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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Retreat Roundup

Morning all,

So I wanted to recap this weekend's MSTP retreat at Wrightsville Beach, NC.

You might first want to know, why do we do such things? Why does Duke think we should all go away together? The answer is manifold. First, getting the entire MSTP together at a remote location for a weekend allows us all to see and get to know each other. For example, we first years barely know the most senior students, many of whom are stuck in grad school or are just returning to the wards. Events like this allow us all to catch up and forge relationships.

Another purpose of a retreat is to stimulate ideas and collaborations. The MSTP students who are now in graduate school gave talks and presented posters on their work. By doing so, they were able to get feedback from the other students and faculty present. Additionally, their presentations informed us younger students about what kind of work goes on in certain labs, which could be very useful to us in the future.

Finally, a major purpose of these kind of retreats is to have fun : ) And that's just what we did. More on that in a bit.

A quick summary:

Friday night
- We arrived
-Check in
- Really nice dinner
- Me -> go to bed. Everybody else: go to the bar

- Breakfast
-Science talks from the Grad students
-Free time (Oh yeah!)
-Talk from Chair of Dept of Medicine @ Duke
-Dinner (even better than the night before)
- Me -> go to sleep. Everybody else -> bar

- Science/pep talks from new investigators
- Check out

I want to comment on the two most salient parts: The fun time on Sat and the pep talks on Sunday.

Fun time
As some of you may know, I've been an avid fisherman for a long time. It's one of the things that I've stuck with from my childhood to the present. I do it less than I used to, but it never gets old. North Carolina has some excellent surf, inshore and offshore fishing and so I'm really happy this is my new home. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to explore since arriving here, but since we were at the beach, I figured this to be the perfect opportunity to go wet a line.

I've been on a fly fishing kick as of late. It's a pain in the butt sometimes because of myriad challenges fly casting brings with it, but that makes catching something all the more rewarding. Many inshore fly casters like to use kayaks to get to remote spots and sight cast to fish. I've never used a kayak before and was a little apprehensive. Fears aside, I walked across the street and rented a fishing kayak for two hours. I asked the guy if there was anything special I should do, and his response was, "just paddle". Thanks : )

Off I went into the back bay. The weather was perfect, a slight breeze, no clouds, and the water was not very choppy. I paddled across the backbay into to the grassy areas where it was calmer. I immediately saw some activity around me and got excited. I know very little about the fish in the area. I was expecting to see some red drum, sea trout, or something of the sort.

After I got the hang of standing atop the kayak and keeping my balance, I began to cast frantically at the big swirls occurring near the banks of the grass. The current was moving me quietly through the channel flanked by two islands of grass. It was idyllic. This is what I had always imaged. Here I am, all alone, moving peacefully through a quiet southern backwater casting at fish just waiting to gobble up my lure. This is the good life : )

The only thing that didn't happen was me hooking a fish, despite all the commotion. I encountered a young man on his boat throwing a cast net right where I was fishing, and I asked him, frustrated, "what the heck are all these fish jumping around?" "Those are big mullet," he said. "They eat algae, so don't bother trying to catch them. They make great bait though when they're small." Bait. I was throwing at bait. Great. Feeling a little embarrassed, I thanked the young man for the information and moved along. Steep is the learning curve when you fish a new area where the species are ones you've never encountered and the waters a different sort than the ones back home.

By this point, I realized I had moved far away from where I launched. I got so excited in casting to the mullet that I didn't notice how quickly the current was moving me and the kayak. So, with an hour left, I decided I should start making my way back to the dock, throwing a line as I travel.
So I turned my kayak back into the current and began to paddle. And I went nowhere. The tide was ebbing really fast now and I could barely move in it. I got a little scared, wondering if I'd be stuck out in the grass for a while. I calmed down and thought for a second. The current is broken up by the tall boat docks on the other side of the channel. If I could stay close to them, maybe I could make some headway. With that game plan, I paddled across the large channel and came up close to the docks. It didn't help that I had fast boats jetting right next to me, sending big wakes that almost came over the side of the yak.

I paddled straight into the current, but under the docks. I was making a little movement at least. Paddling like this, it took me a full hour to get back. And boy was I beat when I got back. My arms were sore and my skin a little crisp. But I was glad to be back on dry land, and happy that I had finally done the kayak thing. I think it'll take some getting used to, but I'd like to do it again. Hopefully when I save some bucks, I can get a kayak of my own. Oh, and catching some fish would be nice too.

Motivation for next time


On Sunday morning, after breakfast, we made out way into conference room and listened to three faculty members who joined us. All of them were MSTP graduates (not all from Duke) and each is now a professor at Duke, just beginning their careers. They were Nicole Calakos, Matt Wolf and Mark Palmeri.

When you're doing something that takes so long as becoming a physician-scientist, it is important to have frequent reminders of why you're doing this and also that others before you have completed the path successfully and are now doing what you'd someday like to do. In other words, role models are especially important to us MudPhuds-in-training.

Each of the three speakers that morning followed a different track. Dr Wolf finished his MSTP training and then did a residency in cardiology and a fellowship, both at Duke. He's at the inception of his independent career now, ten years after finishing MD-PhD training at Wash U. Dr. Palmeri, on the other hand, forwent residency and went straight into academics as a research professor in the BME department here. While he can't treat patients, he impressed upon us that one can still do very clinically relevant research and still have some patient contact even without doing a residency. Dr Calakos followed yet another distinct path. She completed here MD-PhD at Stanford, did a neurology residency at UCSF, then did a traditional post-doc at Stanford, and finally landed at Duke as an assistant professor.

The first lesson I took away from hearing these three speak is that there is no one right way to become a physician-scientist. There are many ways, each of them with their merits. For my own interests, I was most happy to hear about Dr. Calakos' trajectory. Although a very long way out, I've thought about where I'd like to do a residency and where I'd ultimately want to live and work one day. For MD-PhD's, one often hears about research track residencies where you do residency and a quasi-post-doc all in one place, to the end that you become a faculty member at that institution when your training is over. But what if you don't want to do all those things in the same place? I'd like to do my residency at one place, post-doc at another, and then finally become a professor at another. Can you do this? Calakos' story convinced me that I could.

Second, in listening to Drs. Wolf and Calakos, we all realized, you can do it all. Calakos is an assistant professor at Duke, an excellent scientist, a clinician and a teacher. Same with Wolf. Calakos brought her two young children and husband with her. I care about my family life very much, and so many of the successful scientists I've come to know seem to be willing to sacrifice that part of their lives for scientific glory. Having Dr. Calakos' family there showed us all that you don't have to make that sacrifice for success. You really can have it all if you're smart with your time and you make prudent decisions about what you pursue in your career. Along those lines, we heard from several people that more cerebral and less procedural clinical specialties lend themselves better to a physician-scientist's career than more labor intensive procedural based practices. I will ruminate on that piece of advice when choosing what I want to do as a clinician.

In sum, all of us, especially the first years, left super motivated. Getting our minds off of Normal Body for a few days was the perfect remedy for a little bit of burnout. We were reminded of what we're here to do and we were given excellent examples of people we can model ourselves after.
All in all, I'd say the retreat was a success.

I'll post some pics when they come up.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a great weekend. I am glad you are enjoying everything