CRC: Hear from Past Fellows
Bill Liu, MD (ophthalmologist)
I've always been interested in research. My main training and experience has come from animal studies and research. As I am an ophthalmologist, I also appreciate the importance of participating in patient-based clinical studies. This was my motivation for applying for a fellowship when I discovered the web page of the University of California, Berkeley Clinical Research Center (CRC). When I found the web page, I knew this was an opportunity I could not miss! So I was truly grateful to be accepted by the director of the CRC, Dr. Meng Lin. The journey to complete my studies and research at the CRC took place between August 2008 and May 2009.
The CRC has a great team organized by Dr. Lin. She has gathered together experts from various fields, including vision scientists, optometrists, chemists, and biostatisticians. All specialists and support staff are willing to share their knowledge and always try to help one other. In this interdisciplinary environment, I was able to learn more about planning and implementing clinical research. With Dr. Lin's guidance, I was fortunate to complete my study and present my research results at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (Effect of eye-rubbing and breath-holding on corneal biomechanical properties and intraocular pressure, Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2009: Abstract 386 ) and also publish those results in the journal Cornea (2011; 30(8):855-60). Presenting and publishing my study results were rewarding experiences followed by valuable feedback from my immediate colleagues and other researchers. Consequently, I now feel more qualified to engage in clinical research at the professional level.
The whole process of research was interesting, but I would say what I enjoyed the most was interacting with research subjects, the majority of whom were students from UC Berkeley. I found it especially interesting that some of them came from other countries. As I conducted the research, I could also talk with the subjects about their different cultural experiences. (At times UC Berkeley seemed almost like the United Nations!) The CRC benefited from this diverse study population because these multinational subjects served as data sourcse for analyses comparing ocular characteristics among different ethnicities.
The working atmosphere in the CRC was pleasant and the team relationship harmonious. I've learned from my CRC fellowship not only how to conduct patient-based clinical studies and to apply the most up-to-date vision science, but also the art of office management. It will help advance my career as an ophthalmologist, whether working in a hospital setting or private practice.
Tan Truong, OD, MPH
Every so often when I take a step back and reflect upon the career path that I've taken since graduating Berkeley Optometry in 2004, I always remember a fateful decision I made early in my career when I decided to join the UC Berkeley Clinical Research Center (CRC). It was not an easy decision and one that I had to defend to both family and colleagues. "Why do research? Why not private practice to earn a living or pay off your loans?" was the theme of the inquiries I was fielding. Those were valid concerns and, to be honest, the same ones that I had difficulty addressing.
I reasoned to my family and friends that I had a whole lifetime ahead of me to work in private practice, whereas an opportunity to become part of a new clinical research center rarely comes along in a young optometrist's career. More importantly, I felt very fortunate that the CRC director, Dr. Meng Lin, was willing to take a chance on someone with no clinical research experience. However, I did have some basic science research experience and felt that a CRC fellowship was an ideal position that would enable me to apply my skills as a clinician and researcher. I didn't know it at the time, but this decision was instrumental in providing me with the professional and academic opportunities that have helped advance my career ever since.
My first year at the CRC was comparable to an intensive contact lens residency. Under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Lin, I developed study protocols, performed detailed contact lens exams, collected and analyzed study data, and summarized the results in reports and scientific conference abstracts. Long-term projects included a study comparing extended wear of a soft and rigid gas-permeable contact lens. I was also largely responsible for conducting a series of short-term soft contact lens studies in collaboration with a contact lens manufacturer to develop new lens materials and designs for future products. In addition, I was conducting research to investigate the effects of contact lens solutions on corneal epithelial barrier function. Taken together, these studies covered the whole spectrum of clinically relevant topics that could eventually one day impact the way contact lens practitioners deliver patient care. Although it was a challenging workload, it was very rewarding to be able analyze the study results and report something new.
What I thought was going to be a one-year contact lens fellowship turned out to be an invaluable four-year experience conducting research at the CRC. The most important asset of working at the CRC was having a mentor who was very supportive and who patiently taught me the skills needed to conduct clinical research. Dr. Lin fostered my sense of independence as a researcher by increasingly delegating more responsibilities to me. She even offered personal guidance on taking the necessary steps to further my research career. I took her advice to heart and pursued a MPH at Berkeley's School of Public Health while continuing at the CRC. Soon after obtaining my MPH, I was offered and accepted a senior research position at CooperVision, Inc.'s R&D facility.
However, I have recently returned to Berkeley to pursue a PhD in the Vision Science program. I have come to realize that Berkeley has been a large part of my life for over 16 years, and I find it hard to imagine anywhere else that offers the hands-on experience and limitless research opportunities that this University has fostered. I am fortunate that I worked for the CRC because I see it as a significant part of the University's effort toward integrating research in basic science, epidemiology, and clinical practice to create a synergistic environment for further investigations and innovations in patient care.
Over the past few years, young clinicians and colleagues have asked me, "How does one go about pursuing a career in clinical research?" My advice for prospective clinician researchers is that research is not for everybody, but if you don't give it a try, you'll never know. It's for clinicians who enjoy learning and teaching. I like to tell clinicians that they would be making an investment in themselves if they pursue a research experience or a career. One can't put a price on experience and knowledge gained from a research fellowship. Private practice pays off initially, but a career in research can pay off in the end. I've done a lot of research over the past 15 years, and it has allowed me to apply for competitive fellowships and grants that have helped me financially and paved the way for more career choices. Thanks in large part to the CRC, I can look back at my professional career and be proud of my accomplishments while looking forward to myriad research opportunities that lay ahead.
Become a friend on Facebook: facebook.com/ucbcrc