Research is a team sport

Today our community will be feeling a little fuller than usual. RAGBRAI riders are arriving and will be with us until tomorrow morning when they start their final leg of a 500-plus mile journey. Tomorrow they will dip their front tires into the Mississippi River after pulling the rear ones from the Missouri River just six long days ago. The “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa” is an incredible tradition and it would not be hard to find plenty of lessons and inspiration among those who participate. Riders of all ages endure punishing heat and push their endurance levels, but they are surrounded and supported by friends and family and get to take in views of our beautiful state at an uncommon pace. Their effort, in other words, is rewarded. Which is why so many, including members of our department, take this journey every year. Congratulations to all the riders, and welcome to Iowa City today!

By all accounts, the camaraderie on the exhausting ride is one of those elements that help cyclists make it all the way across Iowa. New riders, especially, look to more experienced riders for advice on everything from the right gear to setting a sustainable pace. Those senior riders remember their first trips and pay forward the guidance they got, ensuring that they would come back year after year. It is not hard to see where I am going with this. The power of mentorship in research is not just about teaching someone shortcuts in the lab or helping them refine their question to avoid dead-ends or even introducing them to peers that can speed the pace of discovery. It is also about establishing another link in a chain that stretches back decades and decades, senior faculty paying forward the benefits they received as junior faculty, who will one day do the same.

Earlier today, our Vice Chair for Research Dr. Chad Grueter presented results from his survey of our research faculty to department leadership. On just one question, more than 55% of respondents said they rely on feedback from others in some form when writing grant proposals, but of them, only 13% reported that the feedback came from an experienced grant writer. This is an opportunity for us to connect senior successful researchers with younger faculty ready to grow. I was also encouraged by nearly 30 respondents interested in learning more about the resources already available in the department to aid in their work. Those include editorial support, administrative guidance and, in the future, more templates and boilerplate text from previously successful proposals. But above all else we want to foster new relationships. Our collective experience and wisdom is our untapped strength.

Passing on what we know to the next generation matters, and the evidence is all around us. Just this week three stories of successes in our department were published, and in each one, that success is due in part to a mentor or someone taking the time to provide advice. Last week’s Ultrasound Symposium brought first-year critical care fellows and faculty here from around the Midwest and beyond. Now led by Dr. Paul Nassar, the event is a complicated series of lectures and trainings that moves more than 120 people around campus and the community. Dr. Nassar will no doubt put his own excellence into refining the sessions in years to come, but he was guided in this first year by his colleague, the event’s former director, Dr. Greg Schmidt. Congratulations to both of you on this Iowa showcase and a big thank you to your support staff as well.

There were also two new grants set to begin for Dr. Jennifer Streeter in Cardiovascular Medicine and Dr. Tomohiro Tanaka in Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Dr. Streeter’s Innovative Project Award from the American Heart Association could lead to reductions in procedure times for people undergoing cardiac catheterizations. Dr. Tanaka’s K08 in health services research is of vital importance as we search for equitable ways to allocate livers to those who need them most and who might otherwise go overlooked in the process. Both of these young researchers have put in the work and they credit mentors for helping them win these awards. Dr. Streeter thanked Dr. Bill Thiel, who helped her develop her idea. I was pleased to also help nudge a very good idea into a form that the AHA would find irresistible. Dr. Tanaka thanked his collaborators on this project—Surgery’s Dr. David Axelrod and Dr. Mark Vander Weg, who has plenty of responsibilities in the College of Public Health now but still maintains his appointment with Internal Medicine, where he is always welcome. Well done, all, in showing what Iowa does best as we continue to pedal toward the future.

About Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD

Isabella Grumbach, MD, PhD; Interim Chair and DEO, Department of Internal Medicine; Kate Daum Endowed Professor; Professor of Medicine – Cardiovascular Medicine; Professor of Radiation Oncology

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