Mount Sinai’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute publishes a higher percentage of papers in leading journals every year than any other research institute in Ontario. And this feat is accomplished largely due to the outstanding trainees who are the bright minds and big hearts leading the way in innovative research and advancing the future health of Canadians.
The Research Training Centre (RTC) within the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum provides support and an exceptional learning environment for all trainees through high-quality training for postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, clinician-scientists, and summer students.
In 2012, there were 126 post-doctoral fellows, 107 grad students and 75 summer students.
Here, we take a closer look at this unique group at Mount Sinai by chatting with the RTC’s Associate Director, Dr. Cindy Todoroff, who has been with the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum since 1999 and has helped shape the RTC into the thriving network of support it is today, for the leading scientists of tomorrow.
How do we attract these amazing trainees to the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum year after year?
Well, we actually don`t do a lot of work to recruit trainees – we usually don`t need to advertise . Exceptional graduate students and post doctoral fellows want to come here to work alongside the thought-leaders and leading scientists here at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum. So in a sense, our reputation does the recruiting for us!
What makes the RTC at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum different compared to other research institutes?
Most research institutes don’t have a dedicated Research Training Centre. So, at Mount Sinai, we’re really unique. We’re a one-stop-shop for future scientists because we make their transition smoother. From getting help with work visas, health insurance, travel rewards (which allows our trainees to present their work to leading national and international colleagues in the field), to social events, HR and daily problem-solving – we do it all! And this allows the Principal Investigators, who are supervising the trainees, to collaborate closely with trainees on the science... without getting mired in the technicalities of all this other stuff.
How can trainees become more involved with the RTC?
There’s a steering committee for the RTC which is made up of post-docs and grad students who come up with new initiatives and reach out to trainees on various issues. This really helps because in the end we try to make the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum a better place to learn, for everyone. Trainees can connect with their fellow steering committee members at any time, or even join themselves.
You also do a bit of work in the community...
Yes – we reach out to approximately 4,500 youth in the community in any given year to foster a love for science and discovery in a variety of ways, for kids who may not otherwise have the opportunity. For example, with our SciHigh program, our trainees volunteer to visit different public and high schools a few times a week.
What’s the purpose of SciHigh?
The purpose is really to get children and youth excited about science. Our trainees visit classrooms and community centres throughout the GTA to inspire the next generation of scientists – from extracting DNA from a banana , learning how to build DNA models from licorice and marshmallows, to learning the technique of pipetting or how electrophoresis works, we really engage these students in hands-on workshops.
We also hold a science fair for grade 7/8 students. The funding for this fair actually comes from our very own scientists. For kids who cannot afford science supplies, we have scientists like Drs. Tony Pawson, Jeff Wrana, Dan Durocher, and many others, who generously donate the funding for these supplies. Our participation in the Science Rendevous program, which started across the city about six years ago, celebrates a day of science in the province. So you see, we reach out to budding scientists even beyond the walls of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum.
What happens to a trainee after they are finished with their training, or post-doctoral studies, in the lab?
The next step is typically to have a lab of your own or to secure a challenging position in a university, research institute or a bio-pharma company. We’ve had a number of trainees from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum over the years go on to wonderful opportunities. For example, Dr. Sascha Drewlo, a post-doctoral researcher in Dr. John Kingdom’s lab, just moved on to Wayne State University School of Medicine in the United States, as Assistant Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Drewlo has a strong background in placental biology combined with expertise in molecular biology, which will be a great asset to their reproductive sciences program.
Personally, I think it’s an exciting time to be a scientist. The recent economic downturn has reduced opportunities as governments and companies have slowed down investments, but this is all the more reason why we need to empower our trainees with competitive tools and connections. The RTC’s role is to help our trainees achieve their scientific ideas – and realize their dreams.