Career Development in Academia

Bernardo Goulart, MD, MS, US Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland

Fellow summary authored by Julia Foldi, MD, PhD

Dr. Goulart summarized different career tracks in academic medicine with an emphasis on career development of junior oncologists and the academic promotion ladder. He started his presentation with an overview of his own career path, which started in academia at the University of Washington and continued at the FDA. He briefly described the academic promotion ladder, focusing on the transition to assistant professor at which point the tenure clock begins (6-7 years) followed by mandatory promotion at many institutions to associate professor, for which the requirement is “regional and emerging national recognition”.

Because the oncology workforce is aging – >20% of current oncologists are nearing retirement and only ~14% are young career oncologists below the age of 40 – there is going to be an increasing demand for oncologists. At the same time, there is also an increasing population of cancer patients due to improved treatments. As a result, there is going to be more and more pressure on oncologists, including those in academia, to work more clinically. This pressure will always have to be balanced with the requirements for scholarly activities in academia, which can create a significant strain on individuals.

What can oncology fellows do during their training to maximize their potential for an academic career? First, the research years in fellowship are very precious and should be used to think about career development. Mentorship is one of the most crucial aspects of career development at any stage but especially while in training. It is a good idea to have several mentors with different perspectives. People should limit their clinical work to 0.5-1.5 days/week depending on research interests and include a mix of general and disease specific clinics.

In terms of research in fellowship, trainees should follow the principle of practical creativity: do not expect to change the world during fellowship, but one can ask interesting research questions that are feasible and should be planned for about one year so that the results can also be written up and disseminated by the end of fellowship. Dr. Goulart had some suggestions for such feasible research projects: correlative studies from an ongoing trial; secondary analysis of a trial; pilot/proof-of-concept studies; retrospective analyses of secondary data from institutional databases, tumor registries or national surveys. In terms of research funding, every fellow should write at least one grant proposal during fellowship, which forces you to think critically about your research. People who receive a mentored K-award are more likely to go on to receive an R01 in the future (30 times more likely!). Trainees should attempt to disseminate their research findings both via presentations and manuscripts with an emphasis on manuscript writing.

Finally, Dr. Goulart left us with some thoughts on applying for our first academic jobs, focusing on the question of whether it is preferable to stay or leave our home institution. The advantages to leaving are higher pay and better start-up packages while those of staying are familiarity, cultural integration and convenience.