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Episode 9: Fellows Who Lead & Pathways to Non-Profit Careers

In this week's episode, we hear from NIH fellows, Dr. Vasty Osei Amponsa and Dr. Marja Brolinson on resources, leadership opportunities, and more at NIH. We then hear from Dr. Eugene Manley Jr., Director of STEM Initiatives at LUNGevity Foundation who shares his path from bench science to a successful career in non-profit organizations.

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Vasty Osei Amponsa

Vasty Osei Amponsa, PhD

Dr. Vasty Osei Amponsa is a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Structural Biophysics Laboratory of the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Her research interests focus on the role of the 26S proteasome protein degradation machinery in cancer disease. In her current position, she leverages her cell and molecular biology background to design and execute cell-based functional studies as complimentary approaches to structural studies. Dr. Osei-Amponsa studied Biotechnology and industrial Biotechnology at the University of Parma in Italy. Prior to obtain her PhD at the Pennsylvania State University, she did a one-year internship at the Chiesi Farmaceutici S.p.A (Italy), where she had hands on experience on preclinical and translational studies. She obtained her PhD in Biomedical Science and Clinical Translational Science at the Pennsylvania State University. During her PhD, she began to shape her goal of becoming an interdisciplinary scientist by working on a multidisciplinary project and collaborating with medical doctors and other scientists to assess the functional interplay between the transcriptional factor, FOXA1, and the tumor suppressor, PTEN, in bladder cancer development and progression. Dr. Osei Amponsa serves as chair and member on diverse and different fellow committees at NCI/NIH with the goal to assist her peers in maximizing their training experience at NIH.

Marja Brolinson

Marja Brolinson, MD

Dr. Marja Brolinson is a board-certified OB/GYN and current Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Fellow at the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Brolinson’s research is focused on improving patient outcomes. She is leading several clinical research studies that focus on improving our understanding of drivers of improved patient outcomes in ART pregnancies. In addition, she is an active researcher in the Macfarlan Lab in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, studying altered DNA binding properties of meiotic recombination regulator PRDM9 from men with azoospermia. This research has enabled her to travel nationally and internationally to present on topics including oocyte and embryo cryopreservation, preimplantation genetic testing, ultrasound characteristics of pregnancies conceived with assisted reproductive technologies, gender disparities in REI, and novel genetic causes of azoospermia. She is passionate about teaching and empowering patients with information to make decisions regarding their reproductive future. 

Eugene Manley

Eugene Manley, Jr., PhD

Dr. Eugene Manley is a Biomedical Engineer and Molecular Biologist with more than 20 years of experience in Musculoskeletal and Cancer Biology. He currently serves as the Director of STEM Workforce Initiatives at LUNGevity Foundation, overseeing health equity virtual series, launch of a minority mentorship and training program in thoracic oncology, STEM outreach and engagement, and academic partnerships to give underrepresented trainees exposure to lung cancer research. He also partners with external groups including patients, caregivers, researchers, and clinicians to address issues that impact health equity and disparities in underserved and marginalized populations. He holds at BS in Mechanical Engineering Michigan Technological University in Mechanical Engineering and a MS in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He also holds a PhD in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, & Biochemistry from Boston University. At Boston University, he studied lung cancer biology and therapeutics.

He is an inspirational speaker that has been dedicated to coaching, mentoring, and training students from underrepresented backgrounds. He has published 8 peer-reviewed articles; has done histology and imaging; speaks on navigating academia; and speaks nationally and internationally on STEM, workforce diversity, and barriers to participation in research for underserved communities. Due to his transdisciplinary training, he has years of experience in program development, mentoring, strategic planning, program assessment, and multidisciplinary partnerships.

Show Notes

Segment 1: Fellows Who Lead

Vasty Osei Amponsa, Ph.D.
NCI Center for Cancer Research - Center for Structural Biology
Marja Brolinson, M.D.
Todd Macfarlan Lab
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
Fellows Committee (FelCom)
Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE)
Nina Schor, M.D., Ph.D.

Ad: NCI Tech Transfer: Transition to Industry Fellowship T2I

Segment 2: Pathways to Non-Profit Careers

​​​​Karmanos Cancer Institute Research & Training Programs
LUNGevity Foundation

LUNGevity Health Equity Speaker Series
AACR Translational Cancer Research for Basic Scientists Workshop
American Society for Cell Biology Biotech Course
R25 Youth Enjoy Science (YES) Research Program 
Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABCRMS)
Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
Black in Cancer
Black in STEM
Black in BioPhysics

Your Turn: Guest Recommendations

Podcast: Fertility and Sterility On Air by American Society for Reproductive Medicine
Book: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson
Movie: John Wick Chapter 4 

Episode Transcript


OLIVER BOGLER: Hello and welcome to Inside Cancer Careers, a podcast from the National Cancer Institute, I'm your host, Oliver Bogler. I work at the NCI in the Center for Cancer Training. On Inside Cancer Careers, we explore all the different ways that people join the fight against disease and hear their stories. Today, we're talking to two fellows at NIH, Dr. Amponsa and Dr. Brolinson about being at NIH and their work in NIH Fellows Committee FelCom. Then after the break, Dr. Eugene Manley from the Lungevity Foundation is joining us to talk about his work in the non-profit and professional society sectors. Listen through to the end of the show to hear our guests make some interesting recommendations and where we invite you to take your turn.

OLIVER: It's a pleasure to welcome Dr. Vasty Osei Amponsa and Dr. Marja Brolinson to the podcast. Dr. Amponsa is a post-doctoral fellow in the Center for Structural Biology at NCI. She's involved in fellow leadership at the NCI and also serves as the Basic Science Co-Chair of the NIH Fellows Committee or FelCom. Dr. Brolinson is a clinical fellow at the NIH Clinical Center and the Clinical Fellows Co-Chair of FelCom. Welcome.


MARJA BROLINSON: Thank you. Happy to be here.

