by Victoria A. Fisher, M.P.H.
DCEG is home to a wide variety of staff at all levels, including predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows, early-career investigators, and senior scientists. To thrive as a world-renowned research organization, the Division encourages continued learning and professional growth for its members. At the heart of this training is the Division’s Office of Education (OE). Jackie Lavigne, Ph.D., M.P.H., Chief of OE, and Kristin Kiser, M.H.A., M.S., OE’s fellowship coordinator, oversee many training and professional development activities for DCEG staff.
An important part of cultivating a successful scientific career includes putting together a toolbox of professional skills aimed at complementing scientific competencies. This may start in graduate school, but acquiring new tools and fine-tuning existing ones continues throughout one’s career. DCEG champions innovative opportunities for fellows to develop a comprehensive set of professional skills and has distinguished itself as a unique place for predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows to obtain integrated scientific and career training.
To complement the Division’s courses, workshops, and training sessions, OE coordinates a variety of seminar and lecture programs, including the DCEG Visiting Scholars Program, the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch Distinguished Lecture Series, the Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch (HREB) Distinguished Lecture Series, and the DCEG Seminar Series. Formal courses on specific topics round out these training programs. Other groups or individual investigators in the Division offer courses on molecular epidemiology, radiation epidemiology/dosimetry, linear modeling, and statistics methods.
OE staff work closely with the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education, the NCI’s Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program (CPFP) and Center for Cancer Training, and other collaborators to offer unique and specialized professional development experiences for fellows and tenure-track investigators.
In addition, OE coordinates annual training reviews for fellows to help them work toward the careers to which they aspire. OE works closely with fellows in their job searches by reviewing their curricula vitae and cover letters, providing training in interviewing and presentation skills, and offering one-on-one coaching.
“Our goal is to meet the ever-evolving needs of our trainees and early-career investigators and to equip each one for the next phase of his or her career,” said Dr. Lavigne.
DCEG and the NCI CPFP organize an annual workshop to help fellows learn skills in grant writing. The workshop is designed to prepare participants to compete for funding opportunities in the future.
“Not only is there a didactic portion where we dissect a grant and meet individuals from granting organizations, but fellows write a mini-grant to try out their new knowledge. We host a mock study section during which participants learn by critiquing each other’s grants. It’s a terrific learning experience,” said Dr. Lavigne.
In collaboration with the NCI CPFP, OE hosts an annual mentoring workshop for fellows. An expert in mentoring issues, Dr. Audrey Murrell, Director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, has led the workshop for many years. Dr. Murrell encourages fellows to realize that a single perfect mentor does not exist but that there are still ways to get what you need.
“The mentoring workshop teaches fellows to become proactive mentees and to get involved in their own mentoring,” said Dr. Lavigne.
DCEG postdoctoral fellows are encouraged to mentor summer students to gain experience and to support other researchers in training. Many DCEG fellows engage in this opportunity to grow and learn as mentors and take justified pride in the accomplishments of their junior fellows.
This annual session, organized by Jennifer Loukissas, M.P.P., communications manager for DCEG’s Office of Communications and Special Initiatives (OCSI), and Saloni Nayar, M.P.H., health communications specialist (OCSI), is designed to help fellows manage media inquiries and describe their research during interviews with science and health reporters. The training reviews what motivates reporters and their questions, some common principles for giving a good interview, and suggestions for how to most effectively communicate the main messages of a study.
OE offers brown bag workshops for tenure-track investigators several times annually. These workshops focus on topics that are relevant to early-career scientists, such as maximizing mentoring relationships, addressing the challenges of management, mastering the art of clear communication, and dealing with difficult conversations and conflict. Patricia Hartge, Sc.D., Deputy Director of DCEG’s Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, Dr. Lavigne, and Ms. Loukissas are regular speakers at these sessions.
DCEG fellows have the opportunity to lead and organize several OE-coordinated and fellow-initiated activities. Events such as the monthly Fellows Colloquium and the Annual DCEG Fellows Scientific Symposium give fellows the chance to serve on planning committees, organize events, select relevant topics, invite and introduce speakers, and moderate sessions. These activities can have a positive impact on fellows’ careers by addressing areas such as interviewing for a job, career options, new research tools, and the formulation of forward-thinking and provocative research questions.
