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Toward a Diverse and Inclusive Global Cancer Research Workforce: London Global Cancer Week 2021

, by Erinma Elibe, M.S., MPH(c) and Sudha Sivaram, Dr.PH., M.P.H.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – These words of Nelson Mandela were used by the Center for Global Health (CGH) director, Dr. Satish Gopal, to emphasize the value and need for education, and more specifically research training, in the session titled, “Toward a Diverse and Inclusive global Cancer Research Workforce” at the 2021 London Global Cancer Week (LGCW). 

London Global Cancer Week 2021: Towards a Diverse and Inclusive Global Cancer Research Workforce speaker Lineup

LGCW is a week-long series of discussions on global cancer control, practice, and research focused on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). It is coordinated by a coalition of institutions in the United Kingdom and their global partners, and as highlighted in a recent blog post by an LGCW convener, it is one of many important global cancer meetings held each year. LGCW aligns with many of the core values of CGH including the idea that “...studying cancer anywhere should benefit people everywhere.” CGH has been invited to lead a session focused on the value of global cancer research to advance cancer control at LGCW since 2020. In November 2021, our session focused on developing a diverse and inclusive global cancer research workforce. This discussion, moderated by CGH, included a panel of early-career investigators and global cancer research mentors who shared their experiences supporting and conducting LMIC-led cancer research. The panelists included Dr. Lifang Hou and Dr. Mamoudou Maiga from Northwestern University, USA, Dr. Graciela Meza from Universidad Nacional de Amazonía, Perú, and Dr. Simone Badal McCreath from the University of West Indies, Jamaica. 

For the first part of the discussion, panelists reflected on how they identified a research topic to study. In some instances, the research opportunities are based on public health priorities set by local governments as shared by Dr. Meza. In others, they are investigator-initiated, and Dr. Badal McCreath described developing her research interests based on her assessment of research gaps in her country. LMIC-specific questions as well as research led by LMIC investigators add to the diversity of scientific thought and contribute to workforce diversity in global research. Drs. Maiga and Hou spoke about the development of training curricula and other support for trainees. Dr. Maiga reminded participants that “ultimately, mentors and developers of cancer research training programs should remember that it’s about saving lives, and not generating publications.”

Panelists also discussed behaviors and competencies that help facilitate a career in global health. The role of mentors was discussed, as well as strategies to foster healthy mentorship environments. Additional points raised included:

  • Communication, time management, and trust are key 
  • Supervising and mentoring are distinct but related activities
  • Commitment and availability from mentors are crucial, but can be challenging since dedicated time for research is limited in many countries
  • Empathy for those you serve is important
  • Constructively navigating disagreements is essential
  • Trainees need space to flourish and grow

Through real-time polling during the session, the audience added to this conversation and identified needs and barriers in establishing independent research careers (Figure 1). 

Environments that support a wide range of ideas and provide opportunities for trainees to develop them, and those that optimally support the career development of early-stage investigators are key facilitators for building a diverse workforce.  Furthermore, mutually beneficial mentee-mentor relationships that are rooted in trust are needed to recruit diverse trainees and help them establish independent careers in global cancer research. Additionally, beyond the need for scientific skills development, the development of non-scientific competencies (e.g. “stick-to-it-iveness”, time management skills, and cultural humility) are similarly important for success.  

Overall, the webinar provided an opportunity to listen and learn from cancer researchers working in LMICs as well as the diverse group of attendees. You can find the entire recorded session on our website.

To further engage, support, and learn from early-career investigators, this year’s Annual Symposium on Global Cancer Research (ASGCR), will include a pre-symposium, Early Career Investigator Day (ECID). Recordings will be available on our website after the event. Sign-up to receive our CGH newsletter and stay up to date on future cancer research training opportunities, funding opportunities, events, and more. We look forward to continuing to participate in this global event and working with our LGCW partners next year. 

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