20 Years and Counting: ABRCMS Returns to Celebrate Community

The Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) is celebrating its 20th year by coming back together after 2 years of virtual-only meetings. ABRCMS 2022 will convene Nov. 9-12, in Anaheim, Calif.

To date, ABRCMS has drawn over 76,000 participants, of whom 48,500 are students in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. But from the beginning, ABRCMS has had to prove its staying power. The first conference almost didn’t happen.

Irene Hulede

In 2001, the meeting had a different name: the “MS” in ABRCMS stood for “minority students” and the focus was on just that: undergraduate student-scientists. The inaugural meeting was scheduled for the fall of 2001, and then the events of Sept. 11, 2001, happened. The world held its breath. 

“I remember vividly that this conference was one of the first—and maybe one of the only—conferences that took place after 9/11,” said Irene Hulede, director of education for the American Society for Microbiology and project director of ABRCMS. “The first conference was in October 2001. Most conferences were canceled, but we decided to go on and we had 1,800 participants.” 

The primary goal of that first conference was to provide professional and scientific development opportunities for undergraduate students focused on biomedical sciences and behavioral sciences. 

Avery August, Ph.D.

The conference has shifted its focus to include graduate students, faculty and administrators since then and has grown tremendously. More than 5,500 participants attended the last in-person ABRCMS in 2019, and this year’s attendance is expected to exceed that number. Following two years of virtual-only meetings in 2020 and 2021, ABRCMS 2022 also includes a virtual component for those not able to attend in-person.

The conference has had strong leadership since its founding. Avery August, Ph.D., professor of immunology at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, has been chairperson of ABRCMS for 7 years. He succeeded Clifford Houston, Ph.D., retired microbiology professor of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, who served as chairperson for the first 15 years. Hulede and Amy Chang, former ASM Education Director, oversaw the conference together until Chang retired 2 years ago and Hulede took the reins.

August is excited about this year’s event; he missed the dynamic interactions among the participants that the meeting always brings. During his years as chairperson, he has watched student scientists grow and succeed.

“Students who have participated in ABRCMS have gone to graduate school and they’ve moved on to the workplace, whether it’s faculty or other scientific careers,” August said. “We’re starting to see those students coming back and saying, ‘Eight years ago I was at ABRCMS and it was really instrumental in where I am now, and I want to help others in the same way.’”

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has co-sponsored ABRCMS with ASM since the conference’s first year. ASM received its first ABRCMS grant from the NIH in 2000, and it just received the latest round of NIH funding, which will support the conference through 2026.

Hulede plans to strengthen the mentoring component of the meeting in the coming years. She also wants to continue to expand the ABRCMS community by supporting more students through travel awards.

This year, ABRCMS is adding closed captioning and American Sign Language interpretation to all sessions. It’s that inclusivity that has always lived in the hearts of the scientists who attend and benefit from ABRCMS. Hulede and August hope the community that ABRCMS fosters will continue to give opportunities to new generations of students for years to come. 

“I often have students, faculty and administrators ask, why should I go to ABRCMS?” August said. “And I say, it’s the one place I really feel at home as a scientist.”

Register for ABRCMS 2022

It’s not too late to register for the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS), the go-to conference for underrepresented scientists at various stages of their professional and educational journeys. ABRCMS includes programming for undergraduate students, graduate and postdoctoral scientists, faculty, program directors, administrators and more.

ABRCMS 2022 is being held Nov. 9-12 in Anaheim, Calif. Can’t make it in-person? The meeting features a virtual component so you can still participate in this dynamic event.