Be Your Own Career Advocate

Be Your Own Career Advocate 150 150 Linda Cripe, MD

A successful cardiologist and neuromuscular disorders researcher shares her hard-won tips for getting what you want out of your career in academic medicine.

The road to securing your first faculty position is long and frequently marked with significant personal and financial sacrifice. It is a rare individual who at some point does not ask the question, “When am I going to be there?” Not surprisingly, there is often a mystical place that may not even exist. Much like a cat chasing a ball of yarn, the closer the cat gets to the ball, the farther the owner pulls it away. It is only after you receive your first letter of offer that you come to the painful realization that the journey to a successful career is far from over; in a multitude of ways, it is just beginning.

As a medical trainee, there are many support systems in place to ensure your success. There are well-outlined schedules to be followed, didactic content to be digested and people assigned to constantly monitor your progress and nudge you when needed. Life as a new faculty member immediately feels different from life as a trainee. You gain more control of your time, but the lack of formal structure can be daunting.

In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a junior faculty member is to sit in your office waiting for leadership to acknowledge your excellence. No one will show up at your door and proclaim, “There you are, we have been waiting for you! You are an incredible talent and we want to give you a million dollars to fund all of your novel research plans.” Unless you are blessed with an abundance of luck, opportunity will rarely drop in your lap. Opportunity must be hunted like wild game and opportunity can be elusive. Getting out of your chair and into the academic jungle is not easy.

Because I am familiar with the challenges this jungle brings, I would like to offer several tips to help you get started.

Work diligently at building professional relationships with peers and senior faculty.

The single most important step you can take for your career is to ride someone else’s wave. For some of you, networking means that you must exit your comfort zone. You must be proactive in getting to know others in the institution who have similar interests. Seek out those senior individuals who have a track record of success and meet with them — ideally, establish a mentoring relationship. Ask a colleague you do not know well to go to lunch. Sit next to an unfamiliar face at a research seminar and introduce yourself. It is amazing what you will learn! Many important collaborations in academic medicine have begun with a simple introduction to a stranger.

Be on the lookout for new opportunities.

This recommendation comes with a caveat: you must be wise in your search and remember to only selectively volunteer. We have all been told to avoid activities that are academic distractions, which is sound advice. Avoid becoming a habitual hand-raiser. Be a team player, but make strategic choices designed to advance the goals of your career. It is often flattering to be asked to serve on a committee. But many committees take precious time away from activities that you need to accomplish to be successful as a new faculty member. Since there are only twenty-four hours in a day, you need to spend them wisely. Learning to say “no” is an acquired skill and often difficult.

Don’t forget to take calculated risks.

Branching out beyond your comfort zone into new areas of discovery can sometimes lead to amazing career opportunities. When such opportunities present themselves, thoughtfully consider pursuit. Consult with trusted mentors and leadership. The world is replete with stories of successes that began with a single step across a line.

In summary, your first faculty position is a time for celebration and, as we would say in pediatrics, a major developmental milestone. As you look to the future and the bright career that awaits you, remember that you are your best advocate. Get out of your office and make your mark on the world.

About the author

Linda Cripe, MD, is a professor of pediatrics and a pediatric cardiologist for The Heart Center. She is also a member of the physician team for the Neuromuscular Disorders section of The Neurosciences Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Dr. Cripe completed her residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. She served as a pediatric cardiology fellow at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and at Children's Hospital Boston. Before coming to Nationwide Children's, Dr. Cripe spent 12 years at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Dr. Cripe's clinical interests focus on non-invasive cardiac imaging specifically echocardiography as well as on the care and treatment of cardiomyopathy associated with neuromuscular disease, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. She was a member of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Steering Committee Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Standards of Care, and has been an invited lecturer nationally and internationally on cardiomyopathy related to DMD. Dr. Cripe is currently is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.