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Stephani Otte (CZI)

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About this episode

#21 — In this episode of The Microscopists, we’re joined by Stephani Otte, Imaging Program Officer for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. We’ll discuss her move from neuroscience to managing the funding of imaging projects worth millions of dollars, and why she’s always loved a challenge.

We’ll hear more about the aim of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to cure, prevent, or manage all diseases by the end of the century, and the role of imaging, and developing the right tools and techniques for that imaging, in achieving that aim.

We also learn more about Stephani’s hobbies, taking in backpacking, riding camels, hiking, and skydiving with her Mom!

Follow Peter O’Toole, Stephani Otte and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative on Twitter!

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Please note that this is a Machine Transcription and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:03):
Welcome to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast hosted by Peter O’Toole, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:19):
Today on The Microscopists, Stephani Otte from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) joins me and we’ll discuss the challenges are accelerating the pace of scientific discovery.

Stephani Otte (00:00:31):
I think the tools and type are going to be one of the key critical pieces to actually accelerating the pace of scientific discoveries

Peter O’Toole (00:00:41):
Wide range of hobbies from backpacking to hiking, even sky diving with her mother

Stephani Otte (00:00:49):
I’ve been skydiving a few times. And I took my, my mom for her for birthday,

Peter O’Toole (00:00:56):
The vital importance of coffee

Stephani Otte (00:00:59):
I need it every morning to be able to exist. It’s absolutely required

Peter O’Toole (00:01:08):
And the importance of effective communication in science.

Stephani Otte (00:01:12):
So I think when, when my people have a common goal that they’re working towards, like a lot of really amazing things can happen. And I think communicating what that goal is and why it’s important is a critical piece and and doing this

Peter O’Toole (00:01:26):
All in this episode of The Microscopists. Okay. Welcome to The Microscopists. And today I’m joined by Stephanie Otte from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. So before, do you know what would be really good to start with is actually knowing what the CZI Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative actually. So Stephanie, could you start by explaining about that please?

Stephani Otte (00:01:56):
Yeah. Happy to, so the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was started by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg. They have this broad mission to cure, prevent or manage all disease by the turn of the century, which is a pretty lofty, lofty goal. So I’m part of the science initiative. And we focus on this, this broader goal. And right now we’re focused on accelerating the pace of scientific discovery. The philanthropy can work and kind of interesting ways. So it’s kind of a unique philanthropy, so you can send grants, you know, so you can grant money to individuals or labs organizations other foundations but we also have a technology arm. So we build tools and tech and we also try to work closely and collaborate with our grantees. So there’s a lot of community development and capacity building. So we use all of these different modes to be able to reach a particular objectives.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:04):
I am familiar with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to start with, but for those that aren’t, it’s not, it’s quite broad in where you fund and there’s different arms within the CZI of what type of things you fund. And one of those is the imaging, the microscopy or imaging is imaging or microscopy, which is it,

Stephani Otte (00:03:23):
Imaging microscopy rolls up into to imaging. So first we started in microscopy, but now it’s pretty broad and covers a lot of biomedical imaging techniques.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:34):
Okay. So MRI and things like that as well.

Stephani Otte (00:03:38):
Yeah. MRI photo acoustic, ultrasound pet imaging, electron microscopy like microscopy the whole full range.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:48):
She’s really different. So many funding streams, whether it be charities or whether it be government funding national funding streams, very few are just on technology and yet here you are having a whole sort of, I know set of money funds just for the technology itself. So what, what’s the motivation behind that?

Stephani Otte (00:04:11):
I mean, I think that tools and type are going to be one of the key critical pieces to actually accelerating the pace of scientific discovery. So we need the tools to be able to actually visualize biological processes, to be understand health and disease. And so I think it’s really important to accelerate the pace and the adoption of tools and techniques more broadly. And I think it’s going to be a key piece to be able to, to reach this, this broader goal for the initiative.

Peter O’Toole (00:04:42):
And I, I know I can very much see that. So in the UK, certainly our funding bodies have done special initiatives one-offs and have broader ones with technology, but this is, you know, this is continuous. And I think that’s really good. And I, I would bet that you get more of applications because it is defined people realize it is for them and coming, but you must get lots of questions from potential applicants asking if it’s relevant. Is that correct?

Stephani Otte (00:05:15):
Yeah. Yeah, we do. We definitely get a number of questions. I mean, we’ve been funding a lot of, you know, imaging scientists and tool developers and image analysts and community organizers have them a lot of who we’ve been funding as part of the program. And I would say there hasn’t been a lot of brands that have been directed towards these people before. So sometimes you even hear that they’re reading it and they’re just like surprised this, like actually describes them to a T and they’re able to apply for a grant specifically for the work that they’re doing. So the imaging program in particular, it’s less funding for research scientists and more for these other important folks within the broader ecosystem.

Peter O’Toole (00:06:00):
So I think that’s really important to actually, so at the very start, you mentioned how technology’s so important for driving science, but it’s not just the development of the technology to what you’ve just said. It’s almost about bringing the community together and community initiative to support the application of technology as well. So do you have good examples around that, to what you supported that wouldn’t ordinarily find funding within ordinary streams?

Stephani Otte (00:06:27):
Yeah, so right now we’re funding imaging scientists that operate open-access imaging facilities around the world. And so we’re supporting salaries of the imaging scientists and we bring them together for regular meetings and encourage collaboration and to tackle some of the biggest challenges that the imaging community faces. We also fund umbrella organizations like Global Bioimaging and Bioimaging North America. And we fund frontiers projects. So technology development projects, but we actually incentivize as part of the program collaboration amongst the grantees. So in a phase two, they can flip teams and apply for potentially more money to be able to, to work together and collaborate on exciting new technology development projects.

