Making Career Connections: A Review of the Young Investigators Carnival at the 2013 Cancer Induced Bone Disease Meeting (Miami, FL: Nov. 6-9).
Department of Veterans Affairs: Tennessee Valley Healthcare System and Center for Bone Biology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville Tennessee
The 2013 Cancer Induced Bone Disease Meeting held in Miami, FL from Nov. 6-9, was a successful meeting that was organized under the leadership of Catherine Van Poznak and Russell Taichman from the University of Michigan. This year’s program added a young investigator event prior to the start of the meeting and highlighted young investigator posters throughout the meeting. Additionally, they focused on choosing cutting-edge research to be presented, with a focus on the tumor microenvironment, dormancy, cancer stem cells, tumor plasticity, and chemoresistance. These sessions combined with plenty of time to network both at the breaks and during the poster sessions made this a very enjoyable and scientifically stimulating meeting.
Young Investigators Carnival:
This year at the request of Professor Peter Croucher (Chair of the Cancer and Bone Advisory Committee) we were asked to organize a Young Investigator’s event (organized by Julie Sterling, Patricia Juarez, Michelle McDonald, and Michaela Reagan) to develop networking opportunities between young investigators at the CIBD meeting. We were thrilled with the participation of over 70 Young Investigators (YIs) and overwhelmingly had positive reviews of this session. This session focused not only on stimulating interactions and relationships between the YIs and the big names in the field, but also between each other. This event was organized as a carnival with carnival inspired food and managed to remain relaxed during the sessions, which helped stimulate casual conversations about the big questions in YIs’ careers. Tables were spread throughout the room with several focus areas, and YIs were asked to change tables every 20 minutes. The focus areas were 1) Leadership and Mentoring (Michael Rogers and David Roodman), 2) Persuasive Writing (Theresa Guise and Florent Elefteriou), 3) Making the Next Steps: Graduate Student and Junior Postdocs (Katherine Weilbaecher, Yibin Kang, Claire Edwards), 4) Making the Next Steps: Senior Postdocs and Junior Faculty (Larry Suva, Gabri van der Pluijm, Russell Taichman), and 5) Translational Science (Cathy VanPoznak and Eric Hesse). All of the senior investigators gave great advice to the participants and the participants did a great job of asking relevant questions. This event was followed immediately by an amazing Welcome Reception with more food and an open bar. We were thrilled to see that the interactions started in the carnival continued throughout the Welcome Reception.
Highlights from the Booths:
Leadership and Mentoring: These booths were led by Drs. Roodman and Rogers, with most of the discussions focusing around how to get proper mentoring and support to allow for a successful career at any stage. They discussed the fact that often mentors come outside of your former post-doc/graduate mentors, and sometimes are in fields very different from your own. Ultimately, someone that is interested in seeing you do well and that can give you critical, but encouraging, advice is a great mentor to have. They also pointed out that you can’t always find everything in one mentor and encouraged people to establish multiple mentoring relationships.
Drs. Guise and Elefteriou (with guest Andrea Mastro) discussed writing grants and manuscripts. During their discussions they emphasized the importance of telling a story when writing either. Their advice was that for each figure or proposed experiment that you clearly show how it fits into the bigger picture and describe your rationale well. While detail is important, making sure that the reader understands the big picture is critical. Often junior investigators get too bogged down in the details of their experiments and lose the reader. They also suggested that you don’t need to write a paper in the order that you did the experiments, but in the order that it flows best when writing.
Better writing can make a big difference between a funded/non-funded grant or the impact of a manuscript and it takes practice to find your style. Having many people read it from outside of your scientific discipline is often very helpful, and don’t be afraid of asking a non-scientist to give you input. If they can follow it and understand it, you stand a better chance of a diverse scientific audience appreciating your paper.
Making the Next Steps: Graduate Students and Junior Post-docs:
Drs. Claire Edwards, Katherine Weilbacher, and Yibin Kang met with graduate students and early post-docs at this booth. They discussed the different options for PhDs including academics, industry post-docs, start-ups, and industry positions. Because of the funding climate many people are considering alternatives to purely academic careers. While there are many great opportunities outside of academia that should be considered, they were optimistic that staying in academia is a valid option. They mentioned that funding goes in cycles and were optimistic that funding would get better soon. They encouraged people not to give up on academics and to stick with it if that is what you love to do.
Making the Next Steps: Senior Post-docs and Junior Faculty:
Drs. Larry Suva, Russell Taichman, and Gabri van der Pluijm with guest Roberta Faccio made this one of the liveliest booths at the carnival. Drs. Suva and Taichman made a great team and told some incredibly funny stories while at the same time being very inspiring. Many people were very concerned about the funding climate and how they would be able to continue in their careers. The panel unanimously said that you have to love what you do and keep trying. While it can often seem impossible, things have a way of working out if you want them badly enough. They also emphasized that sometimes your career doesn’t follow the path you intended, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t successful. Often the decisions we make today that seem inconsequential end up setting us up for favorable opportunities down the road. This may mean staying in research or finding another path, but they provided encouragement that there are so many opportunities out there that people should be creative and never stop looking for something that they are passionate about. The panel also briefly discussed selling yourself, and finding a way to make sure that your chair and other senior people see how much you bring to a group. This can sometimes be difficult to do, but they pointed out if you don’t sell yourself who will? The biggest take home message here was that things will get better and that young investigators have to stay positive.
This booth focused on discussing how to make connections with clinicians and how to start a translational project. Since there were few clinical trainees at the carnival, the discussions mostly focused on where to find an interested clinician, and how to get them interested in your project. Some of the suggestions included going to some of the more clinical talks like Grand Rounds to learn about the clinical research at your institution, emailing a clinician that works in your area of research and asking them if they have time to meet and discuss potential research projects. They both emphasized that for a translation collaboration to work,both parties have to be interested and have the time to commit to the projects. They also discussed that clinicians have a lot of pressure to be in the clinic and that this makes it difficult for them to commit to research project, but often they are very interested in being involved. They suggested that you very specifically explain to a clinical collaborator regarding what you need, and that you keep them interested by keeping them involved and informed regarding the projects. There were a few trainees interested in pure clinical research and they discussed that it is important to have a chair that supports research and can give you dedicated time to do research.
All of the speakers and participants helped make this a successful event where many topics important to Young Investigators were discussed. Perhaps the most important advice from all the booths was to stay positive and to continue working on science that you are passionate about.
- CABS Committee member, Julie A. Sterling