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Training: A DCEG Core Value

DCEG’s commitment to maintaining a dynamic training program is evident in its mission statement and from its early establishment of the Division’s Office of Education (OE), created in 1999 by founding DCEG Director Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., M.D. The OE oversees staff trainings for every stage of the research career, though its primary focus is on the junior investigator. Led by Chief Jackie Lavigne, Ph.D., M.P.H., OE staff work together with fellows to provide opportunities for top-notch scientific and career development.

“Mentoring aside, DCEG offers formal training in the diverse range of skills that you really need as a scientist,” said Lindsay Morton, Ph.D. “Instead of receiving this training on the fly, we have well-thought out formal courses to ensure a strong foundation.”

“It’s hard to distill in just a few words just how valuable DCEG’s training program was to me. I came as a basic scientist. The training and mentorship in DCEG transformed me into an epidemiologist.”

- Neal D. Freedman, Ph.D., M.P.H., Senior Investigator and former Postdoctoral Fellow

The types of training covered by the Division fall under several categories and include: courses offered by branch experts, communication workshops by the Office of the Director (OD), and workshops through DCEG’s OE. A complete list of the trainings regularly offered is available on our website. Aside from the high-quality content of courses and workshops, fellows’ learning is enhanced by attending these trainings together: statisticians sit side-by-side with epidemiologists, geneticists, toxicologists, physicians, and other fellows from a wide variety of disciplines.

In-Depth Courses on Scientific Topic Areas

Experts across the Division host university-caliber courses for their peers and the wider scientific community. Thanks to the breadth and depth of their expertise, many types of training are offered by branches, lab, and Division offices on different specialty topics. Courses include the DCEG Molecular Epidemiology Course, a 10-week-long course most recently offered by the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch in early 2016. In addition, many staff attended the week-long Radiation Epidemiology and Dosimetry Course, most recently offered by the Radiation Epidemiology Branch in May 2015. Both courses feature talks from a wide range of experts.

Communications Workshops

Scientists must be able to communicate in clear, comprehensible, and concise messages in order to successfully disseminate research findings to a broad range of audiences. The development of solid communication skills is an essential tool for advancing biomedical research and public health. It is especially important for scientists in the Federal government, where staff have an obligation to share their results with the American public. Jennifer K. Loukissas, M.P.P., DCEG’s Communications Manager, has developed several training opportunities for fellows.

Fellows discuss research poster with a presenter at the intramural retreat.

Poster presentations at the NCI intramural scientific retreat

The interactive Workshop on Delivering Effective Presentations provides fellows and other staff with skills to improve the development and delivery of scientific talks. The workshop also covers preparing for and responding to questions. To reinforce the concepts of data visualization and design, participants work together to critique and revise their slides. To raise awareness of the qualities of effective presentation delivery, participants give 2-3 minute ‘mini’ presentations that are videotaped and played back to the group for feedback.

Nearly every fellow in DCEG, at some point in their fellowship, has the opportunity to give an interview to the press. The annual Fellows Media Training is designed to help junior researchers learn how to manage media inquiries within the Federal government, and how to talk plainly about their research to science and health reporters. Fellows also engage in a ‘mock interview’ with a volunteer in order to practice those skills with their peers. Trainers and participants ask questions from the point of view of a science writer.

OE Workshops/Training/Other Services

The DCEG OE serves as the focal point for scientific and professional development training for Division staff. The OE coordinates a rich repertoire ranging from courses and workshops to lecture programs. Fellows complement this training with career development courses and workshops in DCEG, NCI, and the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) so that they are fully prepared for the next steps in their careers.

Career Planning

One of the first things a fellow will do in DCEG is work with their mentor to establish an Individual Development Plan (IDP). The IDP is a working document that helps guide the fellow and mentor in planning research and professional development goals that correlate with the future career plans of the fellow. The OE implemented the use of IDPs for all fellows and requires fellows to update and review their IDPs with their mentor(s) annually. The document is meant to serve as a retrospective review and prospective planning document, covering research and career goals for the past and coming year. Fellows are invited to further discuss their career planning with OE staff and/or an OITE career counselor, who visits DCEG on a quarterly basis.