OLIVER: So, I want to talk with you a little bit about FelCom but before we get there, I wonder if you'd share with our listeners your career journey so far. Perhaps we'll start with you Dr. Amponsa.

VASTY: Yeah, sure, thanks for this opportunity to have me on the NCI podcast. So as Dr. Bogler mentioned, my name is Dr. Osei Amponsa and I'm a post-doctoral fellow at NCI. I joined NCI back in 2019 when I finished my graduate studies at Penn State at Hershey Medical Center. And I graduated in biomedical science and clinical translational science. I started my journey in science because I was passionate about finding solutions to, not really in the field of cancer, but it was mainly for infectious diseases, immuno disease, because I grew up in Ghana, I was born in Ghana, but later on grew up in Italy so all my years as a child I was like "Okay, I want to find something, be part of the community that tries to solve issues for diseases especially infectious diseases." The truth of my journey, I was pushed by serendipity and by forces so out of my control, then to be in the cancer field which turned out also to be quite interesting and quite an exciting field to work in. So yes, my background has been through doing experience in several pharmacology departments, learning about how a drug operates and then doing my graduate research on bladder cancer disease and how manipulating tumor suppressors and a transcription factor can affect the tumorigenesis of blood and cancer disease. And so, with that background in -molecular background and cell biology background and also I guess my oncology background, I'm now applying that to support the studies that my current lab here at NCI does. So, I use that knowledge to support structural studies. So that's about me. Thanks.

OLIVER: Thank you very much. Dr. Brolinson.

MARJA: Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. We are both very excited to discuss FelCom. And a little bit of background about myself. I am currently a clinical fellow in reproductive endocrinology and infertility in the combined federal fellowship at the NIH and Walter Reed. I am born and raised in Ohio, completed my undergraduate training there, as well as my medical training at the University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine, before moving to Columbus to complete a four-year obstetrics and gynecology residency, and then ultimately to the Washington, DC and DMV area to complete a three-year reproductive endocrinology and infertility fellowship. I also similarly knew from a very young age that I always wanted to go into the field of medicine and help people. During our clinical time in medical school, we had the very cool opportunity to essentially rotate in a lot of different specialties. One to learn the medicine of that specialty but two, it really gives us the chance to work within that field, work with those physicians, work with those patients and kind of experience what medicine looks like and all of these varieties and specialties. So, it's within that, that similar to Vasty, I really learned that I was drawn to fields where I felt that we were solving problems. I really enjoyed every rotation, but in particular the rotations such as like surgery, where we would take a patient to the OR, we would like treat them there, and then produce an outcome. And after my surgical rotation, I had my obstetrics and gynecology rotation. And it was a really love for me, not only from the surgical aspect, where you were treating patients, but the opportunity to really care for patients throughout their entire lifetime. From, you know, adolescence coming in, throughout their reproductive years, and then in their post-reproductive years. So that's kind of what drew me into the field of obstetrics and gynecology. And then REI, reproductive endocrinology and infertility is a subspecialty within that field. And why I became interested in that field was, again, being on a rotation where I saw REI and learned kind of the intersection of the human side of medicine, making connections with patients, while also having the procedural side, the treatment side, in addition to the science and technology within the field of REI. That really allowed us with this treatment to help patients kind of grow healthy families in whatever way that looks like for them; or at least give them the opportunity to make those kinds of decisions for themselves. In particular we had a patient be kind of the oncofertility world with the intersection of cancer and fertility; so in treating patients who are diagnosed with cancer, they can become referred to us and we can help to preserve their fertility or at minimum have a discussion so that they can choose what they are interested for their future to look like and not have cancer take that choice away from them. So that's kind of how I became very passionate in this particular field and kind of the intersection of the humanistic side of medicine, as well as the science and technology and advances of this field.

OLIVER: Thank you; very interesting. So, I guess it's fair to say that NIH, NCI is a little bit of an unusual environment; it's not a typical academic environment, either for a post-doc or I'm guessing for a clinical fellowship; because I'm guessing a lot of the patients, particularly at the clinical center are on experimental protocols. I'm wondering if you could both comment on how you've experienced doing this section of your training at the NIH.

VASTY: For me I think one of the amazing things about being a trainee at the NIH is the myriad of opportunities and technologies that you get exposed to. That is something that I found myself to be very fortunate because you get to be exposed to new technologies and also networking and expanding your knowledge, not only your scientific knowledge, but also getting to know people and relate to people and building also those interpersonal relationships as well. Yes, their technologies are just amazing. I work in a lab with the structural biology people, and I get to know techniques and technologies, and approaches such as the CryoEM and NMR, all things that I was not really exposed to during my graduate years. That I get to learn how they also are fundamental for the knowledge of building the basic science knowledge and how you can then develop new therapies with the discoveries of the various protein structures. And so, it amazed me when I look at all what my colleagues do with building all those protein features and structures, and so I found that to be quite very interesting. And like I always tell my other peers that when it comes to the NIH, take advantage of all the -for your scientific growth, take advantage of all the opportunities and technologies that you have available. So, reach out to the cores, reach out to everybody that you know that can give you access to these things. It really is helpful.

MARJA: I'll second that. We really are so fortunate to be trainees of the NIH, because of just the endless opportunities that exist. You mentioned that there, it's a different environment to train within, at least from a clinical standpoint, since all of the patients that we see are on research protocols. Because of that, within my fellowship in particular, we rotate at the NIH. We also rotate at Walter Reed, as well as Shady Grove Fertility, so that we have exposure to a wide range of patients. And a big portion of the patients we treat at the NIH tend to be patients that are on, again, protocols that may have impacted their fertility, or their kind of future fertility options, such as the patients who are being treated with cancer, our oncofertility patients. And we end up treating a lot of those patients at the NIH and helping them with fertility preservation prior to their undergoing their chemotherapy or radiation therapy. So that is kind of a really fascinating and cool clinical area to work within. And then we also -as part of our fellowship, half of our time is spent in research. And some of that is clinical research projects but we all also all work in basic science laboratories. So as part of my fellowship, I've had the opportunity to work in the Macfarlan Lab within NICHD. And that opportunity has been just exceptional in terms of connecting the clinical side of medicine with the basic science side, and how we can really connect patients and their samples with our basic scientists to kind of expand our research and our knowledge within the field. So, I think we really have an amazing wealth of resources with at the NIH.