Peter O’Toole (00:07:16):
So you kindly sent some pictures and this picture I presume, is it a picture of your imaging scientists? Which I guess one advantage of COVID is you had the chance to get perfect pictures of everyone at once and no one hiding behind the back, I guess I’ll move. So everyone can be seen. So lots of scientists, how many of you funded to date?

Stephani Otte (00:07:38):
Oh, geez. So for the imaging program, so we have the, the imaging scientist program, I think there’s 40 scientists and two umbrella organizations associated with that. And then we have the frontiers work. So this is new technology development for deep tissue imaging. There’s a visual proteomics one that will be announced soon. So there’s about 30 total that will, that we’re funding as part of that. And then we fund software developers and are building out a software analysis tool internally. We’ll be announcing micrograms for the community. So yeah, I would say overall, you know, hundred or so within the imaging community more broadly, I should know this number growing rapidly

Peter O’Toole (00:08:28):
Once you’re up about a hundred, I think it becomes irrelevant if it’s 90 or 110 it’s it’s, it’s significant. And you brought up some interesting points, which we’ll come to a bit later. How much in the way, what, I don’t know this answer, what is the funding range, low cost to high cost? What is sort of the costume individual project?

Stephani Otte (00:08:54):
So the imaging program, so the for the imaging scientists, we fund their salaries for five years. So there’s a range of salaries provided for the imaging scientists. And then for some of our frontiers projects for deep tissue imaging, we awarded each group $1 million. A second round of funding could be up to $10 million to accelerate the adoption of the technology. So that would probably be kind of at our heightened for an individual grant is around 10 million.

Peter O’Toole (00:09:33):
The scenario I’m thinking about what’s I could do, I’ve got to concentrate on this haven’t I, not, not thinking about what I want to do and what that could enable cause that, that really is yeah. Quite something Stephani, if we just go back over, what is your role within the initiative?

Stephani Otte (00:09:52):
So I am the science officer for the imaging program and the role of the science officer is to set strategy and oversee execution of the initiatives. So you determine where we’re going to focus what RFAs or what tools or tech we should develop. And then make sure that the people, the correct people are funded, or we build the proper teams internally to be able to, to meet the goals our strategic goals.

Peter O’Toole (00:10:25):
I I’m sure a lot of people will argue that you haven’t chose the right things or you, or you have chose the right things. There’s certainly a hundred people in there say you definitely did choose the right things. There’ll be some that say, well, actually, maybe you should be looking at different areas. How did you come to those decisions?

Stephani Otte (00:10:41):
I mean, this is really a collaboration. So we listened to the community. That’s first one of our values at CZI stay close to the work. So we, we host regular workshops with the community, invite people in. We hear about the challenges and opportunities. We have advisors, so we have an advisory board internally. The imaging program just assembled an advisory board. We’ll be announcing this soon, but we’ve listened a lot to, to the broader community. And then we think through like, what is the effort to be able to do something and then what’s the potential impact. So you have to measure those two things. A lot of things could be high effort and low impact. And those are obviously not the ones you’d want to choose to get started with.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:29):
When you talk about the community, is this all academics or do you have industry involved in these conversations?

Stephani Otte (00:11:36):
Some industry partners involved in conversations, especially on the tech development side. So there’s a certain point and which technology will be developed in academic institutions. And then we’re thinking through broader dissemination. I think this will be a more important as we move through phase two of the frontiers projects you know, and we’re, we’re also going to host a workshop on open hardware as well, to understand challenges and opportunities, but we care about really as broad dissemination. So that is our goal. And we can think through all of the avenues for, for broad dissemination and the challenges associated with it and determined best path.

Peter O’Toole (00:12:16):
So you’re in this role having to weigh up all these voices opinions, some that will have vested interests. Other those will be very holistic in their, what they feel in the community needs, even if it isn’t in their remits to it’s quite difficult to, I guess, to come to decisions. But what is your background to start with?

Stephani Otte (00:12:37):
I’m a neuroscientist by training. So I was, I studied systems neuroscience. And then this is a picture of me at I w after grad school and post doc, I was director of science at a Neurotech startup that was a spin out out of Stanford. So we developed these little miniaturize microscopes that could be implanted into, so the animal would wear it on the head. There would be a little bread lens or a endoscope on that’d be implanted into specific brain regions. And then you could visualize the ensemble activity via calcium dynamics. And so I ran a lab there and a application and translation team. So that is where I sort of made this bridge from neuroscience more focused into and to imaging. And before I came to to CZI.

Peter O’Toole (00:13:38):
So you have you say, so I guess you are an imager, you’ve got the perfect background both from an academic sense and seeing business and the adaptation of technology and the need for it. I’ve got a while I’ve kind of go back to that picture, actually. What is in your hand,

Stephani Otte (00:13:55):
That’s a little mouse wearing, wearing the microscope. So the cool thing about this is you get dynamic pictures, live pictures of information transmission within the brain. So you could study sensory processing or you could study a range of different tech or paradigms. And you could actually watch the neurons fire fire in real time and then try to decode their activity. So you try to see how the brain and codes information and it was a pretty cool job before this. It was funny. I was a electrophysiologist and I was recording like a single individual neuron at a time. And then here you could view like a thousand neurons at once. And so the amount of information you can obtain was amazing.

Peter O’Toole (00:14:44):
Okay. So it’s a pretty cool job. Why change? Why go into this role?

Stephani Otte (00:14:51):
I am a challenge seeker? I think so it’s like this role came up. I had colleagues that I knew that were at Chan-Zuckerberg initiative. So I switched over about two years ago and they were looking for somebody to you know, run the imaging program. And I was looking through the the job responsibilities and the type of person they were looking for. And I was like, this sounds a lot like me which was, which was kind of fun. And so I, you know, is a mission-driven organization that could have broad global impacts. And the leadership of the science org was really inspiring to me. So I made the leap and jumped over.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:40):
It is a big jump because you’re no longer in the lab itself. And do you miss that aspect?