In December 2012, fellows from DCEG, the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS), the Division of Cancer Prevention, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) organized and participated in the first Epidemiology and Population Science Career Symposium. The idea for the event came from DCEG fellows and was targeted for those interested in nonacademic career options. Topics included exploring working overseas, gaining interviewing skills, and improving job application packages. About 80 fellows from NCI and other NIH Institutes attended. Kristin Moy, Ph.D., Nutritional Epidemiology Branch (NEB), chaired the planning committee, which included Nansi Boghossian, Ph.D. (NICHD), Ms. Kiser, Anh Bao Nguyen, Ph.D., M.P.H. (DCCPS), Colleen Pelser, Ph.D. (NEB), and Carolyn Reyes-Guzman, M.P.H., Genetic Epidemiology Branch.
“Chairing the planning committee was a positive experience,” said Dr. Moy. “It was a great way to meet epidemiology and population science fellows from other NIH Institutes and to learn about the epidemiology research happening outside of DCEG. The planning committee members were wonderful and worked hard to organize the symposium. Hopefully, the symposium will become a regular event.”
The fellows’ colloquia series was created in 2004 to offer DCEG fellows the opportunity to gather on a regular basis for scientific and social exchange. OE supports the DCEG fellows in organizing colloquia on a broad range of topics, including tips on writing and publishing papers, conducting collaborative research, mining published literature, and maintaining work-life balance. Each Branch hosts one colloquium per year, and fellows from the Branch are responsible for deciding the topic, finding speakers, and planning logistics for the event.
In conjunction with trainees from other NCI Divisions, DCEG fellows organize monthly seminars focused on career development topics for junior investigators in population sciences. These topics include strengthening skills in teaching, job package preparation, and strategic career planning.
Fellows plan the Annual DCEG Fellows Scientific Symposium, a full-day, off-site event that includes invited keynote speakers, a poster event, and scientific presentations and discussions by fellows. Symposia have focused on training fellows to be forward thinking, innovative, and transdisciplinary scientists.
Dr. Lavigne, Ms. Kiser, and several postdoctoral fellows, including Jacqueline Major, Ph.D., Nutritional Epidemiology Branch (NEB), Gila Neta, Ph.D., M.P.P., Radiation Epidemiology Branch, and Britton Trabert, Ph.D. (HREB), spearheaded the creation of a fellows group in early 2011. The end result was the DCEG Fellows Committee (DFel), a group whose goal is to enhance the fellows’ training experience. Serving more than 100 DCEG fellows, the committee aims to foster interaction among fellows within DCEG as well as across NCI and NIH. Since its inception, DFel has worked with OE staff to develop a DCEG Fellows wiki with information useful for fellows, has sponsored several social events, and has developed an annual survey to gather ideas on initiatives needed to enhance fellows’ research and training experience.
Establishment of the DCEG Fellows Editorial Board in late 2011 was one of DFel’s first accomplishments. The all-fellows group reviews manuscripts submitted by other fellows and provides comments on grammar, clarity, and organization. The Fellows Editorial Board meets to review manuscripts approximately every 2 weeks and provides editorial comments within 10 days of the manuscript review. Senior editors have included Sarah E. Daugherty, Ph.D., M.P.H. (HREB), Sarah Nyante, Ph.D. (HREB), and Meredith Shiels, Ph.D., Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch.
In today’s world, networking is a vital component of career growth and plays a key role in enhancing the development of individuals, teams, and collaborations within DCEG and beyond. In 2011, OE created the NCI DCEG LinkedIn Group to serve as an online networking venue for current and former fellows and staff of the Division. Members are able to share ideas and information about epidemiology, biostatistics, and genetics, particularly as they relate to research opportunities, mentoring, and career and leadership development.
“Establishing the LinkedIn group has allowed DCEG to take advantage of a flexible and valuable tool to support networking,” said Dr. Lavigne. “Our current and former fellows must think so, too – we are up to 164 members and counting.”