Plastic Surgery Research Council (PSRC)
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PSRC Member Interview: Alison Snyder-Warwick, MD
Alison Snyder-Warwick, MD

What was your light bulb moment / turning point into research?
I first fell for research during my undergrad honors thesis. That was the first time I had complete independence in my research plans. The freedom to form questions that mattered to me, determine how to test them, and then learn the answers was invigorating. Research carries more meaning when it is your own and you are not simply a cog in the wheel following another’s passion. Research is a powerful tool that makes the world better!

After finishing fellowship, I sought to find a research topic that had not yet received a lot of focus... that is how I found terminal Schwann cells. Although biased, I fully believe terminal Schwann cells have the potential to improve management of people with nerve injuries. That excitement keeps me engaged to a career as a surgeon-scientist.

Who was your inspiration / mentor and how did they inspire you?
The key to mentorship is to have many! No one mentor will fill all of your needs—especially as a surgeon-scientist. Find mentors for your research, find mentors for grant writing and paper writing, identify clinical mentors, identify life mentors, work with people whom inspire you and that you identify with on the level of human values. Mentors may change over time as your needs change and your career progresses. Find the energy-givers and those who share similar passions. My mentors are many—the short list includes two swim coaches, my organic chemistry college professor, Ron Zuker, Susan Mackinnon, Greg Borschel, and a village of others who have taught me a lot along the way.

How do you balance being a surgeon and a scientist?
Balance is tricky! The research and clinical arenas can play off each other well. The inspiration for research ideas often stems from clinical challenges. Jumping from one arena to another definitely keeps my mind sharp and keeps me from feeling like I’m in a rut of more of the same. Successes in one arena can offset a tough day in the other arena, too. It’s rare to have bad days simultaneously in both the clinical and research worlds. The benefits of a surgeon-scientist are best reaped when the research and clinical interests are complementary.

What was the greatest challenge you encountered in your research career / research focus?
It was startling to me to have established researchers: 1) take my research idea as their own (while telling me my ideas were not worth pursuing), 2) no longer be interested in meeting with me/helping me once I established my research focus, and 3) dismiss my entire research focus in a formal grant review. Resiliency is invaluable. These challenges may seem small but can be hugely distracting and devastating. I chose to think of them as validation that I am on the right track and should keep going!

What is the best research /career advice you received?
Do what you love!

What advice do you have for early career scientists?
Keep going! Rarely do things work on the first try. Rarely do grants get funded on the first submission. Investigate what you are passionate about. If you have passion, anything is possible. Don’t be afraid to blaze your own trail—there may not be a perfect role model for where your passion lies.

What do you feel the PSRC represents to surgeon scientists?
The PSRC is a common bond for people who share a similar passion for research related to plastic surgery. It's a place where plastic surgeon - scientists and scientists can compare notes, share ideas, share passion, and support one another. We are fortunate to have a group like the PSRC to support research efforts in plastic surgery and to share in each other's successes!

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