OLIVER: You mentioned the institute where you're doing your research. Sorry, some of listeners may not be familiar with all the acronyms.

MARJA: So the NICHD is the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. And the Macfarlan lab specifically studies development, and we look -I particularly, look at a protein that causes altered DNA binding properties, in men with azoospermia. So, there's a lot of kind of many different institutes, like you mentioned, then a wide variety of projects and research that are going in within each institute every day.

OLIVER: Great. Well, thanks so much both of you for sharing these interesting things about your research. So, in addition to your research and your clinical training and all that stuff, you are also serving on the NIH Fellows Committee, generally known as "FelCom". So, what is FelCom?

MARJA: FelCom, I can kind of discuss a little bit. It's -there is this voice of all the fellows at NIH with both of post-doctoral fellows, as well as the clinical fellows. And specifically, it's composed of post-doc fellow representatives from all of the ICs or institutions that have intramural programs at the NIH. So, we have meetings every month, and that allows the fellows to come together in one forum, both to disseminate information amongst each other, but also kind of disseminate information both ways, from the fellows up and then from kind of the leadership down and allow an open forum and for open discussion.

VASTY: So, what is FelCom's mission? So, our mission is to share ideas among fellows to improve their training experience while they are here at NIH. And so, we are supported by OITE, the Office of Intramural Training and Education to develop programs and build strategies. So, we come there to share ideas and things that concern fellows when they are at NIH. And recently we had the opportunity to sit with Dr. Nina Schor from the Deputy Director of Intramural Research Programs to talk about some of the things that is in her goals to do for trainees and the Intramural Research Program, but also for the fellows to have a one-to-one discussion with her about the things that they would like to see changed at NIH. So, it's really an opportunity for the fellows to voice their concerns and bring it to the leadership. And again, FelCom, we are also there because we are not only here to be training in our scientific career journey, but also to be the next leaders, right, in this field. So, it gives us the opportunity to, besides networking, also gain those transferrable skills, as we normally say. So, learning to be in a leadership position, learning improving your own communication skills, both written and spoken, and also managing. It's a lot too, especially the two of us being at a leadership position for FelCom is a lot of management, because we have about 28 representatives from the different NIH institute and centers. And we have several liaisons that connect fellows to organizations within the NIH itself, but also other national organizations like NPA, the National Postdoctoral Association. So, we have different subcommittees. So, we have the career development subcommittee, we have the social subcommittee, we have the wellness group, we have a committee for the visiting fellows, because we have a lot of visiting fellows at the NIH. So, we create a community where they can find a sub, come together and see all, for whatever thing we are going through, we can share with; and it's like you said, a problem shared is half solved. So, we try to make sure that there's the sense of community where the fellows can feel that they belong. and like Marja mentioned, FelCom is open to every NIH trainee. Whether you are on the Bethesda campus, Frederick campus, Shady Grove, all NIH national campuses; it's open to everybody. Now, for the leadership positions, however, only if you are postdoctoral, or a research fellow, or clinical fellows that you can have the position. And we have positions also for graduate students. But postbacs normally don't get any position. But for them to attend the meeting they are more than welcome to attend the meetings that we have.

OLIVER: So, you're the co-chairs. How do you become a co-chair?

VASTY: [Laughs] How do you become a co-chair here? Well, we have like for any committee we have rules. We have our bylaws that need to be respected and followed. So, to become a co-chair, you have to have attended at least six FelComm meetings and be actively present, be actively involved in one of the subcommittees of the FelCom, and also invite the IC representatives to get themselves involved in one of the subcommittees and, yes, being actively present and learning about FelCom's activities.

MARJA: And the additional component that's allowed me to become involved in FelCom is that I'm also the chair of the Clinical Fellows Committee. So, within the Fellows Committee as the whole, a portion of the fellows is the NIH, our clinical fellows. And again, we have two co-chairs for the Clinical Fellows Committee. And so, as part of that role, one of us also gives our time to the Fellows Committee. And then I think kind of an unspoken part of how you do what you do is just the passion for the fellows; here the passion for the training process, teaching, and kind of making the NIH be one of the best places to train that we can.

OLIVER: So, I wonder if you could share with our listeners some of the things that FelCom has been thinking about in the last months or even years, some of the areas of particular interest and concern to current post-docs, visiting fellows, clinical fellows, grad students, post-bacs.

VASTY: Yes, sure, so FelCom, like I said, our mission is to help the fellows and the trainees. So, one of the things that we experienced, especially following the pandemic, is that the fellows felt very isolated, and it was really hard to come together and even just socialize; so especially for the new fellows that join and especially people coming from outside the country. But even within the country moving from one place to come to the DC area, it was quite challenging to make new friends and socialize with people outside their own labs. So, one of the things that we discussed within FelCom ourselves was to make sure that we are able to reach out to individuals and make sure that we get exposure to the fellows. So, our mission is making sure that our IC representatives are able to share. We just created even our flyer that we want to share with the different IC training directors and the different IC's to distribute among their fellows. So, the fellows actually learn about the existence of this committee and what it does for them. So, our goal that we set last year and we have been trying to carry on, so far, is that to get as much exposure to the fellows for them to learn about this. So recently even I was at different career symposiums the CCR FYI Colloquium for NCI. I was at the NIDDK one and some of the fellows that came to the poster for FelCom, they were like, "Oh, we had never heard about FelCom before. It's quite interesting." I really want to get to unplug from the bench work at times and just be involved in something quite different. So FelCom seems a good opportunity for them. And I was like, "I'm so sorry," like I had to apologize because it's my responsibility, right, as the co-chair to make sure that this information is reaching out to the fellows and then there is something out there that can be useful to them. So, our main mission has been to make sure that the fellows know that this community exists -this committee exists, and that within this committee there are subcommittees that address different aspects of things that they are looking for into doing their training.

