Next Generation is a Brigham Clinical & Research News column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a Brigham trainee interested in contributing a column, email us. This month’s column is written by Vasundhara Mathur, MD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Brigham’s Laboratory for Surgical and Metabolic Research.

One of my favorite parts of my daily commute to work is walking along the Quad, with the imposing view of Harvard Medical School and the Brigham slowly rising before me. Often, as I make my way through this iconic route, I find myself thinking back to where my journey began.

My love for medicine was passed down to me from my father and life came full circle when I received my own white coat at his alma mater in New Delhi, India. During a surgery rotation there, I presented a breast cancer survivor’s case to the team and made note of the negative impact cancer and its treatment had on the mental health of the patient. That observation sparked a sense of curiosity in my team and me, leading us to design a study assessing the psychological status and quality of life of cancer survivors through interviewer-based questionnaires. While my understanding of research methodology at the time was rudimentary, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing our patients’ stories of resilience and strength. Despite the study’s success and recognition at a national conference, I was hesitant to share our discovery, write an article, and submit it to a scientific journal. At that stage of my career, I hadn’t received instruction on the conventions of scientific writing and did not appreciate the importance of sharing our findings with the broader scientific community. However, the joy of engaging in research stayed with me, and soon after I earned my MD, I decided to pursue a surgical research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Admittedly, changing countries and continents was a challenging transition, and I found solace in the warmth and camaraderie of like-minded colleagues at MGH, who have since become some of my closest friends. It was with them that I learned the basics of doing clinical research, from study designs to data analysis, and, most importantly, paper writing. This growth in knowledge and skills further fuelled my desire to learn, ultimately bringing me across the Charles to the Brigham.

I still remember how on my first day, Dr. Eric Sheu, my mentor and a busy surgeon-scientist, dedicated over an hour of his time bringing me up to speed with the lab’s ongoing projects, patiently answered my questions, and even took me on a tour around the Pike. Another time during my semi-annual progress review, my mentor and chief of the division, Dr. Ali Tavakkoli, used a teachable moment to encourage me to believe in myself and ask questions without hesitation. My experience so far at the Laboratory of Surgical and Metabolic Research has taught me to appreciate the significance of bench-to-bedside thinking. I’ve learned that the answers to the complex questions of human physiology, such as metabolism, can be found only by going back to the basics of the cellular pathways that control them. Due to this multidisciplinary nature of questions, I’ve also come to value the extraordinary power of fostering collaborations and sharing one’s discoveries with those looking to piece together the same puzzle.

As I complete my first year as a postdoc, I look back at the opportunities, challenges and moments of mentorship that have woven the tapestry of my transition from an apprehensive research fellow to a budding physician-scientist (with peer-reviewed research papers coming soon to journals near you!). The privilege of working closely with patients receiving bariatric care at the hospital has been central to the impact of my post-doctoral fellowship and research at the Brigham. Every patient interaction has left my belief in their allyship reaffirmed — such has been their enthusiasm and willingness to contribute to scientific discovery. It has also reoriented me to look at obesity and metabolic disorders not as outcomes of poor lifestyle choices, but as diseases arising from the interaction of multiple genetic and environmental factors that can further drive alterations in the gut microbiome and metabolic hormones. I am certain the tenets of patient care I have learned here will continue to guide my research as well as my surgical training in the future.


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