Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute welcomes Dr. Chris Sciamanna
Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Early-Stage Investigator Training Program (KL2) welcomes Chris Sciamanna, MD, to its leadership team. Sciamanna joins Lorah Dorn, PhD, professor of nursing, in directing the program that invests in faculty beginning their research programs.
The Early-Stage Investigator Training Program provides the skills and experience needed to become successful, independent clinical and translational scientists. The program offers coursework, mentored research and career development programs.
Sciamanna is a professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. He joined Penn State in 2004 and is director of the Division of General Internal Medicine.He has been principal investigator, co-principal investigator or co-investigator on 23 grants, including R01s, a PCORI grant and R43s. Sciamanna authored 105 peer-reviewed research publications.
“My research is designed to figure out how to get people to exercise,” Sciamanna said. “At present, fewer than 20 percent of United States adults do enough exercise, though it is as powerful as a cholesterol medication for preventing heart attacks and does so much more.”
Sciamanna has mentored 35 faculty, residents and students since 2002.
“Becoming a successful faculty member is partly about using the right tactics and strategies, but encouragement to do those can help,” he said. “I like the energy and optimism and openness to thinking differently that junior faculty bring to their work. There’s a famous quote from the mindfulness literature: ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.’ Younger people often are able to see more possibilities, so it’s exciting to work with them.”
Sciamanna brings to the program an approach that focuses on expectations and support.
“I think setting clear and high expectations with time-bound milestones is essential,” he said. “Everyone needs to know what is expected by what dates. And then, to meet those milestones, people need tactical support – how to write grants, how to write papers. Combining high expectations and tactical support to get there is what I focus on.”
He also focuses on the importance of submitting grants.
“One of our previous vice deans for research used to say, ‘the funding rate on a grant not submitted is zero,'” he said. “So, my main message is to submit more grants.”
Sciamanna joins the program after the departure of Diane Thiboutot, MD, who co-directed the program since its inception. Thiboutot is increasing her patient care duties and career development mentorship in the Department of Dermatology.
Thiboutot was a member of the team that organized Penn State’s Clinical Translational Science Award Program application in 2010, served as co-director of the Early Stage Investigator Training Program since 2011 and was the principal investigator of the organization’s KL2 grant (which funds the program) through 2020.
“A key focus of mine for the past several years has been mentorship of our next generation of translational researchers,” Thiboutot said. “I intended to provide research training and leadership opportunities for promising junior faculty as a way of ‘paying it forward.’ The KL2 was the perfect program for junior faculty that aligned with this intention as it allowed me to provide hands-on training in research and career development.”
Thiboutot mentored 22 early-stage career faculty through the program.
“Dr. Thiboutot always had thought-provoking questions and could draw upon linkages that encouraged me to stretch myself,” Erika Saunders, MD, a 2012-2014 scholar, said. “The training environment that she created was outstanding for growth and development, and my colleagues and I owe so much of our success to her dedication.”
“Dr. Thiboutot has been an incredible role model for how to develop and sustain a highly productive clinical research career through a combination of talent, persistence and interpersonal effectiveness,” Steffany Fredman, PhD, assistant professor of human development and family studies, and a 2018-2020 scholar, said. “She’s also a gifted mentor, and I’ve benefitted tremendously from her constructive and supportive feedback on my papers and research proposals over the years.”
The National Institutes of Health funds the Early-Stage Investigator Training Program through Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Clinical and Translational Science Award. Acceptance into the program is through a competitive application process with new scholars selected about every two years. Applications for the next group of scholars are expected to open later this year.
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