Stephani Otte (00:15:48):
I don’t. So it my old company, I wasn’t doing lab work as much anymore, but I do miss interacting with data. I really liked doing data analysis. So I that part I missed but I don’t miss experimentation to be honest, that was, that was never my favorite part.

Peter O’Toole (00:16:12):
Gotcha. So I’m going to move on to the importance of data actually, it’s, it’s a good, it’s a good segue into it. Imaging, you’re getting lots of different data from lots of different modalities. How important is data analysis in, in these technologies?

Stephani Otte (00:16:30):
I mean, it’s the critical piece and the critical bottleneck for almost all of these imaging technologies. And also one of the, the broad focus areas of the, the imaging program. So first we started with funding some software fellows that are working on key, open source software packages for the imaging community. But then we’ve also been putting a lot of resources internally and developing an open source platform ourselves. So I’d say multi-dimensional image viewer called Napari that can harness the, the Python ecosystem. And then we are incentivizing and working with the community to build out plugins and analysis workflows. So I think it’s, it’s going to be one of these key pieces that we’re going to need to solve, and you can’t just develop the technology without thinking through enabling the ability to extract quantitative insights from the data. So

Peter O’Toole (00:17:35):
I guess that’s going to be being engaged mathematicians, computer scientists as well.

Stephani Otte (00:17:39):
Yes, yes. So yeah, and part of the, in the future too. So one thing that will be announcing soon and opening up as a micrograms for plugin developers and algorithm developers, and we could continue on this thread in the years to come making sure mathematicians and algorithm developers are part of the broader community and also incentivize to do their work and rewarded and recognized for the work that they do. I think that’s an important part to too. So making sure that people get the recognition they deserve,

Peter O’Toole (00:18:16):
I’m going to be really cheeky. I had to meeting with my PhD students, and actually she’s a math computer science mathematician, and she’s got a load of code and we were just going to bat to publish with it. And I said, well, how are we going to make this available? And the code we said, well, what we’d really like to do is move it between different coding platforms, so converters, and that would be really useful. So whichever platform that written it in to be able to transfer in, so can go into image J or other opensource platforms and be able to access easily. Is that on your radar?

Stephani Otte (00:18:50):
We’re starting to discuss this more and more. There are some groups that are working on compatibility between platforms. We haven’t directly incentivize this, but we keep hearing this. And so these are, these are important things. When we hear something regularly from the community a lot of times we have to explore it more and then figure out ways to incentivize it or to actually make it happen.

Peter O’Toole (00:19:15):
It’s and the more people will certainly that I’m talking to at different about different elements of microscopy imaging or just science in general, actually. So Ottoline Leyser is it chief executive for UKRI. So essentially all the government science funding, and very much AI, deep learning, and really exploiting the data and extrapolating that it is where it needs to be. I still think it’s a long way off. And how do we persuade computer scientists that their career should be in science as well in bios, in life sciences and for technology development rather than exploiting the stock markets?

Stephani Otte (00:19:58):
Yeah, I mean, I think this was one of those hard things. We even find this at, at CZI. So it’s the, the recruitment of software engineers too. And Silicon Valley, because this is where we’re, we’re based or when we’re talking about mathematicians or algorithm developers. I mean, I think that the biggest thing is you want a, to that lines people so a lot of times you have to be selective, but it has to be people that really believe in the broader mission and want to do something good for the world and could align, align with the mission and find a lot of motivation for that. Cause I think the cost and salary differences can be substantial

Peter O’Toole (00:20:40):
Just to give, It won’t help those listings to the audio, but some of the images that can come to the microscopes are stunning. So you, you, you sent me this image I can’t remember exactly which one it is, but it looks like a neuronal network, maybe of some sort.

Stephani Otte (00:20:55):
I think this is a Sung Beom Cho from Washington University. This is looking at blood flow using a photo acoustic techniques which is pretty cool. So using in the combination of, of light and sound here.

Peter O’Toole (00:21:12):
So it looks good and sounds good. The complexity of that image, the eyes are so good at following tracing, seeing where junction, seeing where connections have been made and yet software still really struggles with that type of analysis. And it’s that, that complexity that by the way, these make some of the best zoom backgrounds around. I also liked this one.

Stephani Otte (00:21:37):
I know, yeah, this is Karen Jacobs from and I think she’s in South Africa, so they study a lot of infectious disease and it’s a T cell and HIV infecting. T-Cell. So I think the magenta is the HIV particles and the Scion is the T-cell receptors is what you’re seeing. But yeah, that’s one of our imaging scientists that we’re supporting, but yeah, they send amazing pictures all the time. I love it. The videos too, we get lots of really cool videos from our, from our broader community.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:16):
The biggest risk is infection. I don’t know if I really want to be in the center of this. That just makes me seem read. I go on one more, cause this is just eye candy. Isn’t it? What’s this image. This is gorgeous.

Stephani Otte (00:22:27):
Alright. This is Ryan [inaudible], I’m using diffusion MRI and you’re looking at hippocampal slice and the rat brain and looking at white matter tracks which is pretty cool. So yeah, we’re supporting people that are developing computational techniques for MRI technologies as well. I think,

Peter O’Toole (00:22:51):
Yeah, there are three examples. It just shows just how different the problems are that are being solved or being studied using imaging and all those different modalities. What about the importance of linking those modalities? Cause obviously, you know, they, each one can address a different question, but put them together. Would that not make it even more powerful?

