Chapter 06: Early Research and the Art of Grantsmanship

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Chapter 06: Early Research and the Art of Grantsmanship

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Dr. Cohen begins this chapter by explaining that he transferred his fellowship work to the University of Pittsburgh because he was unable to do the research he wanted at Toronto Hospital: he was approved to transfer his grant money from NCI Canada to do this work. Dr. Cohen explains that his study originally focused on how group support post-surgery influenced outcomes for men with prostate cancer. This next turned into a study of pre-surgical stress management. He then talks about the art of writing grants to "market" research to a "reluctant buyer." He talks about how he adjusted to the medical center environment at the University of Pittsburg and discusses the importance of the support of surgeons for his work.

Identifier

CohenL_02_20160706_C06

Publication Date

7-6-2016

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - The Researcher; The Researcher; Mentoring; On Mentoring; Understanding Cancer, the History of Science, Cancer Research; Professional Path

Transcript

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK, we are recording. So just let me quick put the identifier on. I'm Tacey Ann Rosolowski. Today is July 6th, 2016. It is about 22 minutes after 2:00. And I'm in the office of Dr. Lorenzo Cohen for our second session together. Thank you for making time.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

+ And we were strategizing before the recorder went on, and we were at the point last time, we wrapped up with you talking about how you had followed Andrew Baum to University of Pittsburgh. And just wanted to make sure that you had an opportunity to talk about what you did there, particularly in those second two phases when you were the senior research fellow, and then the research assistant professor. And that would cover the period between '95 and '97.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

So when I realized I wasn't able to really conduct the kind of work I wanted to do when I was up in Canada at the University of Toronto at Toronto General Hospital, Andy was my parachute back into safety so to speak, and I had designed a study with my postdoc mentor up in Canada to do a postsurgical kind of mind-body cognitive behavioral therapy group support for men with prostate cancer. When I got to Pittsburgh -- and had the sanction and the support from the National Cancer Institute of Canada to transfer the money, so I had a bit of my own money to do a research study, and essentially that research study, because they had approved me to do that, so that there was no issues with my previous mentor in Canada -- I felt I needed to change the study enough to make it really my own or something that was created with Andy. So I turned it into a totally different study, which was going to be a presurgical stress management for men with prostate cancer. The focus was the same, the intervention was different, but dealing with the same issue of stress and recovery of men with prostate cancer, and had that important component of immune function embedded in it, which was one of my big interests, stress and the immune system. And it was in alignment with what I did my dissertation on, which was really a dissertation of a means to an end, but an acute laboratory intervention to see if different kinds of strategies could mitigate, buffer, the effects of acute stress in the lab. Predictability, information, rehearsal of what's going to be happening. I already had all the background on presurgical interventions, so it was easy to convert that. And during my time in Pittsburgh continued to learn the art of grantsmanship from Andy, who's just an incredible grant writer. We submitted a Komen grant together, of which we were successful, an information-based project. I'm not sure where it ever went, because Andy was the PI, but I kind of wrote it.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Can you tell me what's involved in the art of grantsmanship? What does that mean?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Well, ultimately you're selling something to somebody, who --they're a reluctant buyer. If you were to think about it in that way. So it's figuring out how to package this idea that you're trying to convince somebody to sell who's reluctant to part with any money. And it has to do with redundancy, but not overly redundant, keeping things simple, but not overly simplistic. Something that I always tell my trainees and junior faculty, everything has to be parallel. I'm surprised there isn't a program already written. But essentially the most important part is your aims. And once you have your aims, everything just falls into place. You have to have significance for every aim. You have to have the background for every aim, the references for every aim, the preliminary studies to support every aim, the methods to support every aim, the statistical analysis to support every aim. That's where in some sense the redundancy comes in, because you're constantly going back to your aims. That's a really simplistic level. It's learning that process and trying to -- the other thing that people struggle with is keeping things in the right place. In your aims, you don't talk about how you're going to analyze your data. Your aims are your aims. In your aims, you don't talk about the background on the study. That's for the background section. And people sometimes get things mixed up. It just makes it cleaner and easier to read as the grant reader.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Learning the form. But obviously it's something you have to finesse, you have to learn it and do it well. Thanks for answering that, because I don't think anybody's ever quite summarized it so precisely, so thanks. I derailed you. You said you continued to learn the art of grantsmanship from Andy.

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

So in Toronto I had a little bit of experience working with some doctors and learning -- so in graduate school essentially I did animal research and then healthy human research, and had never really worked in a medical setting. In Toronto I worked a bit in the medical setting but then got really embedded in it in Pittsburgh. That was forever ago, but that's where I was thrown into the lion's den because my main collaborators were surgeons. Surgeons have a unique sensibility, style. You probably have experienced this just in meeting each of the primary disciplines of surgery, radiation oncology, and medical oncology.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

How would you describe it though in your words?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

I don't know, I don't like to stereotype, but not even me stereotyping, surgeons tend to be more cutting to the chase. Within the hierarchy of medicine they, right or wrong, view themselves as the top. The egos are probably bigger, although they're big in all the MDs. But the surgeons in theory are the ones at the top. The person who was very interested in the study was one of the senior urologists in the center, which was great, because he took me under his wing. It was a psychosocial study, so there was no competition, but there was also no interest necessarily. People weren't going to go out of their way. But because it was a cancer center but also a general urology clinic, the nurses gave me the name Dr. Death, I think it was or something along those lines, because they knew when they saw me sitting in the workroom that there was somebody in that clinic who had cancer. They didn't necessarily right off the bat know who, because I found out before they found out, because I'd go look at the pathology. And then right before the patient comes in, they look up and they see oh, it's Mr. Smith. Oh, I have to tell him he has cancer and talk about surgery and radiation and all those things. So sometimes the nurses didn't know until they went in the room, but they saw me, and they're like, "Oh, guess Mr. Smith has cancer.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, God. Who was the surgeon who took an interest in your work?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

I can't remember his name now.

T. A. Rosolowski, PhD:

You may think of it. That's the kind of thing that could be added to the transcript later. And let me just ask you. So this was in the mid '90s. What was the general attitude towards behavioral sciences at that time?

Lorenzo Cohen, PhD:

Well, in psychooncology in particular it hadn't developed that much. There was starting to be these group interventions. Just not a lot of work in that area, in particular in the area of psychoneuroimmunology where you're trying to link psychological factors with immune and hormone functioning, stress hormones. It was a pretty wide open area. So I had enough money -- I can't remember if I got money from some other source as well, I think I did -- to do a small pilot of this presurgical stress management intervention, and during my time in Pittsburgh applied for an R01 with Andy's mentorship of grant writing. I don't even remember what the score was, but that was my first submission. Got favorably reviewed, but not funded. And essentially the first reviewer said in so many words, "Do this and this and then resubmit it and we'll fund you. And I did that and at that time applied to MD Anderson because there was a job opening in the Department of Behavior Science for a behavioral scientist.

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Chapter 06: Early Research and the Art of Grantsmanship

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