“During your time in medical school, you have learned how to immerse yourselves in a question. You have experienced mentorship and sponsorship, and for many of you your research group or laboratory has become a second home.” The mentorship theme in the remarks of Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine, was echoed throughout Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) Student Research Day (SRD) on May 18, 2021.
In their welcome remarks, Associate Deans of Student Research Sarwat Chaudhry, MD, and Erica Herzog, MD, PhD, framed SRD as a celebration of the nearly 200-year-old tradition of the school’s MD thesis requirement. Herzog, noting the students’ work runs the translational spectrum from the most basic to the most applied, stated, “today we proudly showcase the breadth of state-of-the art research being led by our students. The creativity and diversity of the students’ research epitomizes this tradition, which remains a cornerstone of the Yale System of Medical Education.”
Chaudhry said the thesis “teaches students how to understand the scientific method from the inside, how to communicate this knowledge to others for impact, and how to think scientifically for the rest of their professional lives,” critical experiences and skills regardless of career path. She also expressed gratitude to the students for their inspirational creativity, optimism, self-efficacy, and boundless commitment to advancing biomedical science and health care for all.
The virtual format enabled a new element to be added to the annual event: a rich community dialogue with 34 graduating students about their theses. In five scientific poster sessions that Chaudhry and Herzog moderated, small groups of students responded to audience questions. Their posters, along with the posters of 46 nongraduating students, were available online in advance of SRD.
The six thesis award winners —Chaarushi Ahuja, Alanna Kaplan, Ezra Lichtman, Kishan Patel, Lorenzo Sewanan, and Nelson Ugwu—presented their research and responded to questions during the Jill and Lee Goldman, MD ’73 Plenary Scientific Sessions, which were interspersed between the scientific poster sessions.
Helen Hobbs, MD, Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor of internal medicine and molecular genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, delivered the 33rd Annual Lee E. Farr, MD Lectureship: “Science, Serendipity and the Single Degree.” Hobbs described her research, shared the story of her career path, and provided concrete advice, including that the quality of science is what matters—not the quantity, to embrace and adapt to change, and to keep your door open and be the type of person people want to share ideas with. She encouraged students to learn how to take and give critical feedback saying feedback accelerated her career. She also focused on life/work balance, sharing her experience as a woman in science. For example, she said, “you can have it all, but not at the same time,” at least I couldn’t,” encouraging students to proactively decide what is most important to them at different points in time.
Regarding mentorship, she told the students to earn it, not ask for it. She shared how one of her mentors, YSM alumnus and former faculty member, Donald Seldin ’43, MD, encouraged her to become a scientist and get the best possible scientific training. She trusted him, and that advice changed her career trajectory.
Toward the end of her remarks, Hobbs showed a slide depicting where the individuals who had worked in her lab came from. She emphasized that not only is it joyful to mentor, but the relationships persist.
Another novel element of SRD was the inaugural presentation of the John N. Forrest, Jr. Prize for Mentorship in Student Research. Forrest helped establish the YSM Office of Student Research (OSR) in 1986, started the tradition of SRD, and served as the director of OSR until he retired in late 2019. Forrest’s children—John K. Forrest, MD ’05, associate professor of medicine (cardiovascular medicine); Gwendolyn Forrest; and Suzanne Forrest, MD ’13 —led the effort to create this endowed award, with the support of family, friends, colleagues, and former students of their father.
During a touching slide show of Forrest, his son described having the opportunity growing up to meet talented physician-scientists. He said one thing they all had in common was an amazing mentor. He emphasized how today, with all the demands on physician-scientists, making time for mentorship can be a challenge, but is so important. He noted his father was watching the ceremony with several of his former mentees, including Stephanie Halene, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and chief of hematology, who initially came to Yale to work in Forrest’s lab as a medical student from Germany.
In presenting the award to Assistant Professor Silvia Vilarinho, MD, PhD, Chaudhry described her as “embodying the physician-scientist that Dr. Forrest is so committed to.” Vilarinho expressed that she was “truly honored and grateful" to receive this award that highlights the power and importance of mentorship, noting that mentor-mentee relationships last a lifetime.
Thesis Awardees, Topics, and Mentors
Chaarushi Ahuja, Utilizing Qualitative Methods to Inform Interventions for Addressing Alcohol Use During Pregnancy (Mentor: Kimberly Yonkers, MD, professor adjunct of psychiatry)
Alanna Kaplan, Novel Methods for Inhibiting DNA Double Strand Break Repair for Use in Cancer Therapy (Mentor: Peter Glazer, MD, PhD, Robert E. Hunter Professor of Therapeutic Radiology and professor of genetics)
Ezra Lichtman, Refugee Health, Healthcare, and Resettlement in New Haven, Connecticut: A Historical Study with Contemporary Implications (Mentor: Naomi Rogers, PhD, professor in the history of medicine and of history)
Kishan Patel, Cost-Effectiveness of Daratumumab in Older, Transplant-Ineligible Patients with Multiple Myeloma (Mentor: Scott Huntington, MD, MPH, MSc, assistant professor of medicine)
Lorenzo Sewanan, Mechanisms of Diastolic Dysfunction in Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (Mentor: Stuart Campbell, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering & cellular and molecular physiology)
Nelson Ugwu, Somatic GJA4 Mutation in Vascular Malformations Reveals A Novel Pathway for Vascular Neoplasia (Mentor: Keith Choate, MD, PhD, associate dean for physician-scientist development and professor of dermatology, pathology and genetics)