A key purpose of the Shandling Fund is the support of promising post-doc students who are interested in careers of research and patient care. These doctor-scientists are a talented, creative, and dedicated cohort. Unfortunately, many of these young people carry crushing student debt load and find it difficult to support themselves, let alone a family living in the Los Angeles area, on the state-based salary they are paid at UCLA.
The Shandling Fund will provide these doctor-scientists with much-needed financial support to allow them to continue their work at UCLA Health while they pursue funding from traditional NIH sources. Currently, achieving NIH funding is a prerequisite to advancing to having their own lab. It is imperative that they be encouraged to stay in the academic medicine field of clinically-focused research. Too often, family and other financial demands in the absence of institutional support drives these individuals into private practice. While they continue being excellent clinicians, their research training and research ideas cease, and another dedicated future medical research scientist leader is lost. With the support of Dr. Yang and Dr. Anton as mentors, the art of grant writing can be honed, innovation can be nurtured, and medical science advanced for the benefit of patients and their families.
Being a physician-scientist is an exciting career, but also stressful given that future funding is increasingly uncertain. Trying to start this career without guidance would be nearly impossible, and mentorship is critical to the success of a junior scientist. The importance goes way beyond scientific knowledge and experimental design, as a good mentor helps the scientist develop curiosity and grow into a confident leader. I have been lucky to have worked with outstanding mentors in my career, and truly attribute my early success to them. I worked with Dr. Yang and Dr. Anton as a post-doctoral fellow studying mucosal immunology in HIV transmission. They gave me opportunities to explore my field, and importantly the freedom to define my own identity. They pushed me to grow as an independent scientist, and not simply serve as an extension of their own work. My research now focuses on understanding the effects of the gut microbiome on gut mucosal immunity, and how this is affected by substance use and HIV infection. Even as faculty I continue to turn to Dr. Yang and Dr. Anton for guidance on navigating academia and building my research group.
Jennifer Fulcher, MD, PhD
Division of Infectious Diseases, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Infectious Diseases Section, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
As a very early career physician-scientist, the thing I love most is having the ability to speak "two languages" and cross between the worlds of basic science and clinical medicine. In a typical week I can diagnose and treat patients with a certain disease and develop research questions based on what I see with these patients. Instead of stopping there, I can read the primary scientific literature in the field, discuss the basic biology of the disease with laboratory scientists, and sit down and develop my own questions and experiments to answer these questions.
Unfortunately, today there are massive barriers to being able to successfully establish a physician-scientist career. The biggest of these barriers is the increased pressure to find funding for my research and the decreased availability of government funding. I see other physician-scientists a decade older than myself struggling to obtain government funding - something that was not nearly as much of an issue 20-30 years ago. To counteract these massive limitations, having support early in my career is critical to my success. This includes financial, intellectual, and emotional support from my institution, my department, and my mentors, who guide me on productive research topics, and who can guarantee financial support during the early years of research when funding is so scarce.
As a former PhD student in Dr. Otto Yang's lab, I can speak first-hand to his lasting support for my career. As a direct supervisor, Dr. Yang was more of a "guide" than a "boss." He taught me to find important questions, provided the foundational knowledge to help me get established in the field, and then supported me as I dabbled with experiments in the lab. Dr. Yang provided his support even as experiment after experiment failed, helping me to think back and reason through my failures rather than giving up. His persistent support helped me become a better scientist
Dr. Yang truly has the careers of his students in mind. Several years out of his laboratory, he has continued to reach out to me and make sure that I am progressing towards my goals, helping guide me through obstacles and tough decisions.
Working as a physician-scientist is a unique privilege. I feel a great responsibility to strive to make discoveries in medicine and science that will advance our knowledge in preventing and treating disease to improve the health of all individuals. Dr. Otto Yang’s long and prolific career exemplifies this pursuit, and his work has made countless noteworthy discoveries in a broad range of fields in health and science. But beyond this dedication to discovery, Dr. Yang has made the training and mentoring of future professionals a central focus of his work. He has helped propel numerous physician-scientists, including myself, into productive academic careers.
Having Dr. Yang as a mentor was a special opportunity and a valuable experience. Learning by his example and from his personal and individualized method of teaching and mentorship, I was able to develop expertise in the fields of Medicine, Infectious Diseases, and Immunology. Dr. Yang’s approach to his trainees goes beyond just instruction. He considers their academic achievements and development as his own. I continue to seek out his advice in my work and career to this day. His training and support have allowed me to remain a productive academic physician and set the foundation for my own pursuit of making meaningful medical and scientific discoveries. It has also given me the blueprint of how to teach and support my own mentees. The effective mentorship and instruction of trainees is the only way the future of biomedical research can be sustained. This field could not exist without the dedicated instruction and mentorship of physician-scientists like Dr. Yang.
Please help support young physician-scientists by donating to the Garry Shandling Biomedical Future Fund.