Laying Foundations with Education and Training
February 3, 2022
Updates from the Office of Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination
Education and training are a top priority at Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. The establishment of the Office of Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination (CRTEC) in 2017 is a formal reflection of this commitment. Suzanne Conzen, M.D. (clinical science) and Jerry Shay, Ph.D. (basic science) oversee CRTEC and strive to ensure that all cancer trainees and junior faculty develop the skills required to perform cutting-edge research across all cancer disciplines, with an emphasis on translational research. In addition to several outstanding programs already in place, we are glad to share some recent updates and future directions.
Cancer Research Training Pipeline
To train the next generation of cancer scientists across the learner continuum, CRTEC has three specific aims:
- Support training programs for students from high school onward
- Coordinate laboratory, clinical, and population-based research for postdoctoral trainees
- Provide career development opportunities for cancer-oriented faculty
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI): Activities & Initiatives
We are committed to including, integrating, and valuing the presence, perspectives, and contributions of diverse groups of people who make up the Simmons Cancer Center community. Through CRTEC’s DEI activities and initiatives, we are recruiting individuals from underrepresented minority (URM) groups through Simmons-specific summer programs for students and teachers from schools with large URM populations, through graduate student and postdoctoral recruitment events, and through dedicated positions via our URM Postdoctoral Fellowship program. We also fund UT Southwestern faculty to attend and recruit students at national URM research conferences and are instituting initiatives focused on reducing unconscious bias, targeting recruitment, and promoting a more diverse academic culture.
Training Programs Raising the Standard
Simmons Cancer Center has four key initiatives underway to achieve CRTEC’s goals.
Expanded Research Training for High School and Undergraduate Students
To support training programs for students in high school and beyond, Simmons has established partnerships for high school students, including Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern – a program that educates high school students and teachers on basic cancer research.
In addition, we have partnered with our Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to provide enrichment to college students interested in cancer research. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship is a 10-week research program to facilitate preparation for Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. careers in biomedical research. CRTEC is in the process of applying for a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Research Education Grant (R25) to support additional education opportunities for high school students.
Education and Training Programs for Medical and Graduate Students
The Cancer Biology Graduate Program, which provides training for students interested in pursuing a research career investigating the molecules, mechanisms, and pathways involved in the development and treatment of cancer, attracts graduate students from all over the world. Many are supported directly by grants awarded to their supervisors; however, our office also supports graduate students (and postdoctoral trainees) with training grants from the NCI and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).
UT Southwestern provides a rich environment for medical students to not only care for patients but also to engage in research, which allows them to gain deeper insights into cancer biology and the key issues and treatments for patients. Students receive mentoring and can participate in specialized groups and courses, such as the Oncology Student Interest Group and the Population Health Student Pipeline.
Mentoring and Training for Postdoctoral Trainees and Clinical Fellows
For postdoctoral trainees and clinical fellows, the keys to a successful research-based career are obtaining independent fellowship support and publishing their research. CRTEC provides mentoring committees for the trainees that guide them in these endeavors, and many have received prestigious awards from the NCI, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and other major agencies. We also support them with our training grants, including our recently awarded Mary Kay Foundation International Postdoctoral Scholars in Cancer Research Grants, which have funded research into the cancers most affecting women for more than 200 postdoctoral fellows since 2005.
Structured Career Development Programs for Faculty and Professionals
We provide dedicated mentoring committees for our junior faculty to help them master grant writing and scientific presentations. In addition, we hold scientific program retreats and cancer research forums. Funding for our faculty comes from the CPRIT Early Clinical Investigator Award program, pilot projects from our institutional ACS grant, and NCI Specialized Programs of Research Excellence, or SPORE, awards.