As I landed in Quebec for the Annual Kathleen M. Foley Palliative Care Retreat and Research Symposium, I had little idea what was in store for me at this fantastic professional networking opportunity. As a junior investigator in the field of palliative and end-of-life care research, I was certainly looking forward to this opportunity. But I did not expect the open doors it would provide for me. I came to this research retreat expecting it to be another conference, but what I got instead was an invaluable networking and learning opportunity. The phenomenal networking opportunity alone made this retreat prove to be one of the most valuable professional development activities I have undertaken so far. The opportunity to interact with both senior and junior investigators leading the charge in this field allowed me to expand my thinking and approach to my own lines of research. The knowledge and practical skills gained were merely icing on the cake!

For me, one of the most prized and valuable component of this research retreat was the opportunity to network with both senior and junior investigators in the field of palliative care research. Upon arriving, I quickly noticed when looking around the room that nearly all of the leading researchers whom I cite regularly in my own work were there! Due to the intimacy of this setting, I had the opportunity to have meaningful interactions with them throughout my time at the conference. It was truly a rare opportunity as a researcher. Equally as valuable, I was able to connect with many other fellow junior investigators in the field. We not only shared our own experiences of trying to secure funding and apply for career awards, but we were able to give one another critical and insightful feedback on projects we were undertaking as well as begin to form collaborations. Due to the structure of this conference, a lot of these opportune moments to get feedback on my own work occurred over breakfast or dinner. The casual, intimate, and warm environment really lent itself to these fantastic collaborative opportunities!

Another key enriching experience of this research retreat for me was getting to see the “state of the science” from leaders in the field. For instance, one of the plenary talks discussed the growing challenge we face as researchers in learning how to balance the need to run rigorous experiments with the need to disseminate and implement findings in an increasingly fast-paced clinical world. This talk sparked a really fruitful and rich conversation amongst research retreat attendees on the state of our field and how we balance this need for rigorous study design and dissemination and implementation efforts. As a junior investigator, I find myself consistently faced with this growing challenge of a world influenced by faced-paced technology and industry efforts and the slower process inherent in rigorous research design. Hearing my fellow colleagues wrestle with this same dilemma and propose creative solutions directly informed some of the research I am currently working on.

In terms of the knowledge gained, this research retreat offered many. First, there was the poster session which was run unlike any poster session I had ever attended. I headed downstairs expecting a typical poster session but instead was pleasantly surprised by formal presentations in cohort groups that allowed for meaningful conversations and presentations around each poster topic. I found this allowed the opportunity to not only ask the researchers questions about their research but to learn from my colleagues as they posed critical questions about the research projects, design, and conclusions. Second, the breakout group I attended was focused on how to engage in non-academic writing. The session leader focused on how to write op-eds, fiction, and non-fiction and spoke from his extensive and quite impressive experiences writing in these various outlets. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of how to communicate the important work myself and others do in the world of palliative care research to a larger audience through these alternative avenues. Finally, the last session I attended before the closing plenary was focused on submitting a revision for a grant mechanism and responding to reviewer comments. I am actually in the midst of resubmitting an NIH grant, and this session served to outline key tactics to consider when resubmitting a grant. The two investigators who so generously shared examples of their own PCORI and NIH grant revisions helped bring light to how to respond to reviewer comments and increase your odds of funding. I found this to be a very valuable experience in the midst of my own grant resubmissions.

The most fantastic and enjoyable aspect of this entire conference that connected all of the poster sessions, breakout sessions, and trainings combined was the networking built into the research retreat. I loved that the research retreat built in the opportunity to meet with colleagues over fantastic dinners to engage one another on the key dilemmas and questions we face as palliative care researchers. Some of my most meaningful conversations around career and professional development as well as study design and measurement considerations all took place around the dinner table. The most special of these dinners was the opportunity dine with other fellow AAHPM Research Scholars. These bright future leaders of the field brought a lot of knowledge and wisdom to the table as well as their own experiences in carving out a career as a palliative care researcher. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn from them, network with them, and start new collaborative relationships with them to be one of the most rewarding experiences. Having leaders in the field at the table, such as Sean Morrison, only served to enrich these conversations and shed key wisdom on our own careers.

This research retreat served to orient me better to the world of palliative care research. Certainly, I have focused on this area of research within my own professional setting, but I have not yet had the opportunity to come together in a room full of diverse professionals including (but certainly not limited to!) oncologists, geriatricians, social workers, registered nurses, and a host of PhDs coming from a variety of backgrounds all centered on the area of palliative care research. The breadth and diversity of this group of individuals reflected the diversity of palliative care as a specialty. It was such an enriching experience that not only exposed me to the field of research but to the work that the National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC) and the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) undertake. I had the opportunity to meet the leaders of these institutions first hand and was also able to learn about potential professional and funding opportunities. In fact, due solely to attending this conference, I was able to submit an LOI for receiving a pilot grant through the NPCRC. In short, this high level of exposure really made me more aware of the opportunities that exist to pursue this work.

In closing, this research retreat was perhaps the best way to “fast track” me into the world of palliative care research as I enter that world myself as a junior investigator. I walked away with a lot of knowledge, a better sense of the state of our field, formation of new collaborations (I’ve already started a peer writing group!), and key insights into how to get this work funded. I look forward to continuing my professional journey alongside these fantastic researchers. And I am very grateful for the opportunity to have attended as a Research Scholar for AAHPM!

Megan Shen, PhD
AAHPM Research Scholars Participant