OLIVER: You mentioned IC, so Institutes and Centers. And they are, of course, they are the ones onboarding new early career scientists. And they tell people about FelCom as they come in, then the people can connect with the FelCom community much more easily and connect. Dr. Brolinson, please.

MARJA: Yes, so that's exactly right. It's a little bit different than it would be for our Clinical Fellows Committee. Of course, we similarly want to make sure that everyone, all the incoming clinical fellows are aware, we're able to do that at the beginning of the academic year, since typically a whole new group of clinical fellows will come into the NIH every July. It's a little bit different for other postdoctoral fellows in terms that their timing can be a little bit more staggered as to when they join the NIH. So, one of our initiatives is to attend the kind of rolling monthly OITE orientation and share about what FelCom is during that orientation as well. So, we're kind of hitting it from the angles of the different institutes and centers and their orientations but from the OITE; that's the Office of Intramural Training and Education, which is an amazing resource for fellows at the NIH as well. So, we work very closely with them and have had the opportunity to attend their orientations more regularly in order to catch all the fellows as they're entering their time at the NIH.

OLIVER: So, in your work with OITE and also your constituency, the people in their early careers, what are some of the key concerns that perhaps your community has voiced in recent months or years that you've considered?

MARJA: I think one question that people are thinking about as they're starting their early career and thinking about where the opportunities the NIH can lead them in potentially future careers is the desire to be exposed to a very wide variety of scientific careers, whether that's within research, whether that's within like, you know, basic science lab work, whether that's within like dry bench work, or data science, or even industry. I think there are many, many, many fields that fellows from the NIH go into; and to do that desire to kind of have a greater exposure, the OITE has done an amazing job with their career panels and with their kind of career webinars. And I think part of the reason why they've had the opportunity to expand that is because everything has moved onto a digital platform. So now it is no longer that they're in person, it's a much more digital experience. And because of that, we're able to bring in many, many, many more speakers; though OITE does an amazing job with that and allows the fellows to kind of attend a much more broad range of career development sections.

VASTY: So, to add to that, I must say that every fellow that comes to us are different and have a different problem. So, like if I take the group of visiting fellows, when they come to us their concerns are completely different from the other fellows. Most of them, like Marja said, OITE has been doing a great job making sure that's the really have a career development strategy. And people most of the times they say that people mainly have a clear idea of where they want to go. So, throughout their experience here, they attend seminars and all those workshops that they're putting out there available for them; so, the visiting fellows some of them when they reach the point when they want to transfer to their next career, one of the major issues they find is more with the immigration problems. And that became actually quite challenging because that's not our role. The question then becomes, "if NIH is giving these opportunities to all these visiting fellows to be here in this great country and do this great work when they are trying to go to the next chapter of their career, they find themselves stagnant. They find themselves in a place where they can’t move forward, they can’t move back. And so, what are the things that can be implemented to actually help the fellows move into their next chapter?” And I know all or some of this is actually out of the control of NIH itself. So, when I say that each fellow has their own concerns and things that concern them, we as trainees, we have some of the great benefits. At a national level, we are really fortunate. And I can't complain about that if I compare it to other colleagues from other national levels. But when it comes to what kind of the benefits because, some of us, we are already at the age where we are also building families. We also have our own personal lives while we are trying to establish our career trajectory and establish our future. And so, the question is, "What kinds of benefits can we get from being trainees and so when it comes to parental leaves or when it comes to those things?" So those are the things that sometimes the fellows bring up to our attention.

MARJA: And like Vasty said, every fellow has their own question or own concerns that are vastly different. And our role in continuing, I guess, our desire to help solve problems. When fellows come to us with a problem, we try to get them the answer, or if we don't have the answer, we try to connect them to resources that would and to be part of the solution for them, and then to help disseminate that information to other fellows that may have similar questions.

OLIVER: Well, thank you. I mean, FelCom is a great resource for our fellows at NIH, and I appreciate both of you for doing the work that you do. In closing, then, I wonder if you have any advice for listeners, perhaps particularly listeners who are completing their doctoral degrees and are looking for their next perhaps a post-doc or a clinical training, perhaps even at the NIH. I wonder what your advice might be.

VASTY: For me, what I will say, like Marja mentioned it earlier, the passion. What I try to even tell people whenever they're starting something new, you are driven by the initial passion, but you have to work to maintain that passion. The moment that you see that passion dying is either you try to find new things to revive it, so that it keeps you going, it drives you. And then, have a plan. Plans change every time. But if you have a plan, you write it down and you write down the strategies; the objectives. They have to be practical. They have to be realistic for sure. So have like a two-year, five-year, and ten-year plan. And as you go through them, there are some that you might not be able to get them accomplished. There are some, because they might take longer than what you expect. But having those plans keeps you focused, and it keeps you going. And besides the plan, the passion, be confident. And there are going to be ups and downs. And especially if you are coming from grad school and even from medical school, the hardest part of your journey you have been through it. And so, the resilience you have it because grad school makes you resilient and also medical school. So just be confident and build a network. Build, expand your networking. And speak to people, talk to people, and have mentors. You never know how the next chapter of your career will open to you. So just connect with people.

OLIVER: Yes, perhaps through FelCom.

VASTY: Yes, exactly.

OLIVER: Dr. Brolinson.

