Why Translational Research Is A Lifestyle, Not A Job

Dr. Avrum Gotlieb for the LMP & TRP | May 2021

This is a wonderful field of study that is very challenging and at the same time brings joy as Translators identify, tackle, and solve important problems in the health care field that impact the welfare of healthy (prevention) and sick (diagnosis and therapy) members of the community. It is very much a way of life and not just a job.

Why do we need translational researchers?

Canada needs critical thinkers, innovative problem solvers, and motivated leaders who are able to pursue a professional and personal lifestyle that embraces biomedical health care challenges and fosters the discovery of high-impact solutions for the health care problems we face today in Canada and globally.

The Translator needs to find important fundamental research to translate into solutions for health care problems, be they in prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of disease.

Original research identifies several areas needing translation including:

  • fundamental basic science laboratories understanding the pathogenesis of disease;
  • health care delivery systems;
  • studies of social determinants of health;
  • investigations of disparities and socio-economic influences on health outcomes;
  • access to health care;
  • explorations of the innovation agenda in health research;
  • advocacy for the development of best policies by governments; and
  • studies describing the inclusion of patients and caregivers in health care planning and decision making.

There are numerous sectors in the health care world that need urgent attention.

Just as basic wet-lab research is complex and hard to do, the translation of the basic work requires special skills and a specific approach to problem-solving. This requires an effective and efficient group of scientists, clinicians, business people, and specialists in a variety of areas including regulatory affairs, drug development and production, marketing, legal expertise, and, most importantly, the patients themselves.

The Translator needs to be comfortable in adopting a collaborative mindset to work at the interdisciplinary level to move any translational project forward.

An unconventional and unique career

Students need to become well informed about the field of Translational Health Research to understand if this is the discipline for them. They can go to websites and attend seminars and symposia to find out about the discipline.

The best way is to meet Translators working in the field to explore the career. Mentorship and networking are essential at all steps along the way. The goal of these inquiries is to understand the professional and personal attributes and characteristics required to fit well into the lifestyle of a Translator.

There is no absolute blueprint to follow to become a Translator. If you speak to professionals doing translational research today, you will find that each has followed a different pathway. Many have followed non-traditional routes and their career path may not have been linear in nature. What they all have in common is that they want to improve life for the community within the health care space and that they recognize the personal and professional characteristics of a Translator they need to be successful.

Recently, universities have created programs to train translational researchers. These graduate programs in translational research, few in number, provide the student with graduate education in the knowledge and skillsets required to translate in the health sciences and health care space.

The students learn from faculty and peers and are also self-taught through self-directed learning.

Innovation, thinking outside the box and critical analysis are key skills to learn. Students learn the art and science of pitching entrepreneurial ventures and protecting their intellectual property. They learn how to interact with industry and venture capitalists and to understand bioethics. Students are exposed to the start-up eco-system and become suddenly aware that, as I said at the outset, that Translational Research is a” lifestyle”.

Developing the personal and professional attributes to succeed as a Translator requires learning the soft skills inside and outside of the formal classroom. These include motivation and determination to see a project through to success; leadership and understanding how to build a successful team; communication and networking skills; resilience and learning to face failure and rejection especially when needing to abort a project; ability to work in an environment with ambiguity; a celebration of successes and victories; time-management; knowing how to seek help when in over your head; and creating a work-life balance that works.

The translation is an ever-changing field that is fast-paced and dynamic and requires the Translator to be a continuous learner and be comfortable with adapting to new conditions.

Translation research requires individuals who thrive in an environment of change, so individuals who choose this path should expect to have fun along the way. It can be challenging, but the satisfaction and rewards make up for it.

Dr. Avrum I. Gotlieb is an advisor to the LMP Translational Research Program (TRP) and founding Program Director, MHSc in Laboratory Medicine

Originally published online: https://www.lmp.utoronto.ca/news/why-translational-research-lifestyle-not-job