By Tania Jain, MBBS, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Travelling across three time zones to the Clinical Research Training Course in Park City, Utah, on a 6 a.m. flight, I was relatively oblivious of what to expect. Two months ago, when I was accepted for the course, my mentor tweeted that it was a “Great training opportunity for next generation of BMT leaders.” Reflecting back on the experience, it certainly was that and much more.
Not many instances in life have made me feel that fun and learning could be combined, but this was one. Undoubtedly, credit goes to the course co-chairs, the entire faculty team along with the team of coordinators for making this an unforgettable experience. Drs. Margaret (Margy) MacMillan and Chris Bredeson made sure that the planned activities covered all aspects of learning from course lectures and statistical teaching to mentorship advice, life advice, character building, interacting with faculty, learning from their work and experiences, working individually as well as a group and many other things that I can’t put into words. Our formal and informal interactions with the faculty helped us realize the opportunities, rewards and challenges in the field, straight from the people who have seen it all — and the opportunities are infinite. For instance, one of my first conversations with Dr. Partow Kebriaei started from merits and pitfalls of a laboratory career. Somewhere in that discussion, we seamlessly transitioned to talking about how any time is the right time for a woman in medicine to have kids.
I’m not sure if I realized this in real time, but the course was designed as a unique character building experience. For people like me who were born shy, this was an espresso shot of confidence, only this lasts much longer. I personally have never felt more encouraged and confident to challenge and be challenged, and always in a friendly way. The amount of knowledge, passion, drive and experience that was accumulated in that one room at any given time was boundless. Each of the faculty and scholars were a powerhouse of knowledge, a think tank of scientific ideas and a repository of troubleshooting advice. A group that we now treasure as mentors and, more importantly, friends for life.
Although I was one of the juniors in the group, no one ever made me feel that way. At every step, the senior faculty were supportive, helpful and encouraging to move forward wherever possible. As much as I treasure being honored with the H. Jean Khoury Award for Scholarly Excellence — and want to keep it all for myself because it is very special to me — I have to admit that, in reality, it belongs to all of the scholars at the course. I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Khoury in person but am cognizant of his work as a member of the hematological malignancies and transplantation fraternity. In fact, I had seen him at one of the working group committee meetings at the BMT Tandem Meetings (now known as the TCT Meetings) in February 2017, not knowing of his illness at that time. A few weeks later when I did learn about it, I was saddened as well as inspired. There is likely not a finite answer to how much he must have loved what he did, to be doing it until the very moment he could. When I reflect back on that moment, for me, it was a transformative realization about the importance of doing what you’re passionate about in life. Subconsciously, I know this was one of the driving forces that made me more assertive about doing a BMT fellowship after completing my hematology and oncology fellowship. Somewhere, knowingly or not, it was that final inspiration for me to go the extra mile and pursue something I was truly passionate about, despite some logistical challenges last year.
Stepping outside of the education sessions, the city is breathtakingly beautiful and so are the views from Dr. Dan Couriel’s “mansion” as we now call it. Get your swimsuits ready if you want to take a dip in this stunning water and a good pedicure if you want to compete with the faculty. The picture below signifies a lot more than the fact that nail art is not limited by gender — liberation, diversity, camaraderie and much more — and now it’s one of my most cherished pictures of all time.
This article would not be complete without acknowledging the work that happened behind the scenes. The time and effort Anna and Kirk from the ASBMT staff team put in is more than praiseworthy; counting heads making sure none of us were left behind on the hike or at the bowling alley or anywhere else, ensuring continuous and everlasting availability of food, and many more things that I know or, perhaps, don’t know about.
Dr. Tania Jain