Penn State Cancer Research Day focuses on patients

December 02, 2020

“We can’t be here in person this year, but now everyone has a front-row seat,” said Kristin Eckert, associate director for Penn State Cancer Institute Training and Education Coordination and professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, during her opening remarks at Penn State Cancer Institute’s third annual Cancer Research Day on Oct. 31.

Faculty, staff, trainees and students attended the virtual conference to present their research and discuss career development.

While the annual event certainly looked different from previous years, attendees experienced a full schedule with featured and guest speakers, trainee presentations, a poster session and a career panel that highlighted the breadth of cancer research in basic, clinical and translational science.

Speakers offer practical advice

Featured speaker Dr. Douglas Lowy, principal deputy director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, urged early career researchers to find satisfaction from any progress and challenge themselves.

“I have remained curious, and I embrace opportunities to advance research and versatility,” Lowy said. Along with his collaborator, John Schiller, Lowy played a large role in U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved human papillomavirus vaccines. Lowy also encouraged trainees to seek answers outside their own disciplines. “Some of the best ideas I get are from reading literature in areas I’m not familiar with.”

Guest speaker Dr. Mohamed Hassanein, associate director and clinical assay lead in biologics at Pfizer, said that cancer research careers are like cancer itself.

“Cancer is a very complex disease, and it’s not one molecule or one pathway that is the answer,” Hassanein said. He provided insight into his career that led him from academia to industry and remarked that despite the 2008 recession shaping his own career pathway, he remained resilient and continued seeking new opportunities. He insisted that early career researchers look outside of the lab for their strengths.

“Medical writing or being a good communicator could land you a job,” Hassanein said.

Trainees share research  

Cancer Institute trainees from various Penn State campuses and education levels displayed their research through live Zoom presentations and a poster session via breakout rooms.

Those interested in viewing the poster sessions or watching trainee presentations should email event coordinator Tonya Krushinsky at

Career panel focuses on what matters: Patients 

Dr. Valerie Brown, professor of pediatrics, and other researchers concluded the event with a question-and-answer career panel. Topics included work-life balance and tips for finding and maximizing postdoctoral appointments.

“Always keep your eye on the prize, but the prize is not your career,” Brown said. “The prize is what we are doing. For all of us in cancer research, there’s always a patient behind what we do. There’s always somebody to benefit, and it’s not your career.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 02, 2020