Career Development Seminar Series; Biennial Career Symposium; Fellows Colloquium Series

To further help fellows plan their career direction, the fellow-led Career Development Seminar Series (CDSS) offers a range of trainings, including how to interview, planning a two-career job search, developing career goals, exploring different career options, and more.  This series is organized in collaboration with fellows in the NCI Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program (CPFP) and in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. 

The OE also works with the CDSS organizing committee to host a biennial, half-day career symposium to help fellows learn about a range of opportunities, as well as to develop professional skills. As a complement to these activities, both research and career development skills are discussed in the monthly DCEG Fellows Colloquium Series; fellows in each branch take turns deciding on a topic and hosting speakers for these events with additional time to socialize over refreshments.

Tenure-Track Investigator Support

In addition to helping fellows, the DCEG OD and OE provide training and support to all staff as needed. They support tenure-track (TT) investigators as they progress toward tenure by offering Brown Bag lunch sessions to enhance professional development in areas such as conflict resolution, "managing up", and time management.

Every two years OE sponsors the TT Retreat, a half-day event featuring Division leadership and NIH review committee members to discuss important aspects of progressing toward tenure and the package required for submission to the NIH Central Tenure Committee.

Grant and Grantsmanship Course

Fellows gain experience in writing research and grant proposals through the annual Grants and Grantsmanship Course, organized in collaboration with the CPFP. The course combines two days of didactic sessions covering grant writing skills, grant writing resources, and granting organizations, along with several days of grant writing practice and feedback that culminate in an NIH-style mock study session. Fellows emerge with scientific ideas and writing knowledge that can be applied to writing proposals for funding from a variety of granting organizations.

Mentoring Workshop

Mentoring is a vital part of career development. Both learning how to be a proactive mentee and developing mentoring skills of one’s own have been shown to increase positive career outcomes. In collaboration with the CPFP, the OE offers an annual Mentoring Workshop, where the critical functions of mentoring, how to develop key mentors, and how to address mentoring challenges are addressed. Moreover, one of the special features of the DCEG Fellowship Program is that more senior fellows may mentor summer students to gain practical experience during their time in the Division.

Fellows’ Symposium

Fellows can gain hands-on experience in organizing scientific workshops by serving on the planning committee for the Annual DCEG Fellows’ Symposium. This full-day, off-site event includes keynote speakers, a poster session, and scientific presentations by fellows. Participants have the opportunity to interact with each other and with the invited presenters during lunch and at a panel or round table discussion.

Fellows critiquing each others' manuscripts at an editorial board meeting

Discussing manuscripts at a Fellows Editorial Board meeting

Continual Improvement of Our Trainings

The DCEG Fellows Committee (D-Fel) works closely with the OE to review aspects of the Fellowship Program and to develop new trainings and features, as determined by the Annual Fellow’s Survey, administered by D-Fel. Together D-Fel and the OE make an action plan to respond to emerging issues. One outcome of this collaboration was the launch of the DCEG Fellows Editorial Board (D-FEB), a peer-editing group that provides fellows with quick editorial review and comments. In addition, last year, a new Statistical Brown Bag Series was developed to address training gaps identified in the survey. Division biostatisticians hold special topic sessions, dividing the time between a presentation and discussion.

Fostering a Learning Community

Under the leadership of DCEG Director Stephen J. Chanock, M.D., the Division continues to carry out its training mission. From the wide range of experts invited to give talks through the DCEG Seminar Series to ad hoc training developed by our team to meet emerging needs, DCEG will continue to provide an outstanding environment of learning for the next generation of scientists in cancer epidemiology and related fields.

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Read more articles from the spring 2016 issue of Linkage newsletter.