MARJA: Something that I would state to fellows incoming or kind of completing their time at the NIH is I think it's important to always be open to opportunities. New opportunities that come or a space where you see that there's something that's lacking. That is an opportunity that you could create something in that space. And you never know who you're going to talk to, who you're going to meet, and where the next opportunity is going to come. And that could be from, you know, patients clinical care, it could be from the laboratory care, or like Vasty said, just people that you meet at the NIH through networking, through attending meetings, and working within this space. I think that within those kinds of opportunities it's all a little bit of hard work, luck, and timing that kind of comes together. And if you're open to it, then you can really develop some really cool projects and processes out of that. And then I think secondarily, like Vasty mentioned, this part of your training you also have your personal life, your training, your career, your goals. There is going to be times that you are pulled in many, many, many different directions where you can feel like it's imbalanced all the time. And sometimes some things are going to be weighed a lot more heavily, you're going to be spending a lot more time on certain areas than others. But overall, there's kind of an ebb and a flow and a give and a take. And it doesn't need to be balanced every single day, but over time, you know, as long as you are kind of moving forward in the direction of those goals, that will help steer you through some of those more challenging waters.

OLIVER: Well, thank you both for being with us today and sharing your insights, and the great work you do in your professional careers and for FelCom. Thank you.

VASTY: Thank you so much for having me.

MARJA: Thank you so much.

VASTY: It's been a pleasure. 


OLIVER: After the break, we're going to hear from Dr. Eugene Manly, whose career has touched not just research but also various nonprofit and professional society engagements, so stick with us.

LAURA PRESTIA, TECH TRANSFER CENTER: Are you a postdoc or research fellow in the NCI Center for Cancer Research, or a CCR investigator with one of these trainees in your lab? Is there a project in your lab or that you’re working on for which a patent or patent application has been filed or was just recommended for filing? If you answered yes to these questions, then we have an exciting opportunity for you.

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In the program, T2I fellows spend 80% of their time in their current lab focused on invention development research and 20% taking courses and hands-on trainings in tech transfer, entrepreneurship, and small business grantsmanship through rotations in the NCI Technology Transfer Center and NCI’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Development Center.

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OLIVER: It's a pleasure to welcome Dr. Eugene Manly to the pod. Dr. Manly serves as the director of STEM workforce initiatives at the Lungevity Foundation and has in the past worked at the Lung Cancer Research Foundation and the American Association for Cancer Research. Welcome, Dr. Manly.

EUGENE MANLY: Thank you very much. It's an honor to be here.

OLIVER: So, my first question, Dr. Manly, is what led you to a career in science?

EUGENE: Oh man. This goes way back to even when I was a kid. I grew up in Detroit and I had chronic asthma as a kid. So, I was in a hospital 20 to 30 times a year just for my asthma until I was about 10. So, I always saw nurses and doctors and got used to needles. And so, I always wanted to learn how the body worked, how it functioned, how it was injured, and how it was repaired. So, in essence that sort of started me on a path of science.

OLIVER: Interesting. So, then you pursued science as an undergraduate?

EUGENE: Yes. Actually, I started even in high school. I found a research internship program, at that time it was Wayne State Univers… no, it was Karmanos Cancer Institute. And then, the next summer after I finished high school, I went to Wayne State University lab. They have some summer internship programs, and so I did the first project in lung cancer. No, actually it was AML looking at different drugs and how they were metabolized. And then a second summer I did a biophysics project looking at hemoglobin and modified hemoglobin or transfusions.

OLIVER: And then you did study biomedical engineering and did your PhD at Boston University. Right?

EUGENE: Yes. Completely different things, but I did my undergrad in mechanical engineering. I did the masters in biomedical engineering. So, I did a lot of knee ligament bio-mechanics, viscoelasticity, mechanical testing of the tissues. And that was sort of contrast to my undergrad which my degree was in mechanical. That's when a lot of my summers were in biomedical research in different research programs over the summer. So, I got really adept at finding programs. And then when I got to the PhD I said, "Look. I want to get back to more of the wet bench work." And so, I ended up at Boston University working a lot in lung cancer, pathology, gene therapy, combination drug therapy, and cancer and stem cells.

OLIVER: So, was there any particular draw for you to lung cancer?

EUGENE: Well, you know, I had some family members who had a history with smoking and we just saw a lot of it in the inner cities. And so, I never saw lung cancer, but it sort of stuck in my mind and that sort was my leaning towards lung cancer. And I did one of my first projects on just the amount of tar and nicotine in cigarettes. And this was in eighties. Go to corner stores and get little single cigarettes and then I ordered some kit. I don't know how I found this, but I had a kit that had this kind of bulb end apparatus and then you could light the cigarette with the bulb. And then tap through the amount of tar and nicotine on the filter and then sort of assess, you know, which cigarettes were worse or, you know, had more carcinogens. And then I got all the stuff from the American Cancer Society about tongue and throat cancer. It's like it was very interesting.

OLIVER: So, at BU you also in addition to the science you were doing you got involved in some associations. Right? Can you tell us a little bit about that? You worked with I guess the graduate student community.

EUGENE: So, I was part of the biology grad student association, and they're the back end. So, we just provided a lot of sessions, professional development for the grad students, but I was also part of the graduate student association which is slightly different from the biology. So, the grad student organization is sort of the umbrella grad student group for this whole college of arts and sciences. And so, I was the social chair for way too many years, but I organized a lot of our social events, our pub nights, and sort of just brought people together.

OLIVER: It's important. Right? Forming a community. Forming a network even at that stage in your career.


OLIVER: I notice that you also joined the American Association for Cancer Research at that time. Is that correct?

EUGENE: Yes, I think I joined around 2009. That was around the time I had my first poster ready for the AACR annual meeting. So, and at that time you still had to pay for, you know, for conference membership. And when you are a poor grad student, you don't have a lot of funds so you have to, you know, put your money judiciously. But yes. So I joined around 2009, and then spent time in and out of the org. and as I jumped out of cancer and back into cancer. And I've joined and left and joined again. So, now I am back in.

OLIVER: So, after your PhD, what was your next step?

