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Program helps researchers deal with personal challenges

Oct. 8, 2020, 10:05 AM


by Paul Govern

An innovative program to support Vanderbilt University Medical Center faculty facing substantial caregiving challenges in their personal lives, the Partnership in Actively Retaining Talented Early-career Researchers, or Doris Duke PARTNERS, will receive a $528,000, three-year grant renewal from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

VUMC has pledged an additional $300,000 of in-house funding for the program over the next five years.

Through the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, the program will now be extended to eligible early-career researchers at Meharry Medical College in Nashville.

Time- and money-draining personal challenges can derail a faculty member’s ability to focus on research and can threaten career trajectories. Because researchers early in their careers have fewer resources at their disposal than more established colleagues, their projects are more vulnerable to disruption when they are attending to the care needs of a child, spouse, partner or parent, or when they themselves are ill or face a complicated pregnancy.

When demands of this sort arise for eligible early-career faculty engaged in research at VUMC, and now for faculty at Meharry as well, PARTNERS provides funds to help keep their work on track. Since 2016, 20 faculty have benefited from PARTNERS support. Faculty members can receive up to $50,000 a year for extra assistance at work, and smaller amounts for help at home.

“These funds affirm the value of a researcher’s work and help keep the individual faculty member’s academic life in order, so that what they need to do on the home front is less likely to disrupt their research achievements,” said the program’s director, Katherine Hartmann, MD, PhD, associate dean for Clinical and Translational Scientist Development at the School of Medicine and Vice President for Research Integration at VUMC.

“When you’re early in your career and you don’t have a big team and don’t have discretionary funds, having a modest infusion of money to pay for extra lab tech time, editorial assistance, 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 can be used outside of work, Hartmann said they might go to reimburse a trusted agency to meet a home repair person during work hours, to arrange meal delivery or to coordinate family activities. (The program does not fund caregiver services.)

PARTNERS is for faculty researchers in good standing who are funded by a career development award. Confidential eligibility screening is arranged with the program through the Faculty and Physician Wellness Program, part of the Work/Life Connections — Employee Assistance Program. The co-director of the program is Wonder Drake, MD, 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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