New fellowship program will aid young researchers in navigating career


Roadblocks are common when conducting groundbreaking research. Whenever Joanna Burdette encounters difficulty trying to find answers to where ovarian cancer begins, she might ask herself: What Would Judy Bolton Do? Burdette, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Pharmacy, wants to inspire young investigators the way her mentor, Bolton, a renowned chemical toxicologist at UIC, did when she was new to her research career.

Burdette, a member of the UI Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology program, and Larisa Nonn, PhD, professor of pathology and member of the UI Cancer Center’s Translational Oncology program, serve as co-directors of a three-year mentored fellowship program designed to provide rigorous and balanced team-based training in both teaching and research.

The goal of the Chicago ARea Excellence in Education & Research (CAREER) program is to build a culturally diverse group of fellows who, upon completing the program, are well-equipped to be leaders in academia at research- and teaching-intensive institutions. The program, funded by the National Institute of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH/NIGMS) K12 Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) mechanism, was created to develop highly trained scientists to address the nation’s biomedical research needs.

The UIC CAREER program focuses on three major areas: Research, teaching and career development, with research being the predominant concentration. Training in the practice of evidence-based teaching from a school that has a mission of educating students from underrepresented groups is also required. Governors State University is collaborating with UIC on the program.

“IRACDA is unique because postdocs are trained 75 percent in research and 25 percent in teaching, the latter not being part of most postdoctoral training programs,” Nonn said.

Twenty four mentors from the UIC College of Pharmacy and Medicine have volunteered for the program, Burdette said. All have active, externally funded research projects and maintain solid track records in mentoring and training postdoctoral scholars, and all have varied expertise – from conducting studies in prostate cancer cell biology to researching angiogenesis in mammalian development, physiology, and in the tumor microenvironment.

Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis, with a priority deadline of Jan. 1, 2021. The first year of the CAREER program is ongoing, with the option of fellows to start sooner or later, depending on their availability, Nonn said. Applicants must have completed a doctorate in the life sciences or field related to mentor research within the past two years or by the beginning of the CAREER program, and should have no more than one year of postdoctoral experience at the time of their application. Due to restrictions of the K12 funding structure only United States citizens or permanent residents are eligible.

Lindsey McQuade, PhD, director of graduate and research studies at the UIC College of Pharmacy, will serve as the UIC program coordinator. Pam Guimond, PhD, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the program coordinator for Governors State.

The IRACDA program is new to UIC, and it’s the only one of its kind in Chicago. Nonn believes the program will provide UIC fellows with great expertise for their future research projects.

“We want our scholars to be confident and competitive for careers at both primarily undergraduate universities as well as research intensive institutions,” Nonn said. “We’re excited for the program to begin.”

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