Selfies and Self-Reflection: The Endocrine Society Meeting by Katie Cobain

Selfies and Self-Reflection

In 2009, I was one of twelve participants in the San Diego Oncofertility Saturday Academy. Entering the program as a rising high school sophomore, I had no idea what to expect from the program; in fact, I barely knew what the word ‘oncofertility' meant. Little did I know the impact this one summer would have on the rest of my life. This one summer gave me an unexpected sense of belonging in the scientific community. This one summer taught me lessons far beyond the confines of the lab. This one summer introduced me to many of the most inspirational people I have ever met. This one summer changed my life forever. It's not everyday that a fourteen-year-old comes across such a life-directing experience; I am so lucky it happened to me.

Fast-forward five years. I'm currently a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame. Because of my involvement with the Oncofertility Academy, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Endocrine Society Meeting in Chicago earlier this summer. I was assigned many mentors during the conference—scientists from all over the U.S., including members of the Woodruff Lab. My first day at the conference was overwhelming. I was made aware that there were 10,000 attendees at the meeting this year—a number difficult to comprehend. The intellectual energy was high in every room at the conference center. As clinical practitioners and basic scientists sat in the same rooms together, there was dynamic sense of collaboration. More impressive to me, however, was Dr. Teresa Woodruff, President of the Endocrine Society. It was Dr. Woodruff who led the masses every morning and made appearances at all the major events. And though she was clearly the busiest and most demanded person at the conference, she still took the time to meet and interact with eager undergraduates dying to shake the hand of a true inspiration.

One afternoon after visiting lectures on the challenge of preserving the fertility of cancer patients, I visited a poster session that contained the work of thousands of labs from all over the world. As I walked through the reproductive endocrinology section, I was shocked to run into a very familiar face: that of Dr. Chang from our very own San Diego Oncofertility Academy. In conversation with Dr. Chang, I couldn't help but think about how much we have discovered about the world, but simultaneously, how many new questions arise with every new discovery. It is this reason, precisely, that I have always been drawn to biological sciences—the sheer magnitude of the field is enough to fuel my interest in the life sciences. At the conference, I was able to visit posters from the Woodruff Lab and was utterly amazed at the advances that are occurring in the field of oncofertility, including the growth of ovaries in vitro--yet another reminder of the power and innovation that oncofertility represents.

In addition to attending the conference's daily scheduled events, I was given the opportunity to attend the Women in Endocrinology dinner during my time at the conference. The women that surrounded me at the dinner were inspiring—a true testament to the power and strength of women in science. They were brilliant, and their stories were powerful. Leaders in their field, they support each other and celebrate the accomplishments of peers working alongside them. The room full of glamorously dressed, influential women was an uplifting look into the force that women have become in STEM fields.

After a weekend of high-powered, intellectually stimulating events, I found myself at a more intimate event in Dr. Woodruff's suite with current and past members of her lab. Dr. Teresa Woodruff has been my idol since my first introduction to Oncofertility. Her vision to create a new field of science has always astounded me. I met Dr. Teresa in person for the first time four years ago on a visit to Northwestern to tour the campus. She opened the doors of her lab to me and welcomed me with a bright smile and encouraging words. During this first visit to the Woodruff Lab, I took a series of photos that I still cherish. While chatting with Dr. Teresa this summer, she shared with me that she still keeps one of those photos on her desk in her office. At once, I was humbled and filled with pride.

At the event, I was fortunate to rub elbows with the founders and grant-writers vital to oncofertility's establishment. Dr. Teresa made her way through the crowd like a superstar—followed by cameras and people anxiously awaiting their chance to chat with her. But unlike a pop-sensation, Dr. Teresa was down-to-earth and obviously respected by everyone in the room. Just that morning, I had the honor of witnessing her star power as she spoke to a crowd of six thousand people. And here she was a few hours later with a heart-warming smile and joyous embraces for the children of her current lab members. As I left Dr. Teresa's event that night, she asked me to take a selfie with her so she could place it next the picture on her desk from four years ago. I was thrilled to take that selfie with one of the most inspirational women in my life.

Dr. Teresa Woodruff has been and will continue to be that source of inspiration as I continue my education in life sciences. It's her work and her character that motivate me to work toward my own goal of pursuing a career in science. I see my life coming full-circle, fulfilling an even greater role in the field that had the power to change the life of a fourteen-year-old, sitting wide-eyed and eager on a summer Saturday morning in San Diego.

~by Katie Cobian - An Oncofertility Academy alumna from 2009, currently attending Notre Dame, attended the Endocrine Society National Meeting in Chicago, in June 2014

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Student Reflections regarding the Oncofertility Conference at Northwestern Medical School 2014

The Oncofertility Conference was incredible. I had a wonderful experience and learned so much not only about the field but also about myself.

Attending the conference gave an inside look at how the medical world works and what my place may be within it. I so enjoyed the various speakers and learning about the past and future of oncofertility, a future I hope to play a part in.