EUGENE: I did three post docs. I did one at the University of Michigan in orthopedic surgery, did some work on bone biomechanics and looking at matrix proteins and how blocking them affects bone formation and collagen formation. And then I went to Thomas Jefferson University and did some work in pathology. Really worked on arsenic and loose carcinogenesis in lung epithelial cells and I also studied some ovarian cancer stem cells, and that was when I did my first project, tried to do my first project, on not siRNA, but it was CRISPR, but the plasmid was not the plasmid, so we sort of let that to the side. And then I ended up at Oregon Health and Science University and did a lot of work with breast cancer looking at 2D and 3D models of cells, looking at invasive proteins, and then trying to use multiplex imaging. So basically, running antibody panels to identify markers of not just breast cancer, but also invasion, metastasis, stroma, immune, and just trying to see if we could identify cell specific markers that are more general broad markers across differences tissues.

OLIVER: So quite a broad spectrum of research. And then at that point after that last post doc you took a pivot. Right?

EUGENE: Yes. So, near the end I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my career because I deduced I didn't want to do a career in academia, and I knew I had done a lot of, I wanted to do a lot of mentoring and outreach. And my first pick was not quite mentoring and outreach, but it was related to some workshops I had done that last year. So, I had attended the AACR Clinical Research for Basic Scientists Workshop. I think that was 2019. And then I also had attended the American Society for Cell Biology biotech course. So different programs were really great. The biotech course really taught you a lot about business development, entrepreneurship. We all had to pitch a bio marker for the cancer we as a group were assigned. And the AACR course really great about teaching about clinical research, how to do research, how to, you know, go from basic to translational, write grants and then we also got to go and see patients with the doctors on their visits if the patients permitted. So, it was really just eye opening, but that sort of got me into the realm of really using the work I've done and all the stuff I work with to have a broader and greater impact.

OLIVER: And you joined the AACR?

EUGENE: Yes. And then I joined AACR as Assistant Director of Corporate Alliances. And so, I basically use a lot of the engineering and biology skills because I'm with so many different vendors and sectors and was able to build a portfolio of companies in different spaces to fund, you know, different AACR programs and initiatives. And because I wear many hats, I could look at what a company does or funds and then project how to run a pitch or talk to them about what they do and sort of where I think we can have synergy to get funding for some things.

OLIVER: So, the breadth of your research experience was really an asset for you.

EUGENE: Yes. Yes.

OLIVER: What were the challenges? What new things did you have to learn moving into a nonprofit? I mean the AACR as a society, a different environment from the lab. What was new to you?

EUGENE: Being very precise in how you communicate, you know, one thing I learned is how to really prospect companies. I did not have to do that where I just sort of knew what they did, but really leveraging the whole totality of a company to determine if you should reach out. And then learning a lot of rejections which you do as a postgraduate anyway. You still get papers, but you know sometimes you don't get responses. You just have to keep moving. But, you know, so really just learning that aspect of corporate fundraising and relationship building and sort of, you know, and maintaining those relationships on a more regular basis.

OLIVER: So for people listening who are wondering about a transition like this, it sounds to me like the science of course and also the science communication are readily transferable skills, but maybe working at an organization like the AACR is a little different in terms of how you show up and how you work with colleagues and things.

EUGENE: Exactly. And when I joined it was sort of right before COVID hit us. So, we were just going from the office to going to remote. So, I really wasn't in the office that long before COVID started. So, it was really hard to build relationships when you aren't on site. You can't really fix that and it is sort of the balancing act you work with. But what COVID has taught me is you can work from home now.

OLIVER: Right. Right. It's a mixed situation for sure. So, after AACR, you moved on to the Lung Cancer Research Foundation. Right?

EUGENE: Yes. So, there I was the director of scientific programs, and the bulk of my job was overseeing our grant mechanisms. We run three. And I think when I left, we were up to four or five. And so, I pretty much did the grant administration, draft the RFAs, answered questions in the inbox, make sure everything's submitted on time, and move stuff to reviewers and make sure we get the reviews back. And then I did a lot, you know, at that point I started doing more science communication, working with talking to external researchers about, you know, workforce diversity, trial diversity, and just you know sort of liaison between the internal and external stakeholders.

OLIVER: Can you tell us a little bit about the grant portfolio at the Lung Cancer Research Foundation? Are they primarily research grant or also career development?

EUGENE: a lot of it is basic research and clinical research. They have some grants with patient advocacy organizations like for EGFR, cancer, and ALK driven lung cancer. And then right before I left, I had created the minority career development award which was a career development award for underrepresented researchers doing, you know, basic and translational research in thoracic oncology.

OLIVER: So that's an interesting development. Obviously, the foundation was probably primarily focused on the research theme of lung cancer. Why and how did you implement the diversity program you mentioned?

EUGENE: We know that black patients in particular have some of the highest lung cancer rates and highest mortality, but we don't have a lot of providers in the workforce that can treat these patients, look like these patients. And I'm not saying that you have to have a provider that looks like you, but there is clear evidence that patients that have providers that look like them experience much less bias. They feel more seen and heard. And they actually might consider doing treatments that they might otherwise not do because they don't see as much bias. And so that was sort of the impetus for trying to provide some funding for underrepresented researchers with the goal of increasing diversity of the workforce.

OLIVER: Very interesting. And now you're Director of STEM Workforce at the Lungevity Foundation. So, you stayed with lung cancer, I guess, but you're more workforce focused rather than scientific program focused. Is that correct?

EUGENE: Yes. I have this more broad encompassing role now, and so really what I do the biggest thing is I run three of our health equity virtual series. I launched the minority mentorship and training program for our health equity and inclusiveness research grant awardees. So, these are postdocs, clinical fellows, or early career clinicians scientists. And this program is designed to mitigate many of the barriers and challenges that impede the career progress of underrepresented scholars in STEM. And then I oversee some academic partnerships to give exposure and training to underrepresented scholars that are med students and grad students. And I do a lot of STEM outreach and engagement. So really going to minority conferences to increase just their presence of what we do, our programs, and then just so they can see us. And so, this allows me to reach, you know a wider swath of scholars that you might not necessarily see at the major ASCO/AACR. So, things like SACNAS and ABRCMS where there's more Latino, Hispanic, and Black scholars from across the spectrum. So of course, they all aren't in lung cancer we have all this free education material on the website, and we do fund research grants and we do fund grants for underrepresented scholars.

