Two researchers who have benefitted from great mentorship are now leading a program that encourages others to connect with mentors to facilitate workforce development through the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI). Brownsyne Tucker Edmonds, MD, and Matt Allen, PhD, are the new co-directors of the Indiana CTSI Career Development, Education and Research Training (CERT) program. They are succeeding Aaron Carroll, MD, the previous director of the CERT program, who has taken on a new role as the Director of Surveillance and Mitigation for the COVID pandemic for Indiana University.
When Tucker Edmonds came to the IU School of Medicine, she started as a KL2 scholar with the Indiana CTSI. The KL2 program is an early-career development award for junior faculty members to immerse them in a research-intensive setting with the added benefit of a mentor.
“The KL2 program was my introduction to the Indiana CTSI,” said Tucker Edmonds, who is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, as well as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at IU School of Medicine. “To come in as a trainee and to really benefit from the high-caliber programming and resources we had available to us played a big part in me wanting to stay connected and be part of the program moving forward.”
Tucker Edmonds has served as the Co-Director of Peer-Mentorship and the Director of Diversity for the KL2 program through the last few years. She is currently working on two pilot efforts to enhance the support and mentorship of faculty from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine (URM): KL2/TL PLUS (Program to Launch URM Success), as well as UPwARD (URM Program for Advising in Research and Development). She credits Carroll, IU School of Medicine Associate Dean for Research Mentoring who is also the health correspondent to the Indiana CTSI, for making a significant impact in her trajectory as a health researcher.
“While there were some really great investigators in my department, there wasn’t a solid infrastructure to support the kind of scholarship I was trying to pursue,” said Tucker Edmonds. “Aaron kind of adopted me. I already had my clinical home, but to have a research home and a research community, it was very enlivening and an important moment in my career.”
Carroll founded the Independent Investigator Incubator (I3) program of the Indiana CTSI, a mentorship program dedicated to supporting new faculty during the first few years of their research careers. Allen has served as a mentor through that program for a number of years and is now the director of the I3 program.
“Seeing the next generation succeed is so fulfilling,” said Allen, who is a professor of anatomy, cell biology and physiology, an adjunct professor of medicine, and an adjunct professor of orthopaedic surgery at IU School of Medicine. “The unique thing about I3 is it connects faculty with mentors outside of their discipline. Mentors in this program, being an arms-length away from their mentees, can provide a unique perspective on not only the science, but in helping navigate various aspects of faculty life. That’s what makes this such a unique concept.”
When Allen came to the IU School of Medicine, he had a strong foundation of research mentors, but a transformative event was finding mentorship outside of his scientific work. Allen says he values the time and effort that Jim McAteer, PhD, professor emeritus of anatomy and cell biology, spent with him, and knew he wanted to emulate that positive example.
“Jim is one of the best human beings on the face of the earth and he had a genuine passion for mentoring faculty,” said Allen. “If I can be like him in any small way, that’s what I want to do. I saw how valuable his mentorship was to me, so I want to do that for as many people as I can.”
As Allen and Tucker Edmonds work together to lead the CERT program, they say they’re looking forward to building on the success of the past, while also looking for new ways to grow. Since the program started in 2008, 68 KL2 Young Investigators and 124 TL1 predocs have participated. The program expanded to include TL1 postdocs and I3 in 2014, with 21 TL1 postdocs and 110 faculty participating in the I3 program since then.
“We are really excited to be thinking about opportunities for community-facing engagement, including how we can transform the health of the population,” said Tucker Edmonds, who also serves as the Assistant Dean for Diversity Affairs at IU School of Medicine. “That’s going to require being a little more outwardly-focused and a little more attentive to these issues around health equity.”
Tucker Edmonds also co-leads the Indiana CTSI Health Equity and Racial Justice Taskforce. She says some of their efforts in the taskforce will help them reimagine what workforce development entails. In addition to working with faculty members, Allen, who also helps oversee the K-12 STEM education portfolio within the Indiana CTSI, says he also sees opportunities for growth specifically in the K-12 programming.
“The exciting part about this is that CERT is going so well,” said Allen, who serves as the Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professional Development at IU School of Medicine. “Now we have the opportunity to step in and add a few pieces to strengthen it. And for me, the fact that I get to do this with Brownsyne, there’s nobody else that I would have wanted to work alongside in this role.”