Conquer Cancer Foundation Grant Recipient 'Pays It Forward' Through Philanthropic Support, Volunteer Service

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I feel that these awards helped me at critical points in my career, and I want to give back to help others the same way.

—Dr. Dawn Hershman

Dr. Dawn Hershman, Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center and leader of the Breast Cancer Program at Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, is committed to doing what she can to develop, encourage, and support the next generation of oncology researchers. She acts as a professional and scientific mentor to fellows and junior faculty, reviews and critiques grant applications from early-career researchers as a longtime volunteer on the Conquer Cancer Foundation Grant Selection Committee, and is a donor to the Conquer Cancer Foundation.

As she puts it, quite simply, “I cannot think of a better investment than contributing to someone’s future.”

Awards Have Catalyzing Effect on Careers

Dr. Hershman’s first encounter with the Conquer Cancer Foundation was as a fellow, when she received a Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Merit Award, which allowed her to attend her first ASCO Annual Meeting. She received a Career Development Award (CDA) in 2002 and an Advanced Clinical Research Award (ACRA) in Breast Cancer in 2007, and went on to participate in ASCO’s Leadership Development Program in 2009.

“I am so grateful to the Conquer Cancer Foundation for the opportunities I have had as a result of the grants I have gotten… I feel that these awards helped me at critical points in my career, and I want to give back to help others the same way,” she said. “I have also had the opportunity to be the mentor for junior faculty and fellows who have received grants from [the Conquer Cancer Foundation]. It is a thrill to see the excitement that these awards generate in the recipients.”

Being the recipient of a research grant from the Conquer Cancer Foundation can have a catalyzing effect on the career of the young physician-scientist who receives it. Take the case of the Young Investigator Award (YIA), the Foundation’s flagship grant that provides one year of funding to an oncology researcher during the challenging transition from a fellowship to a faculty appointment.

The YIA often serves as springboard to help its recipient obtain additional funding for future work. As Dr. Hershman explains, “For many investigators who want to have an academic career it is very difficult to get career development awards without preliminary data and a track record of funding. A YIA from [the Conquer Cancer Foundation] is a prestigious award and not only does it give the applicant time and resources to complete preliminary studies, it also is a way for fellows or junior faculty to ‘prove themselves,’” she said.

Fueling the Next Generation of Oncology Leaders

Dr. Hershman made her annual gift during ASCO’s Annual Meeting, which is always a weekend full of excitement and enthusiasm for advances in the field of oncology. It is also a time when the impact of the Conquer Cancer Foundation’s Grants & Awards program, which this year is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is on full display.

“At ASCO, when you look at researchers [who] are presenting practice-changing results from clinical trials, many have been recipients of [Conquer Cancer Foundation] grants,” said Dr. Hershman.

A recent survey of more than 550 past recipients of Conquer Cancer Foundation YIAs and CDAs found that 98% remain in oncology research with 88% practicing in an academic setting. Over 80% said that their Conquer Cancer Foundation grant was what allowed them to continue to perform clinical research, and 99% of recipients said that their grant was important to advancing their careers.

“There has been so much progress in the treatment of cancer and we need well trained researchers to help continue the progress,” said Dr. Hershman.

Grant Selection Committee

Dr. Hershman has volunteered on the Conquer Cancer Foundation’s Grant Selection Committee for 5 years and served as Chair for the 2012–2013 term. During that time she has seen hundreds of applications for the YIA and CDA award competitions, including a record number in 2013.  “Every year I saw more and more outstanding applications, and every year fewer were funded because of a difficult funding environment,” she said. In 2013 the Foundation was able to award 48 YIAs, but those grantees represent only one in four applicants.

Her role on the committee gave Dr. Hershman an up-close view of what ASCO and the field of oncology was missing out on by leaving promising applicants unfunded due to lack of philanthropic support, and she posits a simple solution. “If every ASCO member gave a little bit, we would have been able to fund all of the outstanding grants that were submitted,” she said.

To make a donation to the Conquer Cancer Foundation, visit www.conquercancerfoundation
.org/­donate. To learn more about becoming a volunteer on the Grants Selection Committee, email ■

© 2013. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.