Stephani Otte (00:23:15):
Yeah. And I think that’s a lot of what we’re doing and our frontiers initiatives. We see a lot of combination of modalities. So visual party omics what we will be funding a lot is not just on cryo electron tomography to be able to visualize near atomic resolution inside the cellular environment, but also correlative light and electron microscopy techniques. And we see it a lot in our frontiers initiative associated with deep imaging. So we have all these different technologies sort of pointed at the same goal to be able to get high resolution imaging cellular resolution imaging, deep into tissue. So you have photo acoustic approaches and ultrasound approaches, MRI, x-ray all sort of pointed toward the same goal. And we’re actually seeing pretty interesting collaborations now forming between the groups that you wouldn’t have expected. And so, yeah, I think that is critically important and to build like a mechanistic understanding of the way a biological system works. A lot of times we have to see the system at multiple levels or multiple scales and be able to, to build a dynamic picture of, of what’s happening. And sometimes you have to do that with static shots over time.

Peter O’Toole (00:24:36):
Do you have a fund equipment itself? We do.

Stephani Otte (00:24:42):
We don’t have calls to fund equipment itself as part of our frontiers initiative. If we see that there’s a particular piece of equipment that would help the broader group move, we will fund that equipment as part of the, the initiative.

Peter O’Toole (00:24:58):
Cause you know, you’ve gotten off the MRIs, you then went down to the cryo EMS and then you go down to the more classic light microscopes and there’s big price discrepancies between them. And I guess some people listening, watching won’t know the price differences, but actually I know a confocal, maybe I don’t know, $500,000 for example, but Cryo EM will be, maybe a couple of million dollars and a an MRI.

Stephani Otte (00:25:30):
No, the, yeah, because we haven’t funded any equipment and they have the rain, you know, with the different magnetic strengths. So yeah, off the top of my head, I don’t know the full range of costs for MRI, but yeah, it’s, it’s in the millions I believe.

Peter O’Toole (00:25:46):
And then a question that many researchers ask it’s like, wow, you know, you, you spend maybe seven and a half million dollars on a, on a cryo EM, how much funding could you do in other areas? Isn’t that more important than using this technology that costs so much just to put the microscope in. How, how is that, how how’d you communicate, why that’s so important.

Stephani Otte (00:26:10):
A lot of times when the technology is pretty expensive what happens for the scientific community is it gets housed in common, a common facilities that multiple researchers have access to. So it could actually open up a broad range of, of applications. And this is exactly what our imaging scientists do. There, they are, how they are running these open access imaging facilities and making sure to support the broad range of applications. So instead of funding the technology itself or funding that people that support that and trying to expand the range of applications that are opened up.

Peter O’Toole (00:26:48):
Yeah, I think that’s a really, so so my day job is running a core facility, a shared resource and the importance of maximizing the benefits for many, just like you had all those different sciences, you had the brains, you had the bloods, you had the infection and actually the techniques can be applied to most of those different questions. And so being able to share it is really important and that’s certainly it’s certainly my area that I’m passionate about and making sure that those roles, because they’re not classic academic roles, but they are equally, I would a course, I would argue this, I guess, you know, they’re still very academic in their mindset. They still have to have the same expertise, their skills, but now I have to, instead of just using it to address one question, it’s all in the technology and being able to turn it to different technologies. And so thank you actually, for funding. So many of the initiatives that, that supports that grouping of people and making sure they’re well recognized. Yeah.

Stephani Otte (00:27:47):
Really proud to support them. Yeah. It’s an amazing group of people.

Peter O’Toole (00:27:52):
I think it makes not just a difference to their awareness. I think it gives them some more pride in their job and the acknowledgement that it exists UK, I w I, I will champion UK at this point. I know the technician’s commitment from our research councils and hidden ref are all there really to highlight this importance and their careers are being recognized, which is great. But I think the funding initiatives to enable them to get funding, to support those is also really important, especially globally act like international scale. So what has been the biggest challenge to date? I start start with actually in your whole career, what has been your biggest challenge today?

Stephani Otte (00:28:36):
My whole career, I am just like I seek challenge. So it’s always like I always want to work on something that is complex and complicated and typical to get off the ground. So I would say I regularly work to, I seek out these challenges and, and everything that, that I do. You know, it, it CZI you know, you came in and was like the imaging was a strategic direction that CZI was going to focus on, but what do you focus on what do you fund? What do you get off the ground? You know, was that was a big challenge to develop you know, a full strategic framework for what we’re going to invest in or build. But it was, it was a lot of fun.

Peter O’Toole (00:29:26):
So I guess actually she sent me some personal pictures as well. And thinking of challenges, you know, when you think about building a pyramid. So I appreciate you must be obviously in Egypt at this point, either it’s in some studio somewhere. Yeah,

Stephani Otte (00:29:42):
No. Yeah. I was pretty big into traveling prior to kids. So I did a lot of like backpacking and traveling around the world,

Peter O’Toole (00:29:53):
But just think about the logistics that they would have had to overcome to solve this adding the time that I guess they’ve had to build a pyramid in a timely manner. Honestly I think riding a camel is pretty challenging to start with

Stephani Otte (00:30:08):
The camel was not very nice to me

Peter O’Toole (00:30:14):
Getting up and down on the moon. It’s not yet the most trivial thing in the world. I think it would be fair to say at that point, you said you liked challenges, this, this picture, go on. You describe this picture, you know, more about this than I do, obviously.

Stephani Otte (00:30:29):
Yeah, this was skydiving. So I’ve been skydiving a few times and I took my, my mom for her, her birthday one year,

Peter O’Toole (00:30:41):
Brave mum at that point. Yeah. So your life’s been in free fall ever since I’m joking, but the nice soft parachute landing At that time. So you said traveling, this is another, I think of you traveling

Stephani Otte (00:30:59):
Yeah. Was just in Japan. So I went there with my husband I don’t know how long ago that picture was, but yeah. Lots of traveling and backpacking.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:13):
So, so backpacking with this be.

Stephani Otte (00:31:15):
Yeah. So this one was one of these, I don’t even know where I’m at at someplace. I think this was in California, but a lot of times where you would hike through the night to be able to reach a peak at sunrise, but it was super rocky.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:30):
I was about to say the view looks pretty typical of anyone who claims a mountain as you get to the top. It’s certainly at the bottom, you get to the top, you’re just in cloud.

