When I arrived in Boston as a fellow, Children’s had
just started the research program, so I ended up walking into an empty lab. The scientist they had hired to
run the lab (Dr. Freeman) was not scheduled to arrive
for another six weeks. That lag allowed me to develop
my own project that was unrelated to what already was
going on in terms of research in the program. Once
Dr. Freeman arrived, he was working on a totally different project, but by then I had my own project under
way. He was a mentor to me in the research arena.
How have these experiences affected how you
Mentorship is the number one factor that inspires people
and keeps them moving forward in their careers. It is
one of the things that excites me the most—to help
young investigators who want to succeed in research,
whether it is related to my area or not. It is one of the
most satisfying things I can do. It allows you to give back
and also leave something behind as you move forward.
How did you find your first faculty job?
That was easy. I was asked to stay on at Boston
Children’s Hospital. I did look at other possibilities.
Surprisingly, I had at least 10 solid offers by the time
I had finished my training. It was good timing, as
many programs were looking for clinician-scientists.
It was a tough decision at the time because all of
these offers were on the table, and I had my research
program well under way. I knew that I wanted to
continue to do research as well as develop my clin-
ical practice. At the end of the day, I realized the
number one asset would be protected time, where
I was going to be doing 50 percent clinical and 50
percent research. In making my decision, the most
critical factor for me was having a good team around
me that would help protect my time. If my time was
truly protected, I wouldn’t need to worry about my
research and clinical duties encroaching upon each
other. Boston ended up being the best fit for me.
You must have had good buy-in from your chair
to set you up with a clinical load that was man-
ageable with support from fellows and residents.
Yes, I had an active clinical load, but the most important
component was the truly protected research time. A
large team was available. When I was on call, I was on.
But if I was off, I really had protected time. One of the
major challenges I heard over and over was that people
would go in and start doing a clinical research track,
and eventually the clinical workload would consume
all of their time. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
How did you approach your first major grant
application? Did you receive mentorship through-
out that process as well?
I was very lucky. I received the first NIH [National Institutes of Health] grant I prepared. I did receive a lot of
help from my mentors in writing the grant and making
sure it was solid in terms of its aims. I was in no rush
to prepare it, so I wrote the grant and completed it as
though I was going to send it in and then asked several
colleagues to review it. Dr. Freeman helped to ensure
that the grant was solid, so I was able to make the revisions, complete preliminary experiments, etcetera, and
send in a final draft that I felt was well-prepared.
Did you have any major setbacks or particularly
challenging times along the way? You work with
stem cells, for example. Did you have any barriers
to doing research the way you wanted to?
My first NIH grant was in cell biology, as that was
my initial focus. The main challenge was that people
thought this was science fiction. The very first abstract
MAY 2016 BULLETIN American College of Surgeons
PROFILES IN SURGICAL RESEARCH
Mentorship is the number one factor that inspires people and
keeps them moving forward in their careers. It is one of the things
that excites me the most—to help young investigators who want
to succeed in research, whether it is related to my area or not.