Meet Karen Johnston, Associate VP for Clinical & Translational Reseach and Director of THRIV

May 15, 2017 by   |   Leave a Comment

Karen Johnston, MD, MSc, Harrison Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Associate Vice President for Clinical & Translational Research, Director of THRIV at the UVA School of Medicine (SOM)What resources does the Translational Health Research Institute (THRIV) offer UVA School of Medicine faculty?

Karen Johnston, MD, MSc, Harrison Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Associate Vice President for Clinical & Translational Research, Director of THRIV at the UVA School of Medicine (SOM), answers that question and more.

This post is part of a series of interviews with faculty and staff who offer resources to SOM faculty. Stay tuned for more interviews with your colleagues!

Q: Will you tell us about a few ways that THRIV can help faculty in their research?

There are three important things to know about THRIV: we are a new front door for translational research across Grounds at UVA; we aim to use data to improve health; and we want to train the next generation of clinical and translational researchers.

There are a lot of existing resources that we’ve identified that we think will be specifically helpful to the School of Medicine faculty, but we really want to appeal to the faculty across Grounds. New resources are also in development to support faculty researchers.  We envision that a junior faculty member could get to UVA planning to start their first project, and realize, “Oh my, I don’t know my way around and I don’t even know where to start.” Sometimes when that happens, if they go to an individual person, it can be very challenging to get the breadth of what is available. We would like to be a different front door so they can send us an email or a message through our website saying, “Can you help me?” and THRIV can facilitate the necessary connections to what they will need to get started.

Though our core team is available now, we are developing an additional concierge service that will span across grounds to maximize this function.  People can come to a central source and say, “This is my research idea. Help me find the resources I need to try to make this reality.” And then we will walk them through the process of getting to those resources and starting their program.

We envision this being dramatically more efficient and effective for junior and mid-level faculty members who may not be that familiar with where the resources are housed.

We also want to train the next generation of scientists.  We want them to be thinking about how to use data, particularly big data, to maximize their research success. We think this is a skill set the next generation is really going to need to do their best work.  Our tagline for THRIV is “using data to improve health.” Don Brown, from the School of Engineering, is our data expert and is helping to lead this effort. Dr. Brown is the founding director of the Data Sciences Institute.  He and his team have tremendous expertise in all aspects of the data sciences and he is leading our efforts to infuse this expertise into our trainees and our translational research workforce.

Q: Grants are also offered through THRIV. How often will grants be available and about how many grants do you anticipate awarding?

The two categories of grants that we currently offer are seed grants and career development grants.

In March, we announced the winners of the INOVA UVA Partnership Seed Grants. A requirement for these grants was that one PI had to be at INOVA and one PI at UVA. One of the things we are thinking about is not just what we’re doing for research at UVA, but what research we can do together with our partners across the Commonwealth. INOVA and Virginia Tech are our two major partners, and we have seed grant/pilot grant programs with both of these institutions.  We envision the INOVA UVA Partnership Seed Grants will happen at least once a year, and if the program goes really well, they may be offered more frequently. This year, we awarded nine grants.

Another area of development will be community partnership grants.  We want to help people collaborate in places where they might not otherwise collaborate, to raise the level of excellence in the research.  This is an area of focus for us to help strengthen the ways in which we engage our community stakeholders in the design and conduct of translational research.  We hope faculty will be thinking about ways to partner with community organizations and patient advocacy groups and even specific interested patients who might be interested in research.

The other grant program that we have already launched is the Career Development Scholars program. That program is specifically for junior faculty who want to focus their careers in clinical translational research. These two year grants cover 75% effort for research and career development activities for five scholars.   They are to get external funding after those two years, or their home department will have to support a third year of 75% effort. So the support is up to three years total – two years paid by THRIV and a third year paid by their department. Our hope is that this will help launch their research careers and that they each get federal career development grants, like the NIH K- awards, or some other independent research award. Our program is intended to be sort of a pre-K award launching program. We think this is going to have substantial impact on the success of our NIH K-award applicants.

Q: What’s the best way for faculty members to know when a grant is available through THRIV?

We send out the call through the Dean’s Office of numerous schools across grounds and the Office of the Vice President for Research.  Faculty can also visit our website to see what the current calls for proposals are:

Q: How long have you been at UVA?

I have been at UVA for 22 years in June. I was 8 months pregnant with my oldest child when I arrived. That’s how I keep track!

Q: Is there something that you’ve worked on or accomplished in your career that you’re particularly proud of or glad you were able to experience?

One of the important things that I end up talking to junior faculty about is how important family is. I would have to say I am most proud of my kids.  They are great people, and I do not feel like I’ve sacrificed my relationship with my kids due to my career. I think it has benefited them to see me work and be excited about my job.  They understand that you need to love what you do.  Working and raising a family is hard and no one does it perfectly but I wouldn’t trade either piece.  One of the big things that I feel like I’ve never mastered is the perfect balance, but I feel so fortunate to have great kids and a job that I love.

On the national stage, I often get asked to talk about how to do it all; how to be academically successful and be an academic leader and be a scientist and be a clinician and be a parent.  I never have a good answer as it is challenging but it’s so worth it. None of this would be as much fun if I didn’t have my family. That’s one of my biggest accomplishments.

Q: Do you have a favorite local restaurant or hangout spot?

Well, I have teenage and just post-teenage boys, so the restaurants I go to, you don’t want to talk about! We’re real outdoorsy people. The kids love to hike. I love to cycle. We all love basketball, and my oldest loves golf. We enjoy Charlottesville, where we can be outside twelve months out of the year – as opposed to Buffalo, New York, where I grew up!

Filed Under: Administrative Support Interviews, Faculty Interviews, Interviews



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