Tips and Tricks for Getting the Most Out of Your Fellowship

Completing a VA Advanced Fellowship in Women’s Health can certainly give you a career advantage, but it is up to the individual fellow to get the most out of the opportunity. We asked current fellows and alumna to offer tips gained from their experiences. This is what they wanted to share.

Andrea Gilmore-Bykovskyi, PhD, RN (Fellow from Madison) encourages fellows to:

  1. Be thoughtful about how you use your time and be sure to run "new opportunities" past your mentors to ensure they are in line with your goals and will not impeded your productivity.
  2. Find others who have similar interests that you can speak openly with and get early feedback from on your projects as well as publications.
  3. Early on, identify a system for setting deadlines and goals for yourself. It can be very helpful to review your progress with your co-fellows regularly to have another layer of encouragement and accountability.

Teri Davis, PhD (Alum from Los Angeles) tips include:

  1. Being open to critical feedback from mentors and make recommended adjustments.
  2. Write often (i.e. manuscripts, proposals).
  3. Actively work toward narrowing your research focus and find collaborators,
  4. Submit work and actively attend scientific meetings.

Anna Donovan, MD (Alum from Pittsburgh) suggests that fellows:

  1. Learn all of the resources available at the VA (and get to know the people who know all of these resources). For most patient issues, the VA has a person or service that can help to meet your patient’s needs!
  2. Get involved in national VA activities, like the mini-residency programs, where you can work with other VA faculty, become more comfortable teaching, and brush up on important clinical information.
  3. Be proactive about moving your projects forward, whether they be clinical research or medical education projects. Mentors have much expertise to share with you, but also have many responsibilities. It’s your responsibility to prioritize your projects and get things done in a timely fashion.

Akeira L. Johnson, MD (Alum from Milwaukee) feels it is important to:

  1. Have a list of goals that you want to obtain from the fellowship training. This helps with initial direction, but keep them flexible enough understanding that your interest or influences may change.
  2. Utilize all the wisdom of your mentors and comrades with similar interest. You will gain a wealth of knowledge that will assist your professional development and career growth.
  3. Have fun while taking chances!  This is a good time to become an expert in an area that you are passionate about and completely enjoy it. Your mentors will continue to guide you when necessary. Finding your niche while exuding passion will be a reaffirming choice that you are doing the right thing.

Kelly H. Koo, PhD (Alum from San Francisco) recommends fellows:

  1. Find out about deadlines as early as you can (especially for grant applications) so you can make a timeline. This will help to make a realistic plan, so you don't inadvertently miss an opportunity just because you didn't have enough time. 
  2. Participate in other fellowships' activities. I attend the MIRECC V-tels on grantsmanship once a month and they've been helpful. I also attend UCSF events. 
  3. Be brave and ask for what you want/need/don't know, especially around professional/career development. The worst that could happen is they say no.

Ebony O. Butler, PhD (Alum from San Diego) advises fellows to:

  1. Become clear about training needs and goals- this will help you to make the most of your time as a fellow.
  2. Time management is KEY- to get the most out of the fellowship, plan wisely and stick to schedules; doing so will help you organize and maximize on the training so that you can ensure that you are meeting your training goals.
  3. Be flexible in research – the research process can be a bit unpredictable at times. Therefore, keeping yourself flexible to the process will allow you more time to enjoy the learning instead of becoming frustrated with the process.

Kirsten Langdon, PhD (Boston fellow) believes fellows should:

  1. Consider personal training needs and priorities early on in the fellowship in order to obtain relevant experiences.
  2. Be strategic about the types of projects to pursue. With so many exciting opportunities available, it is important to be aware of straying too far from your line of research.
  3. Use this opportunity to develop collaborations and foster professional relationships for the future.

Mary A Driscoll, PhD (Alum from West Haven) offers the following advice:

  1. Identify a strong network of mentors who are easily accessible and committed to guiding your development.
  2. Take advantage of the opportunities to apply for small grants or to work on studies that can provide pilot data for future projects.
  3. Write! Write! Write!