Stephani Otte (00:31:39):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:42):
But you look thoughtful, at least in the picture.

Stephani Otte (00:31:46):
I think that’s that’s why I like hiking and other things like that. It’s a nice time for thinking. Not as no. Well right now with COVID not traveling at all for the job, that was one of the cool aspects of the, this job is the ability to, to travel more. So at the beginning I was doing a fair, a fair amount of traveling and had some pretty cool trips that were planned. But right now we’ve been at home since February of last year. And we’ll not go back into the offices until 2022. So two years.

Peter O’Toole (00:32:30):
How long have you been with CZI, two years. Okay. So gosh. Yeah. So yeah,

Stephani Otte (00:32:39):
Yeah. Majority of the time now has been working from home.

Peter O’Toole (00:32:42):
I know that that that’s bad timing. I was going to ask I, you know, they’re something I just realized, CZI, I don’t have Carl Zeiss know this, but actually their files on their confocal are CZI files.

Stephani Otte (00:32:54):
I know it’s so funny. We get that confusion.

Peter O’Toole (00:33:00):
Brilliant, brilliant advertising by Zeiss for you or vice versa. I don’t know which way it goes. Can i ask coming back to work a bit. What’s been the biggest frustration at work since working at CZI what, have there been points where you think, gosh, I just wish we could do this faster, or I wish this wasn’t a problem. What has been your biggest frustration?

Stephani Otte (00:33:25):
I’m trying to think, like I have loved this job. And it was I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been able or collectively we’ve been able to get, you know, big initiatives off the ground. I think sometimes, you know, you’re working in a pretty complex environment with multi-stakeholder interest. And so you have to get a lot of alignment across a number of individuals to, to be able to accomplish something. It, it can be challenging, but I also find it incredibly rewarding which is pretty typical. The, the most challenging things always end up being the, the most rewarding.

Peter O’Toole (00:34:05):
So your so positive keeping on the positive then what’s been the most fun moment you’ve had so far. It CZI

Stephani Otte (00:34:16):
Most fun moments, I think it, so this was like week three on the job like week two or week three. And I needed to present to Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg about what the strategy of the imaging program would be. So it was like fresh on the job. And that was, that was such a fun conversation. And they like encouraged me to think bigger and more broad and like push the frontiers of imaging. So I was like, okay, this job is going to be fun. So I really enjoyed that.

Peter O’Toole (00:34:57):
How often do you get to, or how often do you get to talk to them, meet with them

Stephani Otte (00:35:03):
Really involved in the, the organization and across everything. So she it’s her daily job, you know, so any broad initiative that we get off the ground you know, Priscilla is involved in approval and discussing implications of those broad initiatives. So Priscilla is very involved and, and Mark is involved on kind of a regular check-in cadence across the, the initiatives. But yeah, Priscilla when we were in office, we saw her on nearly a daily basis. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:37):
I’ll forgive you for saying that’s been the most fun moments and not actually recording this with me, but you haven’t finished this yet.

Stephani Otte (00:35:45):
Yes. And this, this of course,

Peter O’Toole (00:35:51):
So encouraging you to think bigger, broader got, where’s it going?

Stephani Otte (00:35:57):
Yeah. So right now, what we have a couple of things that we’re focused on. So you know, we’ve funded a bunch of the imaging scientists around the globe, and we’re trying to expand now global access to bio imaging. So we will be announcing an initiative really soon where we’re actually trying to expand access to imaging technologies and infrastructure and plug in groups from low expenditure, low country expenditure on research and development. So this will target Africa and Latin America and sort of broadening what the global imaging community is. That’s one, one big thing. Then tech development projects and analysis tools will be big focus variance for us,

Peter O’Toole (00:36:51):
The conversation for off air as well, because that, that, that sounds really cool. And I think all facilities out there.

Stephani Otte (00:36:58):
I would love to chat about that more. Yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:37:02):
Actually you talked about your scientist, so this is Michelle, I think.

Speaker 2 (00:37:07):
Yeah. Michelle Itano at UNC she’s, she’s fantastic

Peter O’Toole (00:37:13):
On, you know, on a microscope. That’s all I can say. I can’t see. I, I can’t, I think in this case.

Stephani Otte (00:37:23):
Yeah, but I’m sorry.

Peter O’Toole (00:37:24):
Yeah. So actually I can say in this point, she’s got a CZI file behind her.

Stephani Otte (00:37:29):

Peter O’Toole (00:37:32):
Set up bit by coincidence. But you have many others.

Stephani Otte (00:37:38):
I think this is Sarah McCardell from La Jolla Institute of Immunology. Yeah. So I think that they study a range of infectious disease there. And then looking at like inflammatory responses. So it’s like a range of inflammatory disorders.

Peter O’Toole (00:38:03):
And then obviously I actually, I did it what these you’ve sent me a couple of group photos.

Stephani Otte (00:38:08):
So yeah, this was from one of our friends here. So what I was talking about before is that we, a lot of times we host these exploratory events. So we bring in thought leaders from around the field. And I believe this is one that we were focused on looking at the challenges and opportunities related to electron microscopy with a focus on cryo electron tomography. Where was it? This is bio hub, CZI bio hub, which is in San Francisco and it’s a meeting or a convergence place for a lot of the Bay area, universities, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA. And then there was a group of researchers that work at the bio hub and focus on a number of technology development and research projects

Peter O’Toole (00:39:04):
And a different group.

Stephani Otte (00:39:07):
Yeah. So this is also a frontiers workshops. So this one, we invited people from focusing on a range of different techniques, but this group was and some of the ideas that came out of here is why we decided to focus on deep tissue imaging. So there was some really cool technologies that the, the group was presenting them. And we, we decided this would be a fantastic area to support which is a lot of fun.

