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07 February 2024

The Holistic Journey of a Clinical Researcher

Dr. Flora Momen-Heravi, Associate Professor at the College of Dental Medicine at CUIMC, and recipient of multiple Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research pilot grants, has been awarded U01 and R35 grants to continue her research in Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) and mechanisms of cellular communications in disease pathogenesis, funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and National Institute of General Medicine.

In speaking with Dr. Momen-Heravi, she explains that the key to her success can only be understood by looking at the holistic journey of a researcher, the resilience it takes to move one’s research along the translational research pathway, and the importance of institutional support in catalyzing their research career.

Can you discuss your experience with the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research?

I learned about the Irving Institute through various meetings with my mentors, including Dr. Daichi Shimbo and Dr. Akiva Mintz, and began applying to different programs. I was a recipient of several pilot awards from the Irving Institute, including the Translational Therapeutics Accelerator (TRx) Award, Collaborative and Multidisciplinary Pilot Award, Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Pilot Award, and was also a part of the KL2 Mentored Career Development trainee group.

As a clinician scientist, you will always have to shift your focus between your research and clinical duties, along with writing grants. There are many challenges to overcome, and throughout it you must make research your priority. It needs your complete devotion to keep it moving forward. The journey to success in this field is often filled with challenges and setbacks. But with the right support, mentorship, and a clear sense of purpose, clinician-scientists can overcome these hurdles and make significant contributions to their fields.

Being part of the Accelerator program, I learned how to connect basic and translational research, moving my work along in more impactful ways. As a CBPR Pilot Awardee, my eyes were opened to the importance of developing the skills to communicate my research in ways that improve human health and bridge the gap between discovery and dissemination.

It’s so important to work with people who prioritize training and take their commitment to their trainees seriously. I had no idea how useful it would be to have access to mentors who tailored meetings to your specific needs.

How has the mentorship you received at the Irving Institute helped shape your research career?

Mentorship, as I've come to realize, is not just about academic guidance, or professional networking; it's about understanding the holistic journey of a researcher, acknowledging the intertwined nature of personal and professional challenges, and offering support that addresses both dimensions.

Dr. Daichi Shimbo, Dr. Akiva Mintz, and Dr. Jeanine Genkinger were my mentors at the Irving Institute who elevated me and helped me navigate different setbacks and obstacles that were not only related to scientific problems. They empowered me to navigate the process of establishing myself but also address challenges that arose alongside my professional journey. Their mentorship extended beyond the laboratory and research papers, delving deep into the intricacies of growth and resilience.

What advice would you give to other clinician scientists starting out at Columbia University?

In my journey, I noticed that resilience and purpose are the qualities that every clinician-scientist must possess.

Beyond having a strong sense of resilience and purpose behind your research, you need to prioritize building a supportive social circle of peers in the workplace to help you move forward when you inevitably face setbacks. It’s an investment that will help you move forward more easily. Remember that there are people here that want you to succeed.

I hope I can help and give back to my mentees and instill passions including intellectual curiosity, dedication to patient care, and the courage to explore uncharted territories that truly define success in the world of clinician-scientists.

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