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How to Design a Successful Career Path in Cancer Research: The Do’s and Don’ts for Early-Stage Investigators

Sunday, April 10, 5:30 – 7 p.m. CST

Carondelet, New Orleans Marriott

Organized as a collaborative effort between the Associate Member Council (AMC), Minorities in Cancer Research (MICR) Council, Women in Cancer Research (WICR) Council, and the AACR Science Education and Career Advancement Committee, we are excited to offer this unique opportunity for new investigators at the junior faculty/equivalent level to learn skills and strategies for addressing questions that can affect their success in the first independent leadership position. Designed specifically for those who have already made the transition from trainee to the next career stage inside and outside academia, this is a must-attend session for all early-stage investigators.

Did you participate in this Professional Advancement Session during the AACR Annual Meeting? If so, don’t forget to complete the session evaluation and share your feedback with us! Your input will help us shape additional professional development-related sessions and programming. Share your feedback!


Session Cochairs:

Kathleen W. Scotto, PhD, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Jersey

Jose G. Treviño, II, MD, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia 

This session is intended for early-stage investigators to acquire skills and develop key strategies in order to avoid “pitfalls” and develop “alternative” tactics to enhance the probability of success in their first independent leadership position. We have recruited an expert panel of established investigators with invaluable experience on “how to” navigate a successful career in cancer research.

2022 Participating Senior Scientist



Professor, Department of Surgery

McMaster University, McMaster University Medical Center

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Sheila Singh is a professor of surgery and biochemistry, chief pediatric neurosurgeon at McMaster Children’s Hospital, former division head of neurosurgery at Hamilton Health Sciences, and inaugural director of the Centre for Discovery in Cancer Research (CDCR). She holds a Tier 1/ Senior Canada research chair in human brain cancer stem cell biology, and is the founding director of the McMaster Surgeon Scientist Program. Her PhD thesis described the novel identification of a population of cancer stem cells that exclusively drive the formation of brain tumors. Since 2007, Dr. Singh’s lab applies a developmental neurobiology framework to the study of brain tumorigenesis. Building upon previous cell culture techniques developed for the isolation of normal neural stem cells (NSC) and applying them to brain tumors, and through development of a xenograft model to efficiently study brain tumor initiating cell (BTIC) activity, Dr. Singh’s lab aims to understand the molecular mechanisms that govern BTIC self-renewal. Dr. Singh is currently studying the regulation of BTIC signaling pathways in glioblastoma, brain metastases and childhood medulloblastoma, with an ultimate goal of selectively targeting the BTIC with appropriately tailored drug and molecular therapies. She is scientific founder and prior CEO of a start-up company, Empirica Therapeutics, a brain cancer therapeutics company that is seeking new, data-driven and polytherapeutic treatment options for patients with glioblastoma and brain metastases. Empirica was acquired by Century Therapeutics Inc. (Philadelphia) in June 2020, resulting in the creation of a Canadian subsidiary, Century Canada, based in the McMaster Innovation Park in Hamilton.

“A clinician-scientist has the rare opportunity to bridge two worlds: for me, the worlds of pediatric neurosurgery and basic and translational science merge as we explore new therapeutic options for patients, that arise from rational, data-driven science. It is a balancing act, but a most rewarding one.”

Avrum Spira, MD, MSc

Avrum Spira, MD, MSc

Global Head, Lung Cancer Initiative

Johnson & Johnson

Boston, Massachusetts

Avrum “Avi” Spira, MD, MSC is the global head of the Lung Cancer Initiative (LCI) and World Without Disease Accelerator (WWDA) at Johnson & Johnson which is developing solutions to prevent, intercept and cure lung cancer. Practicing medicine for more than 20 years, Dr. Spira leads a team of dedicated scientists and medical professionals focused on developing novel technologies and approaches for earlier lung cancer detection and treatment as well extending this interception paradigm to other diseases. In addition to leading the Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Initiative, Dr. Spira is an attending physician in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Boston University—Boston Medical Center (BMC) and is a professor of medicine, bioinformatics, and pathology at Boston University. He also serves as the Alexander Graham Bell professor in health care entrepreneurship at Boston University. He has served as the director of the Boston University-BMC Cancer Center and founding chief of the Division of Computational Biomedicine at Boston University. Dr. Spira obtained his MD from McGill University in Montreal, completed his internal medicine residency at the University of Toronto, and his fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at BMC. During his fellowship, he obtained a master’s degree in bioinformatics from Boston University.

Robert A. Winn, MD

Robert A. Winn, MD

Director, VCU Massey Cancer Center Senior, Associate Dean for Cancer Innovation, VCU School of Medicine, Professor of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine, Lipman Chair in Oncology

Virginia Commonwealth University

Richmond, Virginia

Dr. Robert Winn is the director of the NCI-designated VCU Massey Cancer Center. In addition to directing the activities of Massey’s 250 research members – researchers and physicians from 39 departments in nine colleges and schools at VCU – he also manages a research laboratory at VCU. Robert’s current basic science research focuses on the translational aspects of the role that proliferation pathways and cellular senescence play in lung cancer. He is leading the nation in establishing a 21st century model of equity for cancer science and care, in which the community is informing and partnering with Massey on its research to best address the cancer burden and disparities of those the cancer center serves. He holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MD from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Dr. Winn completed an internship and residency in internal medicine at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago and a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.

Dr. Winn has a strong track record in performing seminal basic and translational studies that include animal models of lung cancer and molecular signaling mechanisms to define novel therapeutic approaches towards human models of lung cancer. The work from his laboratory has resulted in a number of peer-reviewed academic journals and funded grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Dr. Winn’s lab is currently investigating the role of an RNA-binding protein in K-Ras mutations of lung cancer (these mutations account for almost a third of lung cancers diagnosed) and the role of an electrically silent ion channel in lung cancer. Dr. Winn is also a leading expert on social determinants of health and health disparities.

“People will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”