How Young Investigators Can Join SWOG's Work
Young investigators new to SWOG are often puzzled about the best route to integrating themselves into the group so they can contribute at their maximum potential. If this describes you, read on. If it doesn’t describe you, read on anyway. It’s always good to learn more about group operations and function.
A first step is to formally join the main research committee or committees whose work you want to become involved in. Joining is easy, it will bring you to the attention of the committee leadership, you’ll be looped in on communications and meetings, and you’ll get to know how the committee works.
Reach out to committee leaders, introduce yourself, and let them know of your specific areas of interest. Be sure to attend the twice-a-year SWOG group meetings, and any virtual committee meetings or calls in between. While there, engage with the work being presented, ask questions, and volunteer for committee activities.
Importantly, be aware that most committees have working groups or subcommittees with particular areas of focus within a disease. Decide where you want to focus and ask the committee chair if you may join the appropriate working group. It’s a critical step in building your reputation and your expertise.
You may have your sights set on designing and launching a new study, but consider first taking a number of smaller steps that can teach you how the NCTN groups develop and conduct clinical trials and that will make you – and your skills and interests – better known to leadership. Here are a few options:
Become a chair of a PRO sub-study within a larger study
Many randomized trials have patient-reported outcome (PRO) sub-studies. Committee chairs can assign PRO chairs to trials that use PROs for measuring outcomes such as patient symptoms and quality-of-life. A PRO sub-study chair doesn’t have to be a PRO expert (and SWOG has a PRO Core that provides oversight), and the role can give you an important position within a larger study.
Become the SWOG champion of a study led by another NCTN group
Almost all trials within the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) are cross-group studies, led by one group but open to participation across all the groups. Ideally, a study team includes one champion from each of the other groups. As a study champion, you’d be the lead advocate within SWOG for a study led by another NCTN group, presenting the trial at SWOG group meetings and working to ensure the trial is open and accruing well at SWOG institutions. There’s a real need here – many studies lack a full complement of champions.
Propose and conduct a secondary analysis of data from previous SWOG studies
SWOG has conducted clinical oncology research for 65 years, amassing a treasure trove of clinical trial data. There’s untold knowledge to be gained from analyzing these resources, and SWOG investigators regularly conduct and publish such analyses. The Hope Foundation also has a program to competitively fund secondary analyses.
Offer to write outstanding manuscripts
While it’s becoming increasingly uncommon, some trials were never formally written-up. SWOG believes this is a huge disservice to the participating patients, regardless of study results. If you can help deliver a finished manuscript in timely fashion, you will definitely be on the radar for selecting PIs to actually conduct future trials.
Whatever route you pursue, take advantage of targeted training programs that will make you a better clinical researcher. For early-career investigators, SWOG’s flagship program is the Hope-supported Young Investigator Training Course – a three-day mentored workshop covering protocol development, trial management, and statistical analysis. The National Institutes of Health also has a self-paced course on the principles and practice of clinical research for the investigator looking for a comprehensive introduction.
Another valuable course from Hope is its virtual grant writing workshop, which can improve your applications, including those for grants that Hope itself sponsors, such as the Impact Award, the SEED Fund award, and the Dr. Charles A. Coltman, Jr., Fellowship.
When you think you’re ready to lead a trial, know your committee. The individual committees can vary in how they identify the most promising ideas to bring forward. One committee, for example, has a formal request-for-applications (RFA) process that strongly encourages proposals pairing a younger investigator with a more seasoned researcher. Ask about the details of your committee’s process.
All SWOG committee chairs work hard to ensure opportunities for younger investigators. They are actually evaluated on how they perform in this regard, and they are selected for their dedication to mentoring. Many routinely assign new studies to a junior investigator paired with a senior committee member. And some of the master protocols underway or in development offer particular opportunities for young researchers. Lung-MAP sub-studies, for example, are typically led by a junior investigator working with a senior mentor, and several other master protocols will soon launch with similar opportunities.
There are many routes to professional success in SWOG, and many roles that need to be filled by committed investigators, including those who are just starting out. Seek and you shall find.