OLIVER: Interesting. I mean my team in the Center for Cancer Training also attends those conferences, and we also try to spread the news about our grant mechanisms and opportunities. That's great. So, what's your perspective of where we are at this point in the middle of 2023 regarding the biomedical workforce and the diversity of that workforce and its general state?

EUGENE: I think we still don't have enough diversity and that's across the board. And because we don't have diversity, it impacts how care is delivered. It impacts who gets funded for research. It impacts who advances in research. Also even impacts who even enters research, because we know you can look at some of the other reports that show, you know, NIH R01 funding establishes you as an expert and allows you to sit as a reviewer, but you look at the success rates of black applicants on R01s and even a K99 getting awarded and it's much lower than other groups. And so K99 is supposed to be prestigious, but if they still aren't getting mentoring, then how are we helping change that system? So, really we have a lot of work to do to really increase workforce diversity, listen to these diverse voices because often there are diverse voices there, but if issues get raised, they still are silenced or not listened to. And so really, more empathy, more listening, more understanding lived experiences of people and really thinking about how you help those groups that are under-served because those are often the ones that still experience the greatest disparity.

OLIVER: I wonder what your take is on some of the recent developments at NIH, the attempt to build cohorts and communities of underrepresented researchers, for example, the common funds FIRST program recruiting a group of faculty; the K99 MOSAIC program which builds again a cohort. We have the iCURE program at NCI. Do you think those programs are effective? Is that a good approach? Is that something Lungevity is thinking about?

EUGENE: I think I've done stuff with the iCURE program. I've been in the iCURE many, many years ago. I was definitely in the CURE because I was definitely in the CURE umbrella because I was doing supplements in different times.

OLIVER: CURE is the extramural, iCURE is the intramural. Sorry. I probably should have just said CURE. Yeah.

EUGENE: Yeah. sounds familiar.

OLIVER: They stand for intramural. My bad. Yeah.

EUGENE: You know, I think supplements are great because they give you funding. It's just, you know, the funding is great, but you still need the mentoring and really checking that the mentoring is happening. And that's harder to do when it's extramural. I do think as far as what the mechanism does, it is great because it gives those scholars funding that is not necessarily tied to the parent award that they might not otherwise have. So, it does free up resources for the labs, but it's just really focusing on the mentoring piece and the longer-term professional development is where we still are losing a lot of scholars. And, you know, a lot of this is not just the funding, but it's external pressures, lack of income, you know trying to navigate universities with low income, especially first gen, but you don't often get to talk about those. There's no extra funding to help cover those costs.

OLIVER: Yeah. I mean that's definitely true. I mean we've seen that in recent years, the conversation shifting towards the economic challenges of being a grad student and a post doc and these stages. You also serve on the board of Project RADICAL. Can you tell us what RADICAL stands for and what that program is about?

EUGENE: Project RADICAL is sort of an acronym sort of racial disparities in cancer of the lung. And the group formed two to three years ago really to focus on the needs of black patients navigating lung cancer. Really bring their perspective and concerns to the table and really trying to educate, empower, and teach them about different things that are lung cancer care continuum. And so, we had different social media people, researchers, clinicians, providers, and even patients. Through these meetings, we put together a five-webinar series October not last year, but the year before, for minority health month just about different aspects of navigating your diagnosis, research and workforce, you know, what to look for in trial. So really just providing information and resources for people. And I think we last year had to disband because of, you know, lack of funding, but it was such a great initiative and program, but you know as grassroots we didn't have one course. We were all scattered. So, we didn't have a core space for, you know, congregating. So that kind of made it challenging.

OLIVER: In closing, Dr. Manly, I wonder what advice you might have for our listeners, for people coming. I sort of think of this in two ways. Let's start with what advice do you have for someone listening who is interested in diversity, who is interested in cancer health disparities, that may not be the subject of their research. Obviously, a lot of people do research on that, but how can people get involved if they are interested in these two areas?

EUGENE: So, you're thinking about health equity disparities sort of, you know, try to read some of the ACS reports, some of the AACR reports, on cancer health disparities just to learn what the disparities are across diseases and then determine if there's a disease you are interested in studying and then try to find researchers or universities that are conducting research and disparities in that cancer and then depending on your career stage. See if you can, you know, maybe do a grad degree there, or if you're an undergrad check to see… often schools have, you know, these undergraduate research programs. Some are undergraduate research experiences or…

OLIVER: Yep. R25. The R25 YES, things like that, yes.

EUGENE: Programs which get you into grad school. There are even some R grants, some U54s. So, you just sort of have to do a deep dive and just sort of find an area you're interested in and find a researcher that you're interested in. And it's often just an email. Often if they don't know you, you may not get a response, but if you think of the bandwidth of academics, they get so many emails a day from all over and sort of they can't answer them all. So sometimes it's not that they're ignoring it. It's just bandwidth. Or like if you go away for a conference and you're gone for a week, then your mailbox is just gone in the ether because you just can’t get through.

OLIVER: You'll never catch up. True enough, but I guess networking and connecting with people at conferences if you're able to go and similar things is, yeah.

EUGENE: Going to conferences, really trying to network, going to conferences in disparities, health equity, where there are more people that also understand the challenges and may be easier to find those connections to health. Or, you know, things like ABRCMS, SACNAS, you know, Latino Medical Student Association. National Medical Association is for generally Black physicians, and that was sort of founded, you know, as Black physicians could not go to many of the major meetings in the late 1800s because of Jim Crow and all that stuff. And so just finding even under conferences that serve a cancer you want or a group, and then just start there and then just network. And networking is a key thing, you know. And as you get more presence and reach, just keep connecting with more people. And then it goes from there. It is always networking, is the key.