Peter O’Toole (00:39:39):
So lots of people have a lot of thanks to those, those groups that, that are there. And and this group,

Stephani Otte (00:39:46):
Those are my boys. So those are I have two sons age three and five. So those are my, my boys. They’re, they’re quite a bit of fun too,

Peter O’Toole (00:40:00):
Too young, get to realize that they’re going to be scientists.

Stephani Otte (00:40:04):
Yeah, yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:40:07):
Maybe scientist. So how’d you balance? You’ve got two to three. Yeah. Do you know what I, I bet you locked down. It’s probably not been a bad thing in some respects, you probably have more time with them being around at least, but have you cope having the two young children so that they will be demanding and having this job?

Stephani Otte (00:40:27):
Yeah, I would say right now that, you know, personal time it was pretty low. So but yeah, I don’t know. They yeah, it can be difficult and challenging. I mean, I’m lucky I have like a, a great partner. So there, you know, dad’s actively involved, so we’ve just been making it work. They were able to we were able to find a hybrid approach for the older one and full-time daycare for the younger one, which is good. So we’re both still able to work, but yeah, juggling, I think everyone at this point and parents of young children are, are used to, to figuring out how to, how to juggle life and make it work

Peter O’Toole (00:41:15):
And, and, and how to yeah. Maximize everything they can though in children as well to get the attempts in time. It’s like, who cooks at home, then

Stephani Otte (00:41:26):
We split the task. So I used to love, I used to love cooking. I found a lot of enjoyment now. We’re very like structured. It’s like crockpot Monday Crockpot Tuesday list. And so, yeah, my husband and I split split the duty and we have specific days that we cook on. He gets grilled day on, on Sunday, which is really nice. But yeah, we, we basically split all, all tasks at home.

Peter O’Toole (00:41:57):
So who’s the better cook

Stephani Otte (00:42:01):
He is. I think he’s more like experimental. And yeah, a lot of times it turns out really good.

Peter O’Toole (00:42:10):
I said, what’s his, what’s his best dish that he cooks.

Stephani Otte (00:42:15):
I think this like seared salmon that he makes with this orange Tabasco sauce is delicious. I really like that one.

Peter O’Toole (00:42:26):
And what about yourself? What’s your signature dish? What’s your

Stephani Otte (00:42:31):
Geez. What is my signature dish? I’ve been so bland lately, cause it’s also cooking for three and a five-year-old it’s anything was Spice or anything. Yeah, I like I don’t, I don’t know what my signature dish would be. I liked Tai and sushi and other things like that. But I haven’t made that in a while.

Peter O’Toole (00:42:58):
So what about eating out? Would you rather eat out or eating in

Stephani Otte (00:43:04):
We don’t eat out that much. Well, especially with COVID and then with kids. Yeah. we did definitely enjoy going to a nice restaurant or delivery a little every once in a while. But yeah, I would say almost the majority of our, our meals are in and we cook yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:24):
Coffee or tea,

Stephani Otte (00:43:27):

Peter O’Toole (00:43:30):
Express, your espresso, Americano, cappuccino,

Stephani Otte (00:43:33):
Americano. Yeah. Straight coffee. I need it every morning to be able to exist. Absolutely required.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:45):
I like that question. Espresso to Americanos the long and short of it. Isn’t it really? What about wine or beer?

Stephani Otte (00:43:53):
Wine and whiskey whiskey.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:59):
It’s a wine or cocktail. So Whiskey, Scotch. So scotch whiskeys, bourbons.

Stephani Otte (00:44:06):
Bourbouns. I like bourbons. I like scotch too, but bourbons bourbon, a special place for me.

Peter O’Toole (00:44:13):
And what about, so to chill out in the evening, would you read a book? Would you watch TV? Watch a movie,

Stephani Otte (00:44:20):
Say what you’d like play outside. So take the kids outside, go for hikes, go for walks. Yeah. we enjoy having outdoor time quite a bit. So I think that’s one of my favorite things to do is get the boys outside. Plus it gets their energy out to two young boys. It’s really important.

Peter O’Toole (00:44:43):
Okay. So what do you watch on TV at the moment? You’ve got two young children,

Stephani Otte (00:44:48):
Not much. I mean, they watched some things that I just don’t enjoy it at all. So they enjoy little cartoons and whatnot. I like more SciFi and dark comedy. And a lot of what I enjoy watching, I can’t really watch around my children. So it’s kind of,

Peter O’Toole (00:45:09):
Yeah, SciFi and dark comedy may. Maybe, maybe not the best combination. What about reading? You read books?

Stephani Otte (00:45:15):
I used to read quite a bit. Like I liked Scifi too, like my favorite authors Kurt Vonnegut. I really enjoyed his a lot of his, his work. But yeah, lately I haven’t been doing a lot of reading that isn’t for work. Yeah, just time. It hasn’t really permitted it. And what about music? Oh yeah, a whole range of music that I am joy. But I think my kids have now monopolized all of they, they like kids bop which is remakes of popular songs. And now I listened to that and it plays in my head over and over again. I’ll enjoy it when they expand their, their musical tastes.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:07):
I’ve never asked anyone. Do you like to work with music on, in the background or silence in the background?

Stephani Otte (00:46:13):
Silence. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Unless unless when I was doing analysis. Like if I was trying to analyze data, then I would put music on, in the background and try to like tune out the entire world. But yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:46:31):
I think that, has it gone Night Owl or early bird? Early bird. How about how early is early?

Stephani Otte (00:46:39):
Like around five every morning.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:46):
Is that a West coast phenomenon? So you sort of match more of East coast.

Stephani Otte (00:46:51):
I grew up on a farm. It’s a farm. Like my entire family was like early risers. No one slept in, like, if the sun was up, you were up, it was just like unacceptable to sleep in if the sun

Peter O’Toole (00:47:06):
As well,

Stephani Otte (00:47:09):
If I’m working on something like, I love working into the night, if it’s like a complex problem that I’m trying to solve or like a strategy trying to lay it out then I’ll stay up pretty late into the night. It’s like where I can get my best thinking done. But I try not to do that too often, so I can actually get some sleep.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:29):
And what’s your, and so a couple more quick questions. What’s your pet hate?

