A Word From: Vinay Pathak & Stefan Sarafianos


This week, we hosted the CSHL meeting on Retroviruses. Started in 1975, this is one of only a handful of CSHL meetings that occur annually as opposed to every other year. This year’s organizers – Vinay Pathak and Stefan Sarafianos – are veterans of the meeting but new to organizing it. We checked in with them for a quick discussion about the meeting and major updates they’ve made to it. Among the changes they made are “five-minute poster pitches,” where select poster presenters summarize their projects in short talks in the Auditorium to entice more people to stop by during the poster sessions. Here’s what Vinay and Stefan had to say:

Stefan: Vinay and I increased the base number of scientists directly involved in the meeting in terms of participation in talks, sharing their art by displaying their science on the abstract book cover, and even chairing the sessions. This year, there are more session chairs and more talks because we introduced 5-minute talks. This is new for this meeting and we’re very happy so far.

Vinay: The people I’ve spoken with who gave a 5-minute talk have been appreciative of the opportunity. All of them presented the highlights of their work, uniformly stayed on time, and what this does is it gives people the opportunity to go to their posters and discuss the details of their works. I think they’ve all been very happy about it so far. We’ve heard no complaints about it so I hope that this will become a regular feature of the meeting in the future.

Stefan: Presenting a talk makes a difference for those who are still in the early stages of their career – including PI’s.

Regarding the session chairs that Vinay and Stefan chose:

Vinay: The idea is to give more junior faculty the opportunity to chair a session so they know what it’s like to stand in front of a crowd, direct the discussion and guide it.

Stefan: Chairing a session is an indication of accomplishment and recognition in your field. It’s something you can take to your department chairperson and include in your annual report. It is important.

Vinay: We were looking more for people who would benefit from chairing a session. There are a lot of senior people here who have done it before – it’s not a big deal to them. For someone who’s in their first, second or third year of an independent career, it’s a good opportunity for them to have this experience and, as Stefan said, they can take this to their department chair as an indication that they’re being recognized internationally.

Stefan: And among their colleagues. We made sure to pair the younger chairs with the more experienced ones so the meeting still runs smooth. They’ve all been very fantastic...they all deserve credit.

Another meeting feature the organizers updated this year is how the poster sessions were arranged. Rather than ordering the 151 poster presenters by name, they grouped them into research areas like Virus Entry and IFITMs, Uncoating, and Tetherin/Bst-2: 

Vinay: We organized this year’s poster sessions according to the subject. The last several years it’s been done alphabetically, which is a much more random way of doing it. We’ve gotten good feedback and people like the fact that it has been organized by topics this year.

For those who are on the fence about attending this longstanding meeting, we asked Vinay and Stefan for their advice and thoughts:

Vinay: This is the best meeting for basic science relating to HIV and retroviral replication throughout the entire year. So, I think for everyone who’s working in this field – molecular biology, cell biology, HIV replication – it is absolutely essential they come here and learn what’s going on in the field and to keep up-to-date.

Stefan: It’s a one-stop catch-up with everything that’s happening in the field. It’s a holistic kind of thing. You look at every step of the viral life cycle.

Thank you to both Stefan and Vinay for taking the time to chat with us. For more conversations with our other meeting organizers and course instructors, go here. Also, to gain a meeting-goer's perspective on this meeting, read our Q&A with Shaima Akhlaq

Lastly, Retroviruses will be back on campus May 21 – 26, 2018.