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ASH Clinical Research Training Institute: Mentors and Friends, There Through It All

December 12, 2022
Kathryn Lurain, MD, MPH

Kathryn Lurain, MD, MPH, is Assistant Research Physician, HIV and AIDS Malignancy Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

Careers in academia can be brutal, filled with frequent rejection and complicated political maneuvering. Adding personal tragedy to the mix can sap the spark that inspired us to become clinical researchers. Finding professional and personal support networks that help us stay in the game and remind us why we have chosen this work are essential to long-term success.

I was lucky to be a part of the 2020 Clinical Research Training Institute (CRTI) cohort. At our closing meeting, I felt exhilarated by my new knowledge and was ready to dive into a project with my CRTI mentor.

That fire was quickly extinguished within weeks when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and entered hospice. My mother, a cytomegalovirus virologist, was the reason I became a hematologist treating people living with HIV and herpesvirusassociated lymphomas. I spent the next several months flying between DC and Chicago to care for her until she died. I shared this with my CRTI mentor and apologized profusely, admitting that I might be delayed collecting data for our project. He gently told me to focus on my family and put my projects on hold, having learned from his own experience with personal tragedy.

For six months I did the bare minimum at work. I cared for my patients but published nothing and stalled the opening of new trials. When I started working on research again, things were slow-going, and I felt the threat of rejection hovering over me more than ever.

Nine months later, our COVID delayed CRTI retreat in La Jolla was one of the best weeks of my professional career. The diverse faculty and incredible fellow trainees improved the design of my clinical trial and showed me how to affect a wider group of patients by expanding the eligibility criteria. However, it was the pre-dawn hikes and late-night cocktails spent cackling together about disastrous dating experiences and embarrassing encounters with famous hematologists that fed my soul. Compassionate new friends shared their own experiences with losing a parent and assured me that my inability to focus on work was not unusual. This camaraderie demonstrated that academia does not have to be a cutthroat, zerosum game where people do not celebrate each other’s successes. There are people excited to take a week away from their own work and families to mentor trainees.

I am thankful to the CRTI family who helped me through a challenging time in my life and taught me that here are special people who can make the trials and tribulations of a career in academia a riotous, enjoyable time.


Kathryn Lurain, MD, MPH, is Assistant Research Physician, HIV and AIDS Malignancy Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

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