November 16th, 2013

Becoming a Cardiovascular Investigator – Treading in Deep Waters, or a Sure Shot Toward a Successful Future?

Several Cardiology Fellows who are attending AHA.13 in Dallas this week are blogging for CardioExchange. The Fellows include Vimal RamjeeSiqin YeSeth MartinReva Balakrishnan, and  Saurav Chatterjee. You can find the previous post here and the next one here. For more of our AHA.13 coverage of late-breaking clinical trials, interviews with the authors of the most important research, and blogs from our fellows on the most interesting presentations at the meeting, check out our AHA.13 Headquarters.

Sifting through pages of exceptional programming in the days prior to AHA Scientific Sessions, I found myself drawn to the Saturday sessions for young trainees aspiring to become successful investigators in cardiovascular medicine. Thanks to the AHA for reorganizing their sessions into distinct tracks, which made finding programs of interest quite easy.

Topics including “Surviving Single-Digit Funding Levels,” “What You Need to Know if You Are Looking for Funding,” and “How to Successfully Prepare a K99/R00 Award” were a few of the many insightful lectures given today for young investigators. Leaders in our field, including Drs. Mariell Jessup, Joseph Wu, Robert Harrington, Kiran Musunuru, and Robert Califf, set the stage to collectively answer the golden question that sits uneasily with all of us as we contemplate our career paths: Is it possible to succeed as a young investigator in the current funding climate?

Dr. Gail Peterson nicely outlined the barriers we face given a decrease of 5.5% in overall NIH funding this year due to sequestration. To my surprise, however, she pointed out that K award funding and immediate venues affecting young investigators have been protected in a deliberate fashion by our leaders. This was very reassuring to learn and was in keeping with the theme of pro-young investigator talks over the remainder of the day.

Drs. Joseph Wu and Kiran Musunuru gave fascinating lectures on just how much has yet to be done. The sheer amount of investigative opportunity, spanning from basic to translational and clinical assessments, was described as “lifetimes and lifetimes” abound, and I have to say that I absolutely agree. The birth of “-omics” has opened venues with exponentially growing volumes of data that make bioinformatics a discipline that will truly become its own. Findings generated in this realm will inevitably come full circle to re-inform and focus reductionist basic science experiments with a new vigor. On all ends, it is clear that science is truly booming.

That being said, Drs. Donald Menick, Maria Kontaridis, Asa Gustafsson, and Burns Blaxall walked young investigators through essential pearls of the trade, which were quite informative. They noted that while upholding the highest standard in our writing, study design, and science is of utmost importance, other key qualities of successful investigators include true passion, perseverance, and humility. All admitted to frustrations that come with the trade – rejected grants, low or unscorable NIH summary sheets, poor-performing lab personnel, declined papers – but offered reassurance that these are the very instances that allow for constructive learning and growth as a scientist.

All in all, I have to say that it was a really key day for young investigators. The day ended with a great reception for early-career trainees, and there were a good number of faculty present as well. It is clear that while funding may be down, there is no shortage of investigative opportunities; moreover, our senior leaders are doing what they can to protect crucial first steps toward that direction by maintaining K award funding and YI venues, and by coming out to support us. I look forward to hearing what other FITs thought, and to learning whether others share my outlook of cautious optimism as they move forward with their careers in cardiovascular investigation.

What do you think about the prospects for researchers given funding challenges?


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