Stephani Otte (00:47:35):
What’s my Oh, hate like what annoys me the most? Let me say podcast and puck when people chew gum, when they’re speaking to me the sound or when they’re eating. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:57):
Eating is not the best thing in the world. Is it easy? It’s really good dinner times music. That’s where you want the music and what you most love. What’s your favorite object in the house?

Stephani Otte (00:48:12):
Favorite objects? Geez. I don’t know. I don’t even know what my favorite art. We have a favorite room. My husband and I have like an adult room where it’s like chill fireplace and nice furniture and nice artwork. And we keep the kids out. That’s really not aloud.

Peter O’Toole (00:48:33):
That’s a good answer. I’ll take that out. That, that’s a very good answer. So we’ve talked a lot about communication and the importance. Why is it? Yeah, from a CZI perspective and science in general, why is communication so important?

Stephani Otte (00:48:54):
Well, I mean, I think, you know, a lot of when you’re talking about accelerating the pace of scientific discovery and doing like focusing on some of these common challenges you need to have broad community. Buy-In a lot of this is funded through, you know, taxpayer money and addressing, you know, community challenges. And so being able to articulate what you’re doing, how it could impact broader society, getting multiple people involved. I think when, when people have a common goal that they’re working towards, like a lot of really amazing things can happen. And I think communicating what that goal is and why it’s important is a critical piece and and doing this.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:41):
And, and is that just communicating between scientists or communicating to the broader population?

Stephani Otte (00:49:47):
Oh, to the broader population? I think communication between scientists is clearly essential. It’s a lot of times, you know, a problem or challenge that you’re trying to address has been addressed or somebody else’s thinking about it from, from a different angle. And so, you know, we focus a lot on community development and allowing our grantees to exchange information exchange experience and to build. But I also think it’s really important to be able to communicate to the, to the broader public as well.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:20):
And do you think all scientists appreciate that to the same degree? No,

Stephani Otte (00:50:28):
Of course. People there’s always a range of what people appreciate or what they think is, you know, important to do so some scientists are excellent communicators and, you know, we do a lot of funding of what we call outreach activists, like people that really think about broader community initiatives and trying to bring a lot of people along. But yeah, there’s people that also really prefer to like focus in on their research question and would love it if they never had to, to give a public talk. So there’s, there’s a full range.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:04):
And what about, do you know, there’s one thing about trying to get scientists communicate to the D the more the lay public, the you know, the general public at that point, but to a degree, some of them struggled to communicate amongst themselves as well. And now it’d be interesting. You’ve got a lot of different awardees. Let’s start off with the frontiers and the imaging scientists, how different have they in their personalities attitudes? Do they, could you almost, if you were to do a, some deconvolution, could you put them into their separate counts? Yeah. Just talking to them, would you be able to put them into A or B, frontiers and imaging scientists or whatever much closer than that?

Stephani Otte (00:51:46):
There are a lot closer than that. I think like where you couldn’t just pick up on the individual traits. And there’s a pretty big range. I mean, I do think that the imaging scientists are some of the most collaborative, open scientists that I have worked with. So it’s really an amazing community. So I do think that there’s kind of a special, a special thing with the imaging scientists in particular you can get some tech developers that have those qualities, but a lot of times they’ll be focused more on their particular question and get pretty deep into, you know specific technological specifications and other things like that. So, yeah,

Peter O’Toole (00:52:30):
It’d be fun to do a cluster analysis of scientists would be brilliant. Just, just thinking of the awardees in general, how different are they, what are the extremes of the people you’re working with?

Stephani Otte (00:52:48):
So it’s interesting because the imaging program compared to the other initiatives are, are pretty different, you know, on who we fund. So there’s like a neurodegeneration group in a single cell and inflammation that funds a lot of the individual researchers and are thinking through you know, career development for them. They have a lot of focus on early stage investigators. A lot of who we fund are, you know, the people that run open access cores you know tech developers yeah, so I, that, it’s a lot of the people we do find though. I mean, we keep us special eye out for people that focus on collaboration too. And I think as like being part of the network we may focus on groups like this, but I don’t know there’s a, there’s a range, but they’re all, they’re all terrific. We just enjoy our, our group

Peter O’Toole (00:53:47):
Yes that’s part of your role. And the part of the CZI role is to develop those networks and to nurture and encourage them to a large extent how open is it? So these networks, how how’d you get others outside of the funding network involved to, to hear their voices and to, to kind of make sure that those CZI funded are having wider impacts that enabled.

Stephani Otte (00:54:13):
Yeah. So we’re working on our community development plans now for, for imaging, but one of the, you know, for our imaging scientists, for instance we do also fund these umbrella organizations like Global Bioimaging or Bioimaging North America that have larger oversights and there’s multiple imaging, cores, or networks of core facilities that engage with these partners. We’re also talking about ways of making sure that we include the broader community that’s really important to us because we don’t view it as just our, the CZI imaging scientists as who we want to support. We want to support the broader you know imaging efforts around the globe. And so we’re actively working and exploring ideas are also appreciated here of how to get others to actively work together. We’re interested in elevating their role. We’re interested in getting additional funding through government funding or through other foundations. To us it’s really important that these groups get spotlighted and more investment and imaging infrastructure and people occurs,

Peter O’Toole (00:55:31):
Sorry, I’m writing notes for myself actually more than outside of this podcast itself. I can’t remember where was going to go now. Oh, I can’t believe it. How much of the funding. This may be a difficult question to answer. I don’t know how much of the funding goes to US scientists, how much outside of the US

Stephani Otte (00:55:52):
So our first round of imaging scientists was fully in the US. Second round was global. So people globally could apply. It was about a 50 50 split. The next round is all outside the US. So everything that we will be funding we’re really focused on, again, these, these countries that have low expenditure on research and development. So we’ll be focusing exclusively on, on those groups. And then for our frontier’s there’s a range. So it’s, it’s all over the globe but tends to be in you know, US Europe.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:29):
Okay. Yeah. I know Kerry Thompson was one of the awardees. I know Kerry very well through the Royal Microscopical society. How would you justify having none in the US this time around?

