First Steps for a New Generation of Cancer Leaders
By Gail Allyn Short
UAB School of Public Health student, who was winding up his master’s degree in epidemiology, heard a professor talking about an intriguing UAB training program that provides cancer research experiences for graduate students in the schools of Medicine, Public Health, Dentistry, and Nursing.Michael Behring, M.S.P.H., had never considered a career as a cancer researcher. But one day, the
Behring says he was looking for just such a challenge. “I wanted to find a high goal and make a worthwhile contribution,” he says. Behring signed up for the UAB Cancer Research Experiences for Students (CaRES) program, a paid summer research training internship, and was hired by UAB epidemiologist Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D., his master’s program adviser, who was studying the genetic and molecular epidemiology of multiple myeloma. Under her mentorship, Behring recruited and interviewed patients, helped conduct data analysis, interacted with oncologists and epidemiologists, and performed administrative tasks associated with the research.
Now a doctoral student in epidemiology, Behring says the experience has helped him decide to become a cancer epidemiologist. “The program gave me a roadmap to figure out how to do cancer research and what it takes to participate in it,” he says. “It has given me good connections with different people and affirmed what I like about cancer research. Programs like this are one reason I stayed at UAB.”
Over 500 medical, dental, and graduate students in public health and nursing have gone through CaRES since it was established in 1999—and that’s 500 potential new leaders in the fight against cancer, says UAB epidemiologist John W. Waterbor, M.D., Dr.P.H., the program’s director. “The goal is to motivate these students to pursue careers in cancer research,” he explains, adding that participants have been involved in more than 400 cancer-related research projects in laboratories and clinics across UAB’s campus. Forty-three graduate student interns participated in CaRES in 2013, he says.
Sign Up for CaRES 2014
UAB faculty members can now access the CaRES website and click on “Preceptor Application” to submit descriptions of their summer cancer research projects.
Interested students should check the website daily to review the available projects and to schedule interviews with the preceptors who direct projects of interest to them. Typically, interns are selected by Feb. 15.
Supported by a research training grant from the National Cancer Institute, CaRES begins each year with a matchmaking session. Potential research mentors, or preceptors, list their projects on the program’s website. Students select the basic-science, clinical, or community oriented initiatives that interest them. Potential preceptors and students then meet for an interview. A research preceptor can choose up to two interns, and once hired, the interns work alongside their preceptors for paid, hands-on training for 10-12 weeks between mid-May and the end of August.
In July, interns present their work, research methods, and project findings to fellow interns and CaRES faculty in the program’s annual Career Development Seminar Day at the School of Public Health. Interns also are encouraged to present their research at other UAB medical and graduate school conferences throughout the year, and at national professional meetings.
Changing Views of Cancer
Before she became a CaRES intern during her years as a public health student at UAB, Ayesha Bryant, M.D., M.S.P.H, who heads UAB’s clinical research in thoracic surgery, had quite a different view of working in the cancer field. “I shied away from a cancer-related career because of the misperception that it would be a depressing and daunting field with little chance of curing patients with this illness,” she says. “However, my work as a CaRES summer intern completely changed my view.” Bryant says CaRES gave her the opportunity to experience both the research arena and clinical setting. “Many of the patients, even those with advanced stages of cancer, possessed a unique positive attitude about life,” she says. “Getting my feet wet in clinical research allowed me to gain insight about the advances made to date with regard to cancer treatment. It instilled the importance of the different kinds of research—from research at the benchside to research at the bedside.”
“CaRES is incredibly rewarding for both the mentor and mentee,” Bryant says. The interns “bring a fresh perspective and ideas to the table,” she explains, while “the mentors strive to infuse enthusiasm by providing the interns a glimpse of the opportunities and possibilities in pursuing a career in cancer research.”
As a CaRES student intern, Bryant worked with UAB’s thoracic surgery team, led by Robert Cerfolio, M.D., on a study to evaluate the epidemiology, quality of life, and outcomes of patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Today, as a School of Medicine faculty member, she has mentored CaRES interns on several various projects. A recent mentee, Patrick Yu, M.D., now a surgical intern at UAB, is considering a career in surgical oncology. As a CaRES intern, Yu worked on a project evaluating the role of tumor markers in the treatment of patients with lung cancer, Bryant says. She worked with another CaRES intern on a project to evaluate the outcomes of using minimally invasive surgical techniques in patients who undergo curative pulmonary resection for lung cancer.
“CaRES is incredibly rewarding for both the mentor and mentee,” Bryant says. The interns “bring a fresh perspective and ideas to the table,” she explains, while “the mentors strive to infuse enthusiasm by providing the interns a glimpse of the opportunities and possibilities in pursuing a career in cancer research. This type of collaborative effort is vital for discovering ‘the cure’ for cancer and also identifying ways to better the quality of life of patients with cancer.”
The summer after Shweta Patel completed her first year of medical school, she became a CaRES intern for Julie Locher, Ph.D., a professor in the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care and the director of the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging’s Translational Nutrition and Aging Research Program. Patel worked with Locher on a study investigating diet and eating behaviors of head and neck cancer patients. It was a chance, Patel says, to gain experience in clinical research.
Get Involved in Cancer Research at UAB
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Patel says her duties included surveying study participants and helping to complete forms necessary for project approval by UAB’s Institutional Review Board. She also worked on a review paper that summarized current literature on calorie restriction and cancer progression.
“I was really happy with the clinical aspect of CaRES,” says Patel. “I was able to connect my previous experience in basic science and what I’ve learned in medical school with my new clinical experience and see how important it is for learning about the disease process.”
Patel and Behring both appreciate that CaRES encourages preceptors to make interns active, participating members of collaborative research teams. “They learn negotiation, how to be a team player, and how to be flexible to the demands of the study project or things not turning out the way they expect in the lab,” Locher says. “Ultimately, it’s cultivating the next generation of scientists to conduct cancer research, and it gives them exposure to the possibilities.”
Patel, now a third-year medical student at UAB, says she is still pondering her next move once her studies are complete, but the CaRES program has made an impact. “I do know that I want to be involved in research, teaching, and mentoring students,” she says.