Like many researchers who study cancer-related symptom burden, Qiuling Shi, M.D., Ph.D., is a “hybrid.”
With no degrees offered in symptom research, investigators like her come to the field from various backgrounds, which makes mentoring essential in integrating and shaping their experience and knowledge.
When she met her mentor, Charles Cleeland, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Symptom Research, she was a junior faculty researcher in molecular epidemiology at M. D. Anderson.
Interested in how her background in genetics could be combined with the study of cancer treatment side effects, Cleeland, a world-renowned expert on pain, invited her to join the department under the auspices of the Hawn Educational Program in Symptom Research.
For the past 12 years, the Hawn Foundation has funded various aspects of the department, including the mentoring process that brings both predoctoral students and junior faculty to the institution and encourages their work.
“By mentoring, we get enthusiastic new investigators,” Cleeland says. “It allows me to help them combine what they know with what they’re learning and apply that to symptom research. I recommend reading, encourage participation in meetings and conferences, and introduce them to my contacts in the field. I also put them in the clinics, have them work on protocols and interview patients so they get a context for symptoms.”
Shi’s genetics training has transferred well into the field. After a presentation at the Genetic Disposition and Patient-Reported Quality of Life Outcomes Consortium at the Mayo Clinic in 2009, she was invited to lead a small workgroup.
“I’m excited to be a pioneer in the field,” she says. “Without Dr. Cleeland’s mentoring, I wouldn’t have been able to develop the career I have. When I have an idea, I don’t have to worry if it’s not mature yet. I just talk with him, and he helps me explore and develop its possibilities.”