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Program helps faculty researchers dealing with personal challenges

Jan. 14, 2016, 9:33 AM

Because researchers early in their careers have fewer resources at their disposal than their more established colleagues, their projects are all the more vulnerable to disruption when they are called away to attend to the health care needs of a child, spouse, partner or parent, or when they themselves become ill or face a complicated pregnancy.

When demands of this sort arise for junior faculty engaged in research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), a new program, the Partnership in Actively Retaining Talented Early-career Researchers, or Doris Duke Partners, will provide funds to help eligible faculty keep their work on track.

Individual faculty members can receive up to $50,000 per year for extra assistance at work, and smaller amounts for help at home. The program does not fund caregiver services.

The program is made possible by a five-year, $540,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and by $250,000 of in-house funding, also spread over five years.

Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D.

“These funds are for keeping the individual faculty member’s academic life in order, so that what they’re needing to do on the home front is less likely to detract from their research accomplishments,” said the program’s director, Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for Clinical and Translational Scientist Development.

“When you’re early in your career and you don’t have a big team and don’t have residual funds in your account, having a bit of extra money to pay for extra lab tech time, or editorial assistance, or additional bio-statistics support, or extra research nurse time can have a huge impact in terms of keeping research on track and helping faculty members feel their lives are less chaotic,” Hartmann said.

As for examples of how the funds might be used outside of work, Hartmann said they might go to reimburse a trusted agency to meet a home repair person, or to pick up the siblings of a sick child and drive them to after-school activities.

According to Hartmann, focus groups and a survey of junior research faculty indicated the need for the proposed program was greater than some members of the faculty and leadership might have suspected. She said faculty are as prone as anyone to keep private any personal challenges arising at home.

However, the survey responses indicated that faculty already under such pressures have no trouble identifying how the program’s funds could be used to help sustain their work.

Per a stipulation of its primary funder, the new program is obligated to exclude faculty using animals in research. Otherwise, the program is for faculty researchers in good standing who are funded by a career development award or are still within the funding period of their first large federal grant.

Confidential eligibility screening will be handled through the Faculty and Physician Wellness Program, which is part of the Work/Life Connections — Employee Assistance Program.

The co-director of the new program is Wonder Drake, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.

For more information on eligibility criteria or to apply for assistance, visit the program’s website.

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