It was also inspiring to hear from oncofertility survivors. Patients whose lives were changed by doctors and research. Doctors like the one I am sure Jacquelyn will become, research I hope to one day perform.

It is experiences like this conference which prepares us to realize our full potential.

Thank you so much for everything.


The trip was amazing, and I can't thank you and everyone who put it on enough. The experience of not just presenting my poster but hearing from the top doctors in the world in oncology not only enlightened me but inspired me. It only made me want to go into the field of pediatric oncology more. I particularly enjoyed meeting the physicians and am so excited to advance my studies with them.

Spending time with the other OSA girls in the environment of the conference and having fun along the way brought us closer together. It allowed us to motivate one another and share stories about what we have learned the past year and a half in our own little worlds.


The Oncofertility Conference was, in short, a truly memorable experience. Before going, I knew I was going to hear from some of the field's greatest researchers and doctors, but the amount of information and the speakers' articulateness absolutely blew me away. Every doctor's presentation was easy to understand, free of the medical jargon that otherwise would have detracted from their main message. Although many spoke on specific cancer treatment or fertility preservation methods, all of them brought about a sense of humanity and empathy in their lectures. From the audience, I could feel that every person up there was not only in it for the science, but because he/she genuinely understood the struggles of a cancer patient and ultimately wanted to relieve this hardship as a doctor. The Oncofertility Consortium is filled with humane and good doctors all working together to ensure that each person has more than a chance to live, but a chance to live life to its fullest. This was a recurring thought for me throughout the two days attending the conference, and a very reassuring and happy thought, indeed.

I thought the setup of the conference was great. By the end of Monday night, I was totally maxed out after almost twelve hours of presentations, and I took that as a sign that the conference had not let a single minute go to waste. It was efficient and did not lag or drag on, and there were enough breaks for people to re-energize with the copious amount of snacks and food in the lobby.


The Oncofertility Conference was my first time attending a medical conference, and my experiences there were truly memorable. We had the incredible opportunity to listen to and converse with leaders and pioneers in the field of oncofertility. Throughout the day, we listened to presentations on the latest research and technological advancements in fertility preservation techniques, radiation, and chemotherapy options. One of the presentations we listened to, "Radiation Oncology Perspective", was given by Dr. John Kalapurakal, MD, Northwestern University. This presentation was particularly captivating for me, since Dr. Kalapurakal spoke of the latest statistics on radiation via proton beam therapy vs. IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) which was one of the focuses of my research project. In addition to hearing Dr. Kalapurakal's work, I felt so privileged to be able to listen to researchers in the field explaining their latest findings and recent cases in improving the quality of life for cancer survivors by increasing their fertility preservation options.

After the lectures, we had the opportunity to listen to two cancer survivors, whose stories enlightened us that even in the past few years, several patients had not been offered the chance to preserve their fertility before undergoing fertility-threatening cancer regimens. From their stories, we learned of the importance not only of the advancement and acknowledgement of oncofertility, but also of a communicative relationship between a physician and his/her patient, in which concerns and risks are understood. After listening to the guest speakers, we presented our posters to other conference attendees, researchers and physicians, including Dr. Woodruff herself! To be able to share our work, answer questions, listen to the work of others, and develop new questions to research was perhaps the most rewarding experience of the conference. It revealed to me the collaborative nature of medicine, in which progress is made as an all-encompassing team of researchers, physicians, nurses, patients, families, bioethicists, counselors, insurance providers, and many more groups and individuals. All in all, attending the conference was one of the most inspiring experiences I have had, and I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunities that Northwestern University and the Oncofertility Consortium have provided us.


My experience at the Oncofertility Conference is something I will never forget. This opportunity has revealed to me that there are no limits when it comes to science and the medical field. Everything is interconnected and the solving of one problem can result in the solving of multiple problems. While I was there I did not feel like a high school student because I was treated like a fellow medical professional. No one talked down to me or doubted my intelligence instead they asked for my opinion. My favorite part was presenting my poster to Teresa Woodruff, the founder of Oncofertility. It turns out that see worked on the original medication that was used in the study my poster is based on. This trip reminded me that the whole reason for Oncofertility and other research fields is not just the science but for the people that need help. The job of a doctor is to heal the whole person not just the illness.

