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Early-Stage Investigator Lectures 2023: Advice From Future Leaders in Prevention Research

Watch the lectures

Captioned recordings of Drs. Besser, Echouffo Tcheugui, and Carrillo-Larco's lectures, as well as copies of their presentation slides, are available on the 2023 awardee page.

ODP’s Early-Stage Investigator Lecture recognizes early-career prevention scientists who have not yet successfully competed for a substantial NIH independent research award, but are poised to become leaders in prevention research. We are honoring three awardees in 2023, and we asked each of them to share their best advice for students and trainees interested in a career in prevention research.

“Connect with individuals who conduct intervention and policy evaluation research.”

Lilah M. Besser, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Lecture Title: Structural and Social Determinants of Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias

Students and trainees would benefit from developing an orientation toward prevention and intervention early on in their training and careers. While health researchers intuitively aim for disease prevention, often the research focuses on determining whether a particular behavior or exposure has a detrimental effect on health. This is a natural first step to evaluate whether a factor is harmful, and thus could be a target for interventions. However, that research reveals nothing about whether interventions to eliminate or reduce those behaviors and exposures will be successful, or about distinctive behaviors and exposures that promote health. I would suggest that students and trainees connect with individuals who conduct intervention and policy evaluation research and foster close ties with the disciplines that would necessarily be involved in any such interventions or policies. For instance, because my research centers on neighborhood built environments that promote brain health, I collaborate with urban planners whose field directly shapes our built environments.

“It sometimes takes ‘a village’ of mentors to produce a successful scientist.”

Justin B. Echouffo Tcheugui, M.D., Ph.D., M.Phil., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine 

Lecture Title: Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease: A Focus on Heart Failure

The area of prevention research is wide. So, it is important to choose a specific topic or disease state to focus on early in the career. Then, building on the knowledge and experience accumulated over time, one can expand one’s reach to other areas, and possibly create interdisciplinary research networks.
Mentorship is critical at all stages of a career, not just at the initial stages. It is important to seek guidance, as it sometimes takes “a village” of mentors to produce a successful scientist. I am indebted to the many individuals that have believed in my abilities, pointed me in the right scientific direction, and opened the doors to various opportunities. In addition to the immediate mentors, it is also important to spend time developing a wider professional network including people at various levels who can provide support above and beyond the scientific aspects. 

Resilience is of utmost importance as failure is, or will be part of the process. No matter how painful it can be, a failure should not be a source of discouragement, but rather viewed as an opportunity to refine one’s goals and/or redefine oneself.

"Keep an eye on what happens outside the boundaries of a health care facility.” 

Rodrigo M. Carrillo-Larco, M.D., Ph.D., Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University 

Lecture Title: Cardiometabolic Health and Cardiovascular Prevention in Latino Population

When we train in medicine, we are mostly exposed to a clinical setting, whether a primary care clinic or a large hospital. I’d say that a key piece of advice is “look and think outside these settings.” Let’s think about our friends, family, people we see in the street, and everyone else. They also have health concerns, health risks, and sometimes diseases (diagnosed or undiagnosed). To the extent possible, and within the limits of our professional trajectory—whether research, health policy, or clinical—let’s keep an eye on what happens outside the boundaries of a health care facility. Similarly, health goes beyond feeling ill or having a complaint; our lifestyles, environment, and access to services determine our health and should therefore be included in prevention research and practice.


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