We asked innovators and mentors in hematology and oncology: What advice would you give to early-career hematologists? Here’s what they had to say!
“Identify your talents early on – figure out what makes you happy and challenges you both professionally and personally. Is it the rigor of science, the art of medicine, [or] a combination of both? Where do you want to be in 10 years?
Sometimes there’s a perverse disconnect: Many people want to do things they are least-suited for and avoid areas where their talents shine. If introspection and mindfulness fail to answer this question, ask your spouse. He or she will set you straight.”
Robert P. Gale, MD, PhD, visiting professor of hematology at the Imperial College London, and executive director of Clinical Research in Hematology and Oncology at Celgene Corporation
“I would tell younger hematologists not to impose timelines or artificial boundaries on themselves. For the first seven or eight years of my career, I worked part-time as an instructor so that I could spend more time with my three young children. When my youngest started kindergarten, I joined the faculty full-time. Of course, I was lucky that I had a husband who could support that career decision, but it was very important for me to have that time with them. When I look back, I know that I became an assistant professor seven years later than I should have; however, it was worth it. And, because it was a productive seven years, I made up for the ‘lost time’ by getting an early promotion.”
Ranjana Advani, MD, professor of oncology at Stanford University Medical Center, and the Saul A. Rosenberg Professor of Lymphoma at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California
“Focus on a particular area or disease as early as possible. I’ve been passionate about hematology from day one. Get involved in collaborative groups. It’s intellectually rewarding and establishes lifelong personal and professional relationships. It has been a privilege for me to continue as a member of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group Leukemia Committee and the North American Intergroup after several decades.
Finally, I would say, ‘Shoot for the stars in all of your endeavors.’”
Martin S. Tallman, MD, chief of the Leukemia Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York
“I tell young trainees to do what you love, but recognize that certain parts of the day aren’t going to be fulfilling. As you’re starting out, political and economic battles will always pop up, but try to avoid them and concentrate your efforts on your patients and their families. Establish your reputation as a superb caregiver first and everything else will fall into place.
As the saying goes, ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ So, make your work your play. People who love what they do are truly blessed. It may take a little bit longer to get on the pathway to what fulfills you, but that’s okay. Don’t hurry to your destination – enjoy the journey.”
Fred Schiffman, MD, Sigal Family Professor of Humanistic Medicine, vice chairman of medicine, and associate physician-in-chief of The Miriam Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island
“There are two things I think all trainees should know: Learn to write and ask for help. Writing is so important in academic medicine, yet, when we complete our fellowship training, while everyone knows how to take care of patients, few know how to write well. I tell young trainees: ‘Make yourself write something every day, until it becomes second nature.’ You could have the best idea in the world, but you have to be able to present your ideas so that other people can understand and appreciate their importance. A well-written grant proposal could mean the difference between your great idea being funded or just remaining a great idea.
I also see that young people don’t ask for help because they are afraid of criticism – criticism of their ideas, their approach, their writing. They spend so much time trying to get everything perfect before they run things by their friends and mentors, that they lose valuable time. All I can say is, ‘Get over it!’ Better to get criticism early from friendly advisors than from grant or manuscript reviewers!”
Mary Horowitz, MD, MS, Robert A. Uihlein Jr. Chair in hematologic research and professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
“Be realistic with yourself in your career objectives. Don’t force yourself into a particular direction; ask yourself what you like to do, what you are good at, and – first of all – follow your heart. At least, that’s what I have tried to do.
It’s important to enjoy your career, but it is also important to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. When you are younger, you have to make difficult choices, but once you make that choice, don’t look back. Just go for it.”
Bob Löwenberg, MD, PhD, professor of hematology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the Editor-in-Chief of Blood
“Whatever it is you decide to do at the end of your training period – whether that’s three years or five years – you should come out on the other side as a world expert in that. Focus and dedicate yourself to that. My own view is that, while intelligence is needed, it is also highly overrated. I believe that whatever success you have in your career comes from hard work and dedication, as well as a little bit of good luck. Much of that has to do with the mentorship you receive early in your career.”
David A. Williams, MD, president of the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and the Leland Fikes Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; immediate past president of the American Society of Hematology
“Young scientists [need] to be patient. Many young scientists want to have an immediate impact on medicine or scientific literature – and rightly so. However, they will have their whole career to pursue that lofty goal. I would encourage young scientists to spend time selfishly outfitting their toolbox with every concept and experimental method that could someday be relevant toward a translational impact. And that will take time.”
James E. Bradner, MD, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School
“Like any other career, the only way to succeed in the academic field is through hard work and persistence. It’s not unlike doing well in baseball: If you bat .300, you’re going to the Hall of Fame, but if you bat .200, you’re out of a job. In academia, most ideas are going to be wrong, and, even if they are right, they don’t work in the lab. So, perseverance and hard work are essential – as is handling those failures. Everyone deals with success well; how you deal with failure is a lot more important. Of course, that’s a lot easier to do if you think what you are doing is fun, interesting, and has purpose.”
Jerald Radich, MD, principal investigator of the Radich Lab in the clinical research division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington
“Find your passion and pursue it. At the same time, though, be logical about that passion – but don’t put it completely aside. Keep working at something that you love, and try to remain passionate about it. That’s not so easy to do in our field, where we must deal with sad outcomes quite frequently, but it’s essential. Also, stay open to new ideas and new opportunities. Sometimes, incredible things come up that completely change the way you think about things, just through purely serendipitous coincidences.
Do all these things, but also try to make time for yourself, if you can.”
Wendy Stock, MD, professor of medicine in hematology/oncology and director of the Leukemia Program at University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
“It seems like stress levels have escalated since I was a trainee – or maybe I have just blocked out those memories. The landscape seems to have become more competitive, with more challenges to finding suitable academic positions or acquiring grants. Everyone seems to be concerned about how his or her entire future will unfold, which only adds to the stress level. So, my main advice would be to take a step back and focus on the present. While it’s important to have long-term goals, it’s impossible to see your whole future from where you’re standing. Think about what you can accomplish today and the future will unfold from there.”
Laurie Sehn, MD, medical oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency and clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada
“For medical students looking for direction and those starting out in their careers as hematologists, I would say that they should realize what a great field hematology is. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, and it presents a multitude of opportunities – from clinical research to laboratory-based research to patient care. Intellectually, you get to play Sherlock Holmes, putting all the clues together to reach often very esoteric diagnoses in all types of challenging cases.”
Steven L. Allen, MD, associate chief of hematology at Northwell Health, Hyde Park, New York
“Be persistent. It is important to do what you love, but you might not always love what you are doing at that moment. There are a lot of disappointments awaiting you, so being persistent and keeping that goal in mind is the best advice I can give anyone.”
Beverly S. Mitchell, MD, director of the Stanford Cancer Institute, Stanford, California
“Understand yourself and what you are passionate about – at each step of the way. Having a long-term goal is important, but you should also be thinking about how you will get there. The career pathway is very long, so you need to make sure that you actually enjoy what you are doing now. It’s important to be able to delay gratification and slog through when you have to, but if you find yourself doing too many things that are not meaningful to you, then maybe you should be looking elsewhere.”
Stephanie Lee, MD, MPH, professor of medicine in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington