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Howard Students Hear About NCI Opportunities

"Approximately 1.6 percent of all postdoctoral students in the United States are African American," noted Dr. Orlando Taylor, dean of Howard University's graduate school. "With these numbers, we're not going to get the kind of diversity we want in academia and research."

Along with more than 40 Howard Ph.D.s, M.D.s and predoctoral candidates, Taylor attended a recent meeting on the benefits of postdoctoral training at the National Cancer Institute. Bringing together representatives of NCI's Fellowship Office, the intramural training divisions, and Howard's Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, the meeting launched a new venture to formalize the long-time partnership between the two programs and, organizers hope, increase the numbers of Howard students who become NCI postdoctoral fellows. Attendees heard from NCI program directors and principal investigators about unique opportunities in their fields of science and from current fellows and one former fellow who spoke about research, mentors and keys to success.

NCI supports the specialized research training of more than 1,000 postdoctoral fellows within its intramural research program.

At the NCI symposium are Dr. Barbara Harland (r), speaker from Howard University's department of nutritional science and Dr. April Moon, a student at Howard.

"Your postdoctoral experience at NIH will be different from your graduate-school experience," said Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research, referring to the transition from a single-minded focus on completing the doctoral project to an emphasis on interdisciplinary research and team-building at NCI.

"Here at NCI, you have the ability to interact with laboratory-based investigators and translate research into clinical trials," said Dr. Barry Gause, director of NCI's fellowship program in clinical oncology.

Many speakers touched on NCI's team-oriented approach to science and support for interdisciplinary research. "Science is becoming more and more interdisciplinary," said Dr. Shine Chang, associate director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at NCI. "On one project, you may need nutritionists, behavioral scientists, epidemiologists, clinical oncologists and biostatisticians."

Dr. Sam Mbulaiteye, a postdoctoral fellow in the Viral Epidemiology Branch of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, described his experiences as a doctor tracking the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda. Drawn by the vast expertise and resources available at NIH, he said, "This environment turned out to be quite dynamic."

The topic of translational research, another hallmark of intramural NCI, came up repeatedly. Dr. L. Michelle Bennett, associate director for science at the Center for Cancer Research, explained that the CCR was formed to merge the divisions of basic and clinical science. One of its primary missions is to translate discoveries made in the laboratory into treatments that can help patients in the clinic. Offering a case in point, Dr. Melinda Merchant, clinical fellow in pediatric oncology, described her experience with a new drug. "I tested it in the Petri dish; I tried it out in the mouse; I wrote the clinical trial; and we hope to have it in patients next year."

Dr. Alfred Johnson spoke about his 18 years at NCI, starting out as a postdoctoral fellow. Currently wearing two hats as director of scientific program operations, Office of Loan Repayment and Scholarship, OD, and principal investigator for the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, he reiterated the need for more diversity in postgraduate education. "If I can do it, you can do it. The only way we're going to eliminate the health disparities is by doing the research ourselves. That's what this partnership is all about."

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