Author + information
- Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD∗ ()
- Zena and Michael A. Wiener Cardiovascular Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York
- ↵∗Address correspondence to:
Dr. Valentin Fuster, Zena and Michael A. Wiener Cardiovascular Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, One Gustave L. Levy Place, New York, New York 10029.
In the late 18th century, Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a short poem about a sorcerer’s apprentice who takes advantage of his recently acquired magical skills to carry out some chores that he considers mundane (1). Because the young apprentice does not appreciate the full understanding of his responsibilities and capabilities, he loses control of the magic broom that he has commanded to sweep his master’s workshop, until the sorcerer returns to save him. This 200-year-old poem still maintains an important message for contemporary investigators and their mentors. Namely, there is a delicate, painstaking process in selecting appropriate future academicians and bestowing upon them the proper balance of responsibility and guidance, which are both integral to foster the strongest cardiovascular investigators and educators. However, the single most important component of making this process successful is a strong engagement with a mentor rather than a premature independence. This mentor can observe and help guide the candidate through his or her pathway toward triumphs, as long as the researcher listens to and relies upon this mentor. Finally, society must help to provide tools and opportunities that will motivate these young academicians.
Selection of the Special
In this flattening, global medical world, biomedical research allows only a few individuals to be selected for success in strong academic and medical facilities (2). As a first step, program managers and mentors need to ensure that the selected candidates have benefitted from a rigorous educational and training background. There is a consensus that undergraduate and post-graduate education should be when future academicians begin training (2).
To ease this process, the European Commission has begun a series of reforms to make the new European Higher Education Area more competitive and attractive to European scholars, particularly researchers, by adopting an easily transferable system with comparable qualifications across the continent (2). Stateside, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed an ambitious biomedical innovation plan in early 2015 (3), and the presidential $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative would mean an overall 3.3% increase to the National Institutes of Health to $31.3 billion (4). While these steps are encouraging, I am concerned about how long it would take for these types of federal funding initiatives to trickle down to future academicians. However, most U.S. colleges and universities offer undergraduate research experiences and/or course-based undergraduate research experiences (5), which tend to most often benefit those who intend to pursue a career academic research. Course-based undergraduate research experiences typically provide research experiences for ≥30 students by a course instructor and/or graduate student, and they involve classes, credits, grades, and assignments; whereas students typically compete for undergraduate research experiences placements, spend time in a research laboratory, and receive 1-on-1 mentoring from a post-doctorate, graduate student, or faculty member (5) (Figure 1).
Despite these burgeoning opportunities, undergraduates often express anxiety about the duration of programs and associated costs, which is why perseverance and hopefulness are dominant character traits, along with the intellect and creativity that need to be assessed in the selection process.
Engagement Versus Premature Independence
Often, young researchers speak about the barriers prohibiting them from achieving their goals, including time, a lack of financial incentives, inadequate infrastructure, and uncertain futures. Although these impediments are not always perceived and can feel very real to the pressured young person, I always tell them that persistence is key both in science and in life—and it will be integral in shaping one’s pathway toward a successful academic career. This research path is not linear, and these individuals will meet with many disappointments. Although its rewards are outstanding, it requires a certain kind of individual with considerable resilience, strength, and focus to achieve the desired outcomes (6). If a person embodies these characteristics, then a mentor, through observation and motivation, shares in the responsibility of helping him or her to avoid the curse of the “sorcerer’s apprentice” (1).
As 1 example of distraction, many young people in the investigational field are prematurely enamored with the idea of independence—achieving personal success publicly, without the assistance of others. There are certainly activities for young investigators that warrant independent action and reward, such as grant writing, but when it comes to writing and compiling a complex manuscript, the best outcome will result from the reliance upon and authorship recognition of senior faculty or a mentor. In my experience, young researchers often independently seek out tasks where they will gain recognition, but without the proper assistance, and they frequently fail. Thus, these “prematurely independent” individuals will end up in a similar situation to our apprentice in the poem—with an unmanageable mechanism counteracting their potential. Again, just as the researcher bears the responsibility to appropriately trust and defer to his or her mentors, mentors have an obligation to observe and guide their mentees throughout the research. Most importantly, the mentor must always propel the career and professional opportunities of the trainees. The importance of a mentor in the life of a researcher does not diminish with age or experience. Although the individual mentors may change as the focus of research gets redirected or a researcher relocates, the role of the person to inform and guide will never become less prominent.
Motivating a Young Generation of Academicians: A Spanish Success Story
If you will allow me, I would like to highlight the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC) in Madrid, Spain, as an example of an institution that successfully attracts and nurtures young researchers from very early ages. Specifically, the CNIC-JOVEN Training Plan covers all education levels from secondary school to the training of post-doctoral fellows, as well as medical and scientific professionals (Figure 2), with the goal of making biomedical research more accessible to young people and to create a pool of highly talented and motivated scientists in the field of cardiovascular research (2). In addition to specific training programs for each level of education, to remain current, the CNIC has designed a workshop series in areas of interest to biomedical and cardiovascular research, including new technologies, methodological and bioethical questions, team-building, grant writing, and communication skills (2). Having this type of a structured support system allows for the greatest opportunity for these young individuals to stay engaged and focused on their research to achieve personal success—and to avoid the “curse” by standing on the shoulders of their sorcerers.
In summary, in my opinion, there are 3 steps required for a young academician to flourish and succeed: selection of the proper individual and engagement with and reliance upon a mentor that consistently re-evaluates the individual's progress; and importantly, proper support from academic institutions and society will allow for the greatest end result for the individual and for the global academic community.
- American College of Cardiology Foundation
- ↵Von Goethe JW. Der Zauberlehrling [The Sorcerer’s Apprentice]. 1797.
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