Independent Investigator Incubator aims to 'spin off' successful researchers through mentoring

Aug. 28, 2014

The IU School of Medicine is seeking junior faculty members who wish to improve their ability to compete in the modern research environment through a new targeted mentorship program.


Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., will lead the Independant Investigator Incubator program.

The IUSM Independent Investigator Incubator, or "I3," is a new project to "spin off" successful researchers through access to significant one-on-one time and professional coaching from a senior faculty "supermentor," as well as support services such as a professional grant writer, administrative support and a biostatistician. The program will especially target new faculty during the crucial first three years of their research careers.

"This effort is all about figuring out how we can better train junior faculty who want to be independent investigators to do what they need to do to be successful," said Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., professor of pediatrics and associate dean for research mentoring at the IU School of Medicine, who will lead the incubator. "We're offering resources and the ability to be paired with very successful faculty members who have agreed to make a serious commitment to the personal and professional success of junior independent investigators."

The incubator will be supported by the IU School Medicine Transforming Research Initiative -- a strategic plan focused on improving areas such as research funding, team science, mentoring, research communication, and faculty recruitment and retention in order to keep the school of medicine's research enterprise competitive -- in collaboration with the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. The Indiana CTSI is National Institutes of Health-funded collaboration among IU, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame centered at the IU School of Medicine.

We are investing in our junior faculty," said David Wilkes, M.D., executive associate dean for research affairs and August M. Watanabe Professor of Medical Research at the IU School of Medicine." Mentoring was identified as one of the six goals within the TRI, and I3 is the first step at meeting our objective of developing in depth research-specific mentoring school-wide."

"Highly successful independent investigators are the individuals who drive the translation of new discoveries into practice, and one of the key areas of focus for the Indiana CTSI is creating programs that enhance career development of researchers," said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Indiana CTSI and associate vice president for University Clinical Affairs at IU. "The goals of I3 fit perfectly within the mission of the Indiana CTSI and we're pleased to house and support the program."

The incubator is inspired in part by a successful model at the University of Utah School of Medicine, which is among the academic medical centers seeing promising results from similar programs.

"This is a model that has been tried elsewhere with success, but not a lot places are doing it yet so it still puts us on the cutting edge," said Dr. Carroll. "We're really trying to concentrate mentorship among those who have a real skill and a real passion for it."

The incubator isn't an attempt to challenge the tradition of pairing up junior and senior faculty mentors and mentees at the division and departmental level, he added, but instead provides another potential path to faculty interesting in participating. Mentors will focus on helping mentees hone skills that aren't limited to a specific scientific discipline, including grant writing, time management and successfully balancing multiple research projects.

The incubator has recruited six "supermentors" and is currently seeking three to four junior faculty participants per mentors -- a total of 24 -- to match with these faculty. The bulk of the program will occur in the form of one-on-one time with the mentors, but Dr. Carroll also plans to form a supermentor review committee to provide group feedback on grant applications prior to submission as well as incorporate peer mentorship among other junior participants into the program.

Success of the program will be measured based upon papers published, grants submitted and awarded, and feedback from participants, including reported job satisfaction.

"If you've had really excellent mentorship you understand there's is no substitute," Dr. Carroll said. "I've personally been fortunate to experience very good mentorship during my fellowship and in my division and department -- and the experience has really impressed upon me how important it is that everyone gets their chance."

Dr. Carroll notes the incubator also supports other goals of the Transforming Research Initiative, such as improving IU's ability to recruit high quality faculty.

"From my experience interviewing  candidates I have learned that when junior faculty are trying to figure out where they want to start their career, the knowledge that the institution is willing to put forth this level of resources and dedication to research career development is very attractive. It's a real selling point."

The incubator is expected to launch in September. If you're a faculty member interested in joining the Independent Investigator Incubator as a mentee, email Dr. Carroll at aaecarro@iu.edu.

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