Maria-Jesus Blanco, Ph.D., Vice President, Head of Chemical Sciences at Atavistik Bio (website: https://atavistikbio.com/), is the 2023 Division Chair of the ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry (ACS MEDI, website: https://www.acsmedchem.org/acs-division-of-medicinal-chemistry).
In this Member Volunteer Spotlight, learn more how Maria became involved in volunteering as part of ACS MEDI, opportunities for mentorship, and advice to others interested in volunteering with NSYCC.
Number of Years with Volunteer Opportunity / Position:
I was elected in the fall of 2019 as the chair-elect for ACS MEDI and since then I have taken the roles of the Chair of the Long-Range Planning Committee (LRPC, 2020), Program Chair (2021-2022), Division Chair (2023) and will be Past Chair next year (2024). I started volunteering with ACS MEDI in 2016 as alternate industrial councilor.
How did you become involved in this volunteer opportunity / position (including details regarding application / interview process if applicable)?
I met different people within the Medicinal Chemistry community through scientific conferences, and one day I received an email followed by a phone call to ask if I was interested in volunteering with MEDI and in running for election in ACS MEDI as an industrial councilor. The person that called me, John Lowe, a distinguished medicinal chemist and Hall of Fame inductee, made me feel truly honored. I asked for expectations in the position and I jumped into the opportunity. After being elected as industrial alternate councilor, volunteer as session organizer and being part of the ACS MEDI Executive Committee, I was contacted by the Division Chair to see if I was interested in running in the election for industrial Division Chair.
For this volunteer opportunity / position did you have a mentor and/or do you serve as a mentor to other participants in this program?
Although there is no formal mentor assigned for new officers within the Division, there is a great camaraderie within the Executive Committee and people pass along roles and responsibilities. The Division has an annual updated Operations Manual to guide all the officers’ responsibilities. Within the Division, there are multiple officers willing to help with any question. I have paid it forward as well, helping other volunteers to transition into their roles and recruiting new volunteers to the Long-Range Planning Committee.
What has been the most rewarding / exciting component of this volunteer opportunity / position?
The MEDI Division has a very rigorous Long-Range Planning Committee (LRPC) to select future program sessions for ACS National Meetings. It is a great learning opportunity to witness the robust discussions balancing current “hot areas” of research among colleagues from different pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions. After fierce discussions and votes, it is truly satisfying when one of your proposals get selected by the committee to be organized.
In addition, I find fascinating to contribute to the Medicinal Chemistry community and help shape future directions of the Division. For example, contributing to the online presence of MEDI in social media, collaborate with recently created Young Medicinal Chemistry Committee (YMCC),[i] enhance visibility of women in the Division,[ii] provide mentorship to younger generations with example[iii] and help create new recognition and awards.[iv] In particular, leading the effort to create the new Gertrude Elion Award in Medicinal Chemistry has been a truly rewarding experience. I look forward to seeing who the first awardees will be.
I just came back from the ACS Fall National Meeting in San Francisco where I presided the Hall of Fame ceremony. I am truly honored to get to meet in person the inductees of this year: Donna Huryn, Amy Newman and Joel Barrish. They are giants in the medicinal chemistry field. Their speeches were so inspiring!
What advice would you give to other individuals considering this volunteer opportunity / position?
If someone is interested in volunteering with the ACS MEDI Division, they should connect with any of the MEDI officers (ACS MEDI website) showing their interest or any proposal. My advice: Don’t be shy or expect others to ask you to volunteer. Take action!. Connect in a scientific meeting with other scientists, MEDI members and ask how to be part of the community. There are multiple ways to contribute to ACS, through local sections or through technical Divisions.
[i] Ferrins L, Araujo E, Boudreau MW, Grenier-Davies MC, Haranahalli K, Journigan VB, Klug DM, Olson ME. Engaging the Medicinal Chemists of Tomorrow. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2022 Apr 25;65(9):6353-5.
[ii] Aldrich J, Allen S, Araujo E, Bronson J, Bryant-Friedrich A, Cyr SK, DiMauro EF, Dzierba C, Garner AL, Georg GI, Goodwin NC. Enhancing the Visibility of Women in the ACS Division of Medicinal Chemistry (ACS MEDI). ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. 2023 Mar 8;14(4):345-9.
[iii] Blanco MJ, Audia JE. Mentoring Matters in Drug Discovery. ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. 2020 Mar 12;11(3):241-4.
[iv] Blanco MJ, Bryant-Friedrich A, Georg G, Ali A, Ornstein PL, Ferrins L, Trippier PC. Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry: Celebrating ACS Medicinal Chemistry Division (MEDI) Awards. A Call for Nominations. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2023 May 18.