Our guests talk about how peers, friend-tors, and academic mentors can help you see potential in yourself that you may not have known. All this support is especially important to the success of minority and ethnic researchers who are looking to focus on a lung cancer specialty.

“Mentors are those guiding lights that help us to progress to the next stage and to see paths where we may not have seen them before.” – Dr. Jarushka Naidoo

Photo of Jarushka Naidoo
Dr. Jarushka Naidoo
Dr. David Tom Cooke
Dr. David Tom Cooke
Dr. Christian Rolfo
Dr. Christian Rolfo


Dr. Jarushka Naidoo, a consultant medical oncologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Ireland who focuses on immunotherapy and is an LCFA Young Investigator Grant recipient

Dr. David Tom Cooke, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of California Davis Health System specializing in cancer surgery

Dr. Christian Rolfo, a thoracic oncologist who is associate director for clinical research in the Center for Thoracic Oncology/Tisch Cancer Institute, Mount Sinai, New York.

Show Notes | Transcription

Academic Mentors Help Make the Connections

Academic mentors are necessary for advancing a researcher’s career and accessing lung cancer research funding. There are a variety of approaches to mentoring and different mentors may bring different skills.

A mentor can mean different things at different stages in your career. A mentor fundamentally means a teacher. Like teachers, a researcher needs a different type of teaching at different times in their careers.

One of the things that is important about mentors is to realize that not all mentors are going to teach a researcher the same lessons, but the mentee will carry those lessons through their career. Some of the different kinds of mentors are:

  • peer mentors – at your stage or a little bit senior to you who might teach you how to get things done
  • friendtors – people who are at your stage and understand what you might need day-to-day.
  • classic academic mentors – a senior mentor who has a bird’s eye view of careers and how they can guide your career forward

The Importance of Finding Academic Mentors

“…it’s important to establish a mentor, someone who introduces you to the scientific method from an early age, and guides you through a proper development pathway to understanding investigated research.” – Dr. David Tom Cooke

You can take skills from mentors from different areas covering your needs, and giving you expertise in different fields. A good academic mentor can instill a genuine love for the specialty. They can help to navigate the interplay between understanding the different specialties that contribute to the world of oncology, and the true commitment to lifelong learning.

How Lung Cancer Research Can Benefit From An Increase In Investigators From Minority And Ethnic Communities

Researchers who bring a culturally sensitive perspective to lung cancer, can make a huge difference in research and in the communities they represent.

As an underrepresented medicine physician, Dr. Cook understands in a culturally competent way, the mistrust of the healthcare system from the black and African American community. He can just sit down and talk with patients with that understanding. He can help to allay their fear of a clinical trial. In addition, Dr. Cook can help the healthcare institution understand how best to support these patients to promote them enrolling into clinical trials.

Currently there is even more attention on the ability of a clinical study to attract and enroll under- engaged communities for a given research question. The grant applications are evaluated on how this research will reach out to underserved communities or underserved populations. Such as will women be enrolled in this trial? So, that is key to addressing questions about disparate populations and equal opportunities for participation. Thus a grant application will be evaluated based on these rules.

Academic Mentors Help Navigate The Equity Space For Young Physicians

Of course, many aspiring doctors do not attend the top rated University Medical School Programs, many of which are Ivy League schools. Many of the students who attend medical school programs at smaller schools may face unique challenges in their attempts to specialize in lung cancer research. And, the challenges are even greater for students from underrepresented minority groups.

However, there is a misperception that investigative science and research only occurs at the Ivy League level. That misperception is not amongst researchers throughout this country and others, but mainly in the lay population. Looking at all National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Designated Cancer Centers, there are over 40 research universities. The majority of these facilities do not reside within the Ivy League environment.

Look at the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of research funds that goes into funding research, both in the public and private sector. The vast majority goes into other institutions, that include UC Davis Health and Johns Hopkins Medical Center. The key here is, if you are an individual, especially a person from an underrepresented medicine background, it’s important to establish an academic mentor. Especially important, finding someone who introduces you to the scientific method from an early age. Then guides you through a proper development pathway to understanding investigated research.

Academic Mentors and Research Funding

There are also underutilized funding resources. Typically, resources may be underutilized because many people aren’t aware of them.

​​Dr. Christian Rolfo stresses that it’s very important that mentees to be very proactive. “Because if you are sitting there, even if you are coming from a big institution you are sitting there and you don’t take the opportunities, nobody will knock your door.”

Dr Cooke believes the key is cross demographic mentorship. An academic mentor doesn’t have to look like you or come from the same background, or even quite frankly be in the same political persuasion. But they have to have faith in your abilities, and their only goal in mentoring you, is seeing your success.

For example Dr Cooke cited one of his earliest academic mentors, Dr. Marion Katchlin. “She was older, I was younger, she was wealthy, I was not. She was a smoker, I wasn’t. But we both loved immunology. And she took a specific interest in my career, and she taught me that I shouldn’t limit myself in any way, and I should strive for the best in any opportunity I want to strive for.”


You might find these episodes interesting