by Jackie Lavigne, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Kristin Kiser, M.H.A., M.S.
DCEG's workforce is a dynamic mix of predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows, early-career scientists, experienced researchers/mentors, and support staff. The Office of Education (OE), created in 1999 by Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., M.D., Division Director, and led by Jackie Lavigne, Ph.D., M.P.H., Chief of OE, oversees training and career development for various levels of scientific staff, coordinates the recruitment of fellows, develops and oversees training partnerships with schools of public health and departments of epidemiology, and evaluates training policies and practices.
Fellows comprise about one-third of the Division's workforce, and they make valuable contributions to DCEG's research program. Since its inception, the DCEG fellowship program has grown to more than 100 participants. Today, the Division takes pride in offering training and research opportunities at both the postdoctoral and predoctoral levels; those at the predoctoral level include doctoral candidates, fellows who have obtained a master's or baccalaureate degree, and summer students.
The recruiting of highly qualified candidates takes place on university campuses, at scientific meetings, online, or wherever else OE staff can begin a conversation with potential fellows.
For example, OE staff members actively participate in the annual NIH Graduate Student Research Festival, which brings approximately 200 doctoral students to NIH. Students compete for the opportunity to attend, and over the course of two days, they present posters, hear about NIH, and interview with NIH scientists. During this time, DCEG holds a special event for students interested in epidemiology and genetics. For the 2011 festival, Dr. Lavigne has accepted the honor of serving as the chair of the planning committee.
As a way to interest graduate students in cancer epidemiology and genetics, OE has established partnerships with the Yale University School of Public Health, the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the George Washington University (GWU) School of Public Health and Health Services. The Yale partnership was established under a TU2 institutional training grant, which provides full tuition and stipend benefits during the student's didactic phase of doctoral work at Yale. These students then come to DCEG and are supported by an NCI stipend to conduct research for their dissertation with mentors who usually come from the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch or the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch.
The two JHU partnerships are with the departments of epidemiology and biostatistics. These partnerships differ slightly from the one with Yale, offering talented students some DCEG tuition support during the didactic period and then matching them with an investigator in any DCEG branch for work on their dissertation while providing NCI stipend support. Finally, the GWU partnership is analogous to the programs at JHU, targeting highly talented students interested in cancer epidemiology.
At the NIH level, DCEG has been an enthusiastic participant in the NIH/Oxford/Cambridge Scholars Program, which offers graduate students the opportunity to collaborate on research with mentors at NIH and either Oxford or Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, earning a doctoral degree along the way. DCEG has recently had four highly successful graduate students come through this program.
Many of the talented young scientists in the predoctoral programs remain in DCEG as postdoctoral fellows.
A fellowship in DCEG offers many special benefits, with fellows at all levels having opportunities to design, carry out, analyze, and publish research on the genetic and environmental causes of cancer. All postdoctoral fellows begin with a primary mentor; as they become established in their research, they are encouraged to explore opportunities with other investigators within the Division and NCI, and they gain experience with a variety of research topics and methods. At interviews, the candidates are often struck by the collegial atmosphere of the Division, the opportunity to work with different mentors, and the dedicated support provided by OE to the fellowship community.
Recognizing the importance of developing a network of trusted collaborators and creating an interactive fellowship community, OE has initiated a variety of activities for fellows, which are described below.
Fellows Monthly Colloquia: OE supports the DCEG fellows in organizing monthly colloquia on a broad range of topics, including tips on writing and publishing papers, conducting cost-efficient research, mining published literature, and maintaining a work-life balance.
Career Development Seminars: In conjunction with other divisions of NCI, DCEG fellows participate in the planning and organizing of monthly seminars focused on career development topics.
Fellows Annual Symposium: Fellows often gain hands-on experience in organizing scientific workshops by serving on the planning committee for the Annual DCEG Fellows Symposium. The symposium is a full-day, off-site event that includes keynote speakers, a poster session, and scientific presentations by fellows.
Fellows Committees: Each year, two fellows represent DCEG on the NIH-wide Fellows Committee. This year, OE has organized a DCEG Fellows Committee to represent and serve the specific interests of fellows within the Division. Fellows also serve on the DCEG Committee of Scientists, which reports to the Division Director on their efforts to enhance the scientific environment for professional staff at all levels.
Many other opportunities exist for fellows to serve on committees across the Division, NCI, and NIH as a whole, providing experiences for developing leadership skills.
DCEG's mission includes training the next generation of scientists in cancer epidemiology and genetics, and Dr. Lavigne, fellowship coordinator Kristin Kiser, M.H.A., M.S., and program assistant Tess Lee all strive to achieve this goal by offering personalized support, conscientious mentoring, and opportunities for personal and professional growth.