Often, new rheumatologists in academia are at a point in their practice and lives in which they must balance the demands of establishing a research career while having a young family. Since she finished her fellowship at Johns Hopkins in 2016, this balancing act has been ongoing for Laura Cappelli, MD, MHS, an assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, Baltimore.
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Dr. Cappelli experienced unique challenges while establishing a research career. Her first son, who is now 3, was born during her last year of her fellowship. Four months ago, Dr. Cappelli had her second son.
“It’s such a wonderful time of life, but it’s hard to put in really long hours at work [and nurture a career] when you are needed at home and trying to handle all the demands of being a new parent,” she says. “The nice thing about academic rheumatology is working on your own schedule as a clinical researcher. I know it can be more difficult for basic science researchers in the lab.”
Speaking directly to challenges in practice, Dr. Cappelli notes the climate has become more difficult for a young investigator to get funding. “You have to be persistent in applying for grant funding and deal with the inevitable rejections that come,” she says.
Dr. Cappelli shares three strategies that have helped her find the balance with professional and personal challenges in developing her academic rheumatology career:
- Find an environment that will be supportive: Finding a position in which you can dedicate time for research is important, she notes. “Early on, I knew I wanted a research career. And in the beginning, I needed to rely on internal grants until I could secure more external funding, which has been very helpful here,” she says.
- Seek out mentors: Dr. Cappelli has several mentors who support her in her work and her family balance. “The more senior women in my division have shared a lot of practical advice about balancing my time when I have to be home with a sick child or need to travel for work,” she says. “[They] shared valuable advice when I was taking time off from work after having my children. I’ve been lucky in rheumatology [to have] a lot of wonderful female mentors, so I can learn from their experiences.”
- Learn to use rejection for growth: “In academics, rejection is inevitable, whether it’s with papers, grants or promotions,” Dr. Cappelli says. “My mentors have helped me understand that the most productive way to handle rejection is to learn from the feedback you receive, because some can be scientifically beneficial.” She notes individuals have to pivot and move on when rejection comes. “If you let it paralyze you, you will not get anything done.”
The key to thriving in any professional role is to believe in what you do and surround yourself with people who also believe in your work, Dr. Cappelli notes. “If you are getting good input around you and your research is strong, you are going to be successful in getting funding and getting published.”