Evie Carchman, MD: As a junior faculty member having never mentored a general surgery resident in the lab before, there have been several lessons that my mentee and I have learned over the last year. We share these trials and tribulations to enforce the lack of formal training on how to be a mentor or a mentee, especially when it comes to the research side of being a surgeon scientist, and hopefully allow others to avoid some of the mistakes that we have made.
As a mentor, I have found that first and foremost it is easier to teach someone to operate over teaching them how to do research. The task of teaching a resident how to write an abstract, manuscript or grant can be frustrating for both parties starting out and patience and open communication is key. Second is making oneself available at all times to meet and discuss projects and goals. Third is knowing when to tell the resident that they have too many projects planned. General surgery residents are a great resource for faculty to complete research projects, and being individuals who may often not know how or when to say no, they can bite off more than they can chew and by over-extending themselves, risk frustration and burn out. Finally, and most importantly, it is important to be an advocate for your mentee, and in some instances that means finding senior faculty members that can also advocate for your mentee, thus allowing them obtain their goals for the research years.
Brooks L. Rademacher, MD: General Surgery Resident at the University of Wisconsin and Postdoctoral Fellow in Surgical Oncology. Prior to attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, I engaged in clinical and translational research in both alcoholism and prostate cancer at Oregon Health & Science University over a twelve year period.
Prior to entering the research years, many residents view this time as opportune for developing exciting projects, getting a graduate degree, getting married, having kids, publishing 50 peer-reviewed articles, and traveling each weekend. Unfortunately, this is not reality. Both clinical and laboratory studies often take significantly longer than anticipated when you factor in data analysis, technical work, manuscript writing, IRB, etc.
With that said, it’s important to have multiple ongoing projects in order to maximize your research years and limit downtime. I’ve enjoyed a combination of laboratory projects, retrospective clinical studies, and IRB submissions. Although somewhat painful experience and very humbling, I’ve also submitted a number of grant applications from which I have gained important experience regarding the design and implementation of research projects.
Regarding coursework, with the help Dr. Carchman I’ve tried to identify areas that would be of most benefit with respect to both my deficiencies and career goals. Although relatively few of us may end up performing our own Cox regression following a clinical trial, collaborations with our biostatistician colleagues, with this background knowledge, can be much more fruitful.
Ultimately, I feel that the success of my two years of dedicated research will be determined by remaining adherent to a few key practices. First, Dr. Carchman and I are readily available to one another and, from the standpoint of our experiments, we collaborate well to keep our studies moving forward. Second, I read, and sometimes re-read, all of her grants. Our frequent discussions regarding experimental design, grantsmanship, and the current literature have provided me with important insight into my own projects. Third, Dr. Carchman’s willingness to offer her own experience with the ups and downs of being a young surgeon-scientist has been helpful and will be no doubt be something I reflect upon should I one day be fortunate enough to be in her position.
In conclusion, we feel that a collaborative effort toward a broad research experience, adaptability to change, combined with frequent and open communication, is important in a strong and successful mentor-mentee pairing.