.com/talks/siawn_ou_the_art_of_letting_go_of_the_floor/details). Finally, students will reflect and write down their goals for the class; 1 thing they want (the cookie), 1 thing they need (the help), and 1 thing they want to let go of (their floor).  

Woman in a dress sitting in front of a laptop displaying the title slide to a presentation called "Microbes on the Farm".

Virtually speaking

This fall, my speaking engagements will all be held virtually, to aid in ongoing infectious-disease-prevention protocols. While in place to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, these same protocols will also help me avoid the annual fall respiratory infection that I otherwise inevitably encounter while working with overly-stressed students.

But, staying away from others doesn’t mean I can’t stay connected! Virtual events might not feel as fun, but they have allowed me to reach a wider audience, because recorded talks are made available after the live event. And, annotated or subtitled recordings make my talks more accessible!

This fall, I have several public talks and scientific presentations lined up:

  1. University of Maine Cooperative Extension Oxford County 4-H Teen Science Cafe (virtual), “Gut microbes on the farm”, Oct 15, 2020. For teens, this event is free but does require registration to obtain the link.
  2. BioME (Bioscience Association of Maine) Virtual Coffee Hour, Oct 14, 2020. This event is open to the public but requires registration.
  3. Genomes to Phenomes (G2P) group, University of Maine. Co-hosting a session with grad student Alice Hotopp, on gut microbes and survival of reintroduced animals. Oct 30, 2020. Link available to University of Maine community members.
  4. University of Maine Medicine seminar series (virtual), “A crash course in the gut microbiome” , Nov 6, 2020. This event is open to the public and free, but does require registration to obtain the link.
  5. Hotopp, A., Silverbrand, S., Ishaq, S.L.,  MacRae, J.,  Stock, S.P.,  Groden, E. “Can a necromenic nematode serve as a biological Trojan horse for an invasive ant?” Entomological Society of America 2020 (virtual). Nov 15-18, 2020. This pre-recorded seminar requires paid event registration.
  6. Yeoman (presenter), C., Lachman, M., Ishaq, S., Olivo, S., Swartz, J., Herrygers, M., Berarddinelli, J.  “Development of Climactic Oral and Rectal Microbiomes Corresponds to Peak Immunoglobin Titers in Lambs.”  Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases (CRWAD) 2020. (Virtual) Dec 5, 2020. This seminar requires paid event registration.

‘Microbes on the Farm’ video available

Last week, I gave a presentation to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Oxford County 4-H Jamboree.

The video is available on YouTube, with subtitles! I sat down to learn how to create and embed them in videos, to help make my science more approachable. The video is made for kids and contains suitable content for all ages, although the difficulty of the content makes it best for kids 12 and up.

Still time to sign up for UMaine 4H virtual summer programs!

Looking for kids’ activities for the summer? Check out the virtual programs hosted by the University of Maine Extension 4H! Learn about animals, how to care for them, and how your food system works.

From their main page, you can find descriptions of each virtual session, including subject material, presenter, and recommended age group (k-12). You can register for as many or as few sessions as you like, which will be delivered over Zoom.

Registration is free! But if you are able to donate to support the program, those are welcome through the 4H site.

I’ll be presenting on Thursday, August 13th, 2020 at 3 pm EST.

Gut Microbes on the Farm

Learn about different digestive tracts in livestock, and the community of microbes living there that help animals digest food, or stay healthy. This presentation will give some background on different digestive tract anatomy, the factors which influence microbes in the gut, and how we can care for animals by caring for their microbes. This presentation will also feature a short presentation on Dr. Ishaq’s journey into science and a Q&A session where attendees can ask questions about gut microbes, life as a scientist, or how to get involved in this time of career. Register by August 12.

Youth ages 12 & up; open to all youth.

A picture pointing downwards at two hands wearing gardening gloves and holding handfuls of soil in each hand. Roots and leaves protrude from the soil and the grass on the ground is blurred in the background.

Compost, food security, and social justice

What do compost, food security, and social justice have in common? They are all part of creating sustainable, more localized food systems that benefit the community. Want to know more? Check out the piece I co-wrote for The Conversation, along with two other soil microbe researchers.

City compost programs turn garbage into ‘black gold’ that boosts food security and social justice.” Kristen DeAngelis, Gwynne Mhuireach, Sue Ishaq, The Conversation. June 11, 2020

Dr. Kristen DeAngelis is an Associate Professor who studies microbes in soils, climate change, and human impacts, and Dr. Gwynne Mhuireach, a post-doctoral researcher who studies microbes in soils in the built environment and human health.