2015 Penn Junior Investigator’s Symposium
By Kriti Gaur, Ph.D.
The Junior Investigator’s Symposium, held at the Smilow Center for Translational Research, organized by Dr. Dennis Durban and Dr. Emma Meagher, began with a warm welcome speech by Dr. J. Larry Jameson, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine, who talked about the unique advantages and culture of success being fostered at Penn; Penn being the only research institute with world-class schools for Veterinary, Business, Medical, Nursing, Engineering, and the fields of Arts and Sciences in close proximity to each other, thus providing fertile ground for collaboration and promoting individual success. A line that particularly resonated with the audience, funding for research always being a critical issue, was Dr. Jameson’s assurance that, in his 40 plus year career in medicine and research, funding for biomedical research, with its ebbs and flows, has never not been an issue. He assured the audience that correct planning, seeking constructive criticism, and diversifying one’s scientific focus will enable a researcher to continue to both reinvent themselves and their bailiwick, thus allowing a long and fruitful career in biomedical research, regardless of a capricious funding climate.
The Dean’s address was followed by a lecture on Optimizing Successful Outcomes for Clinical and Translational Scientists, delivered by the impeccably multi-tasking Dr. Emma Meagher, M.D., who fulfills roles including Associate Professor of Medicine at HUP, and Executive Chair of the Institutional Review Board at the School of Medicine, among others. She cited presenting one’s research, successful fellowship completion, budget making, leadership skills, and conflict management as the five critical areas a scientist must gain proficiency in to be successful.
This was followed by a presentation on Taking Ownership of Your Career, that was split into a) Being an effective mentee and b) Integrating goals for work/family life and developing an individual career development plan. On the topic of fostering a healthy mentoring relationship for junior investigators, panelists Tiffani Johnson, M.D., Nuala Meyer, M.D., M.T.R., and Michael Grandner, Ph.D., M.T.R., advised researchers to follow the 5 principles of being proactive, respectful, responsive, organized and appreciative of their mentors. The panelists suggested that by having a detailed list of one’s goals, expectations, and needs, and effectively communicating those needs to mentors during individually scheduled meetings, one could hope to have a satisfactory relationship with one’s mentor. In such a relationship, one’s individual roles, as well as questions of authorship and ownership have been clearly discussed, and the transition to becoming an independent investigator is the overarching goal. Lastly, the panelists stated that a successful symbiotic mentor-mentee relationship includes frequently reflecting on the relationship and acquiring skills, experience, or knowledge in the areas of 1) Scientific thought process/methods 2) Grant and manuscript writing, and 3) Professional development. Having an honest evaluation of one’s values and objectives, discussing them with one’s mentor, and revisiting these points occasionally can help junior investigators not only get the most out of their mentorships with senior scientists but also end bad or unfruitful professional relationships. On achieving work-life balance, panelists Kate David, M.D., M.T.R., Jeffrey Gerber, M.D., Ph.D. And Andrea Kelly, M.D., M.S.C.E. Shared powerful personal stories of their struggles with achieving this balance, including having spouses with an academic career of their own, having and raising children, and dealing with family illnesses. The panelists advised the audience that work-life balance is an amalgam of negotiating and taking on evolving roles as one’s children get older or family roles shift. They reiterated the wisdom of turning off one’s cell phone to be fully present at home, as well as accepting that at certain times in one’s career or life different things like grant submissions, conferences, pregnancy or tending to a sick family member may take priority. The panelists also suggested taking advantage of the University’s family friendly policies, such as “stop the clock” for new parents on the tenure track.
From this point on, the symposium was split into basic science and clinical/translational science researchers, and further with their affiliation with either CHOP or Penn. There were four more sessions titled Funding Your Research Part I-How research is paid for and developing a budget, How to Navigate Research Resources, Building a Team & Hiring and Managing, and Funding Your Research Part II– Writing a Career Development/K award. Panelists Michael Johnston, Brenda Ryn, and Marianne Achenbach along with moderator Susan R Wahl, Interim Director of Research Administration, Department of Medicine, geared Funding Your Research Part I at conducting clinical studies at Penn, where the key points were estimating study startup costs, and facilities and administrative (F&A) rates, (Additional information about F & A costs can be found at the following websites: http://www.finance.upenn.edu/vpfinance/fpm/2100/2100_pdf/2116.pdf and http://www.med.upenn.edu/orss/docs/Updated_PSOM_FA_Guidance_ 8-20-13.pdf.) During the How to Navigate Research Resources session for Penn labs, Dr. Glen Gaulton, Ph.D., Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer, provided a glimpse into 23+ Biomedical Research Core facilities. These cores have state-of-the-art equipment and technical expertise, and provide individual hands-on training, support and consultations for faculty and trainees. The multitude of core facilities can be accessed at the following website: www.med.upenn.edu/cores/. Troy Hallan, M.S., V.M.D., DACLAM, Director of Animal Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on navigating animal resources, including the cooperation between the Institutional Animal care and Use Committee (IACUC), and the Office of Animal Welfare (OAW), and effectively utilizing ARIES, Animal Research Information and Electronic Submissions website, https://aries.apps.upenn.edu/laProtocol/jsp /fast2.do to prevent delays in animal protocol approvals for research use. On the topic of Building a Team & Hiring and Managing for Penn labs, Panelists John Maris, M.D. and his lab members, Lori Hart, Ph.D., and Maura Diamond, research assistant, discussed the importance of finding passionate, driven students/researchers (using referrals etc.,) and managing them. They discussed pros and cons of hiring a lab technician versus a postdoctoral researcher versus a graduate student as a junior or early career investigator with limited start-up funds. For investigators interested in Clinical/Translational Research at Penn, information on Research Staff Selection, Research Process Training, Research Protocols in Action can be accessed at http://www.med.upenn.edu/scrcm/ and http://www.upenn.edu/IRB/ and https://somapps.med.upenn.edu/pennmanual/secure/.
In the final Funding Your Research Part II– Writing a Career Development/K award session, panelists Johnathan Katz, M.D., Michelle Denburg, M.D., M.S.C.E., David Irwin, M.D., and Kate O’ Neill, M.D. Emphasized the importance of understanding one’s eligibility for an NIH K award, applying for the right one (e.g. K01, K08, or a K99/R00), and resubmission or renewal. They also emphasized getting to know one’s Program Officer, who can provide valuable insight on applicant suitability for a particular K award and steps to take for a successful funding. Dr. Katz also covered the parts of a K award application, including criteria used to review and score an award application. Finally, prospective K award applicants should be mindful to write their research plan for an experienced scientist but not necessarily an expert in your field, to not be overly ambitious, and to stay focused throughout the application. The training and research plan should fit together like a hand in a glove; http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer/critiques/k.htm.
I found the Junior Investigator’s Symposium to be extremely informative in navigating the minutiae of biomedical research and the numerous aspects and multiple responsibilities one must assume on the road to becoming a successful independent scientist in the Penn community.