What’s so special about STOFF?

Three alumni share their thoughts on STOFF 2022

Why should any junior investigator invest their valuable time in attending a Society of Translational Oncology Fellows’ Forum (STOFF)? We asked three alumni of the 2022 session to share their thoughts.

It all boils down to three main points, they agreed. What sets STOFF apart from all the other workshops in the field is that it provides:

  1. an intimate setting nurturing interaction and networking opportunities with not just your junior investigator peers, but also foremost experts in the field;
  2. with a curriculum delivered by lecturers who offer practical, real-world advice and insights into translational oncology – the kind of information generally missing from early training venues;
  3. all in a dedicated translational oncology workshop that connects the dots between basic science and clinical research.

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Julia Foldi, MD, PhD

“I always felt that as someone who was toggling between the basic science and clinical research worlds, there wasn’t really a place for me to turn to for mentoring and for more formal training. So having a dedicated translational oncology workshop was very attractive to me,” said Dr. Julia Foldi, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Hematology/Oncology), University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Although other workshops she had attended offered solid information, she didn’t really feel that she fit in. However, she said, STOFF was different and she felt at home there.

“I thought that the lectures and the small group discussions were invaluable for young investigators like myself who, again, are kind of the interface between basic science and clinical research,” Dr. Foldi said. “I think I expected to meet people with a similar mindset who are on a similar career trajectory, and that was certainly the case … it was really networking and meeting similar-minded people that was, I think, the most valuable to me. And also meeting people who are successful in their careers after being clinical investigators for many years and seeing the path that they had gone down. I think it’s so valuable for us junior investigators to see that that path that we’re starting out on, it’s a real path that people have taken before us and it’s possible to go down this way and become successful.”

Dr. Quaovi Sodji, whose background is in radiation oncology, is a clinical instructor and the Bentson Translational Research Fellow in the Department of Human Oncology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. He, too, felt that the size of the group and the diverse specialties of the attendees set STOFF apart.

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Quaovi Sodji, MD, PhD

“This is not a conference or a workshop where you have hundreds of people and the one-on-one interaction is limited to the people who sit to your left or your right,” he explained. “This is a really small group, so you can interact with anybody. And everybody in the workshop, including the course director, the lecturer, everybody was available — you wouldn’t think they are the people leading the field. They were really approachable.”

He also liked how the lecturers provided “not an abstracted construct of translational research, but how it is done in the real world.” He explained, “Being around all the various diverse specialties in medical oncology and surgical oncology helped bring home the point of what translational research is all about, which is a team approach. … Based on everybody’s training, career and trajectory, they’ve had different expertise and different experiences they can bring to the table. That is a significant resource, having that exchange of ideas, especially when you think about what is good for the patient. We clinically do this,” he added, “especially for oncology patients, where there will be a tumor board with multiple specialties discussing a single patient to see if a surgical approach is the best versus radiation versus systemic therapy. So I think the similar approach is also really helpful in translational research.”

Real-world experiences shared by the STOFF faculty were what appealed most to Dr. Bailey Fitzgerald, Oncology Fellow at Tisch Cancer Institute, Mount Sinai. “They helped ‘demystify’ the process of early drug development and clinical trial development,” she said.

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Bailey Gleason Fitzgerald, MD

“This was probably one of the biggest eye openers for me … from personal experience, I think the power of anecdotes is that sometimes they can illustrate points in these pathways ahead for people who are interested in running clinical trials in a way that written materials and overall statistics never can. So having those powerful anecdotal experiences with people who have put their money where their mouth is and dedicated their careers to early drug development is what I would say was the highest-yield part.”

Yet another popular asset of STOFF 2022 was the advice faculty provided to attendees on grant writing and how to advance their careers, the three fellows agreed. “I recall a session on career development in academia which sort of went through the steps from being a fellow to junior faculty, and then as we move up the academic ladder at which point we should be thinking about applying for what kind of grants,” Dr. Foldi said. “I think it’s those specific suggestions that are the most valuable, more so than specifics of grant writing itself, which I think really come from practice and doing it over and over again.”

So what advice do they have for anyone who might be considering applying for STOFF?

“I would clarify that Dr. Sodji, Dr. Foldi and myself are representative of different kinds of clinical researchers, but there’s also a big space at this forum and a big focus on people who are basic science researchers in cancers who want to open labs,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “… In fact, I feel if anything that it’s very geared toward people who want to follow that NIH grant lab ladder — wet lab, dry lab, whatever it will be — and so I don’t want the fact that the three of us are sitting here to make it seem like you have to want to be a clinical trialist in order to get something out of this workshop.”

And Dr. Sodji’s advice? “Go for it. Because for me, that was a career-changing experience. I think this should be circled on everybody’s calendar to attend because it gives you a blueprint of how translational research should be done or can be done and how you can translate it into the real world …”

Interested in learning more about STOFF and the three fellows’ perspective on the 2022 workshop? You can watch the entire video interview or read the transcript here.