OLIVER: I mean there's some grassroots organizations developing as well. There's Black in Cancer recently launched, and we'll put some links in our show notes to these organizations that you've mentioned as well, ABRCMS and SACNAS and so on.

EUGENE: Black in Cancer and at the same time Black in STEM, Black in Bio. They all sort of rolled around essentially right after each other, and that was all out of George Floyd and all that stuff. And that was what led to their own rise of all the groups. Before then there was really no way for black or Latino scholars to really find each other, and then that sort of drove that. So that was actually one positive thing.

OLIVER: Indeed. Indeed. And then lastly another advice, type of advice, you might be willing to give, is more around the career structure. So, you did do that pivot from primarily doing research, going into the nonprofit sector, doing all kinds of interesting things there. What would you wish you'd known perhaps before or as you were making that transition? What kind of advice might you give to someone who's listening who's thinking, you know, "I love the bench, but I love what Dr. Manly is doing because I can have so much broader impact."

EUGENE: You know, sometimes in academia we get wed to the idea that we have to only stay at the bench. And sometimes it's pushed on us. And you don't often know the alternative paths that you can go. So, you really have to, you know, think about professional development sessions, take a stake of what your skills are and then think about what you want to do or what you can do. Now, in my case, I've been in three nonprofits, but what I've done at each one is I've learned different skills. If you told me five years ago, I'd be doing webinars and writing on health equity and doing manuscripts, I'd be like, "No. That's not happening." But, you know, sometimes you just never know what you're going to do and pick up and learn. And just take any job you do, take the skills, add them to your tool kit, and then sometimes it takes a while, but the light bulb will click into what you want to do to make your impact. And you never know when the light bulb is going to go off. And so, you could be just doing things. All of a sudden, "Oh. I want to do this." And so now I'm in a position to really make move the needle for health equity and disparities and there's no way that I could do it when I was in the lab. But that's because I've gotten different experiences and this other networking that have allowed me to then build on that and now sort of make the, you know, help implementing change.

OLIVER: Dr. Manly, thank you so much for sharing your path and your advice.

EUGENE: Thank you so much for inviting me.


OLIVER: Now it's time for our segment we call your turn because it's a chance for our listeners to send in recommendations that they would like to share. If you're listening, then you're invited to take your turn. Send us a tip for a book, a video, a podcast, or a talk. Anything that you found inspirational or amusing or interesting. You can send to us at, record a voice memo and send it along. We may just play it on an upcoming episode. Now I'd like to invite our guests to take their turn. Let's start with you Dr. Brolinson.

MARJA: Thank you, Oliver. I am going to recommend a podcast called fertility and sterility on air. This is a podcast that's produced by the American Society for Reproduction, ASRM, family of podcast. And this podcast allows you to stay current on the latest research in reproductive medicine. Every month they review the latest issue of the journal of Fertility and Sterility and discuss interesting information about the articles. Sometimes they invite the authors of the article on, and it really serves as a very cool way to help disseminate scientific information today.

OLIVER: Thank you so much. Dr. Amponsa.

VASTY: All right. I guess my recommendation will be I recently finished the book by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson "The 12 Rules for Life." I really enjoyed this book because I was looking for something that a turnaround point for my life myself, and I heard about him speaking on a podcast and they was talking about the book, and it was quite interesting. And one of the rules, I don't remember which rule was that he mentioned that assume that a person they are listening to know something that you don't know. So, the power of listening. Being able to listen to other people and not jumping into wanting to answer. Opening your ears to listen because the information that you can actually get from listening rather than interrupting might be completely different. So, I really recommend if you want to have learn some things new about yourself and how you can apply it to your own life, I invite you to read the "12 Rules for Life" by Dr. Jordan Peterson.

OLIVER: Thank you. Dr. Manley, your recommendation, please.

EUGENE: Okay, so I had to think hard about this, but then I just saw John Wick IV this weekend. So, if you are averse to blood and gore, I would say do not see this movie, but the movie was very interesting because I used to be a jujitsu practitioner, and I always love watching the throws. But I will say, at some points, it was overkill. Like at the end where they're going up 200 steps. I'm like that was overkill, and then there was a scene in the middle of the movie that had the top-down view. It was like one of those 80s or 90s video games where someone has this flame shotgun and shooting it. When you see flames, people bursting in flames, it's like this became a video game, and it just made me laugh. But then the other cool thing I noticed is three pieces. There was a scene. There's a guy that's this bouncer at this club in Germany that's really notoriously hard to get into, and he'll walk down the line and say you can get in or not, this big techno club. So he was in the movie, and he said his name, "I am Klaus," which is a play on "I am Groot," and then, he was the one who decided who could get in the club. It was actually -- when you saw that, it was absolutely hilarious, so.

OLIVER: Hilarious. Well, thank you for that recommendation. It's very fun. I mean, you have to have fun along with all the work that we do.

EUGENE: Yes, indeed.


OLIVER: That’s all we have time for on today’s episode of Inside Cancer Careers! Thank you for joining us and thank you to our guests. We want to hear from you – your stories, your ideas and your feedback are always welcome. And you are invited to take your turn to make a recommendation we can share with our listeners. You can reach us at Inside Cancer Careers is a collaboration between NCI’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison and the Center for Cancer Training. It is produced by Angela Jones and Astrid Masfar and Edited by Janette Goeser. A special thanks to Lakshmi Grama and Sabrina Islam-Rahman. Join us every first and third Thursday of the month when new episodes can be found wherever you listen – subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. I'm your host Oliver Bogler from the National Cancer Institute and I look forward to sharing your stories here on Inside Cancer Careers. If you have questions about cancer or comments about this podcast, email us at or call us at 800-422-6237. And please be sure to mention Inside Cancer Careers in your query. We are a production of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Thanks for listening.

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