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Maddie Ota, Academy of Our Lady of Peace High - Oncofertility Conference 2014

poster ota

The Oncofertility Consortium Conference was my first scientific conference and overall, it was incredible. Upon signing in, we immediately got to meet Dr. Teresa Woodruff, the pioneer of the Oncofertility Consortium. It was amazing to meet the woman without whom thousands of cancer survivors might not have hope of having biological children. Throughout the rest of the day, we had the opportunity to hear speeches from renowned doctors and scientists on the latest advancements in biotechnology, cancer-fighting drugs, and fertility preservation options. We even heard two Keynote presentations: "Toward Hope: Global Efforts to Preserve Fertility," by Dr. Samuel Kim, MD, University of Kansas Medical Center, and "Ovarian Tissue Vitrification and Transplantation for Fertility Preservation- from Lab Animals to Clinical Application," by Dr. Nao Suzuki, MD, PhD, St. Marianna University, School of Medicine. In the final presentation, Dr. Suzuki revealed that research in Japan recently lead to the first live birth from vitrification in the world. Like Dr. Suzuki, the presenters at the conference shared information so up-to-date it has not even been published. I felt incredibly privileged to be able to hear first-hand accounts of doctors' efforts around the world to increase fertility preservation options for cancer survivors.

After the guest speaker portion of the conference, we had the opportunity to present our scientific posters to the other conference attendees. Our posters were set up like a science fair, so guests could walk around and ask us questions. It was rewarding to both share the information I had learned, but also to hear about some of the other research students and doctors had performed over the last year. Oncofertility started less than ten years ago and it is astonishing to see how far the Consortium has progressed. The posters ranged from a variety of topics, from the impact of hypothyroidism on women's pregnancies to fertility preservation options for transgender patients. The San Diego Oncofertility Saturday Academy (OSA) girls and I also got to meet the OSA girls from Chicago. It was so nice to meet girls with similar interests and to learn about what they did over the summer. I think all of the girls would all agree that this was an unforgettable experience in which we were all extremely privileged to take part.

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Tyra Wu, Carlsbad High School - Oncofertility Conference 2014

poster wu

Attending the Oncofertility Conference this September was a unique experience that really gave me insight on the medical field. Throughout the day, there were several presentations on the ground-breaking discoveries that doctors from around the world had made in the field of oncofertility. It was amazing hearing such recently developed techniques, Aside from the presentations, we were also given the opportunity to speak with professionals about our posters. We also became friends with the OSA Chicago girls, who were also presenting their posters as well.

In addition to the conference, we toured Northwestern's Evanston campus the next day. Despite the heat, I really enjoyed Northwestern's beautiful campus. Afterwards, we were able to tour the chemistry lab. We even got to see a MRI of a rabbit's brain on a 3-D screen and zinc sparks! Overall, the Chicago trip was worthwhile and such a great learning experience.

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Alexa Fornes, Serra High School - Oncofertility Conference 2014

poster fornes

Visiting Chicago to attend the Oncofertility Consortium was an amazing experience as a high school student. The opportunity to listen to experts discuss the field of Oncofertility further inspired me beyond what I learned over the summer. The Consortium was very educational and gave updates on the cutting edge research being performed around the world. I was honored to meet Dr. Teresa Woodruff and Dr. Robert Wah, President of the American Medical Association. Both gave advice on college and career paths. After listening to speakers during the afternoon, I, along with the other OSA girls, was able to present my poster during the reception. I loved being able to share my work with professionals interested in it. It gave me the chance to receive feedback and also learn about other research being done. During the reception, I met the girls from OSA Chicago. It was great meeting them and sharing our summer experiences and future aspirations, which had a lot of overlap.

The second day, Megan Castle took us to the Northwestern University campus in Evanston for a tour. Two current students took us around, and then we had a private tour of the Chemical of Life Processes Institute. Inside of the lab, we got to see the equipment being used to research Oncofertility and we were also shown a zinc spark. We received more information about how to be successful in science and learned about different types of emerging careers. The campus and lab were beautiful and I appreciated the chance to see another university. Megan took great care of us that day, including transportation and lunch. Overall, it was a spectacular few days with my OSA sisters. The conference was so impressive and I will never forget the things I learned.

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Avalon Johnson, Classical Academy High - Oncofertility Conference 2014

poster johnson

The trip to Chicago was absolutely amazing. As my first scientific conference, it was the experience of a lifetime. I got to meet scientist from around the world and discuss with them their research. The trip helped me better understand what department of science I want to study in college. The content of the conference was fascinating, I loved seeing how quickly science is progressing. The opportunity to present my own personal research after the conference was awesome. All of the other scientist and doctors that came to my poster were very supportive and interested. They talked to me as if I was a fellow colleague, which made my desire to become a scientist in the future even stronger. Looking at some of the other posters made me want to do more research and solve more scientific mysteries. Overall, the trip to Chicago was perfectly balanced between educational and exciting. I hope I have many more scientific conferences in my future.

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Oncofertility Conference at Northwestern University 2013

The Oncofertility Consortium Conference is held at Northwestern University in September of each year.

The 2014 Conference, Bench to Bedside: Oncofertility Advances in Males and Females was held September 23-24. Six students from the 2013 San Diego OSA Academy attended the conference. In addition their posters were part of the International Poster Exhibit at the Conference.

6 Exemplary Student Posters from UCSD Oncofertility Science Academy for 2013

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