Stephani Otte (00:56:42):
Well, we were taking a look at where, so we’re trying to develop this global network, and I think it’s really important to hear the voices of, you know, why people are using imaging technologies and what sort of applications they’re trying to support more broadly. And you can take a map and look at like where the imaging scientists are. You know, that we have funded and it was clear that there’s just, you know, huge gaps. Like there’s hardly anyone in Africa that were funding hardly anyone in, you know South America in Asia, we have big gaps in Asia. And, and so we started talking with imaging scientists there exploring it in more detail, having in-depth conversations, understanding what their needs are. And so, you know, we really want to make a targeted approach to, to bring these people into the, into the broader global community. We think it’s really important that their voice is represented and heard.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:34):
Aye, aye. This is not a set up question in any way. What do you feel the importance of social media is in all of this?

Stephani Otte (00:57:47):
I mean, I think social media is, you know, can allow like a lot of people use Twitter for science, you know, so I think like my Twitter, like I’m not actively involved in social media, but I would say a lot of my colleagues it’s like Twitter science, you know, like that’s how they they’re exchanging information they get updated. So I would say that’s a pretty popular platform for for scientists overall and can allow them to more broadly communicate widely,

Peter O’Toole (00:58:19):
I would fully agree. The reason for asking is there’s a Twitter account, which I think is Imaging Africa, I think, which is certainly a microscopy orientated, Twitter. Yeah. Like your team to try and disseminate some of the work into Africa itself. So, so there are already these sort of foundations it’s really making them empowering them and enabling them. So it’ll be interesting to see where that goes. I think social media is important. I’ve got just one more work question, which is, have you ever got any disgruntled customers that come back or maybe didn’t fund them or they’re being criticized for some reason we had to cope with anything like that.

Stephani Otte (00:58:59):
I guess a little bit like some people, you know may like wonder why they didn’t get funded. And a lot of times, you know, it’s you know, the, the labs or the, the groups are really dependent upon the funding to be able to operate the facility or operate their lab. And so we understand that but you know, we go through kind of vigorous process whenever we have an RFA and there’s, you know, multiple rounds of external reviews. A lot of times we have a panel meeting and they’re, you know, competitive applications. So a little bit but you know, we understand where people are coming from and, you know, the need that they’re trying to, trying to address

Peter O’Toole (00:59:42):
It took. Yeah, I guess in that point, he’s a tough world when they’re in that scenario. I guess if that’s their dependent, their jobs, the jobs of their staff are dependent on it, but, but that science whether that’s right or wrong in science, that that’s not something that is the funders fault. That’s the way science funds you kind of live and die by your success and your visions of moving forward. But it can be a harsh world. I can imagine that I wouldn’t be, I don’t envy your position of having to go back and give them the bad news when it hasn’t been seen, but we’ve all had it. We’ve all heard it and yeah. Best reactions to coming back, stronger tested for the next day.

Stephani Otte (01:00:29):
Right. Exactly.

Peter O’Toole (01:00:32):
Positive. No, cause I think we’re coming up to the, to the hour mark, I should have wrote down the time we started. So I think it’s about an hour we’re about at the moment. So to end it on a more entertaining note, do you have a best joke?

Stephani Otte (01:00:47):
So this is my, my son’s favorite joke for kindergarten. What’s green and has little yellow wheels.

Peter O’Toole (01:00:56):
I don’t know. What’s green and has little yellow wheels

Stephani Otte (01:01:00):
Grass. I was just kidding about the little yellow wheels.

Peter O’Toole (01:01:05):
I like the humor. I know the fact he even gets that joke. I can think of so many derivatives of that. I’m going to use that. I like that. Tell me, you said he’s got a really great joke. Yeah, definitely. Is there anything else you’d like to bring up before we finish anything you’d like to mention from a CZI perspective even?

Stephani Otte (01:01:34):
No, I don’t. I don’t think so. Definitely really enjoyed. I mean, we’re just really interested in continuing working with the broader imaging community and you know, expanding their role and putting a focus on all the great work that everyone’s doing. And so we just want to, to be able to continue doing this,

Peter O’Toole (01:01:53):
And if anyone has an idea of what they think you should be funding or anything else is, should they just email CZI that I should email you? How should they contact you with ideas, suggestions, comments.

Stephani Otte (01:02:03):
Yeah. So we have a, if you go to the CZI website and go to the imaging program, there’s a contact information for the, the folks that work on the imaging program. So people are free to, to reach out. We definitely read those. We take them into consideration. Yeah, so we’d love, love to hear from people. Okay,

Peter O’Toole (01:02:27):
Stephanie, thank you very much before you go. I’d just like to say for those who are listening, it’s worth tuning into the YouTube, just to see the images that were forwarded, the actual, because they really were. Mind-Blowingly brilliant. And I do think that you should have a load of wallpapers that you can just send out for zoom backgrounds, cause they are fantastic. I can’t use them again, which I’m gutted because they really were brilliant to use. So again, yeah. Thank you very much, Stephanie, for joining us. Thanks for listening to this question in the by cross Capisce, please do subscribe to the channels and I hope you’ve really enjoyed this one. Stephanie, you’ve been brilliant. Thank you very much.

Speaker 2 (01:03:04):
Thank you. Take care. Bye.

Speaker 4 (01:03:09):
Thank you for listening to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy to view all audio and video recordings from this series, please visit


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