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Mentor of the Month: Selvakumar Subbian, PhD

By May 21, 2019No Comments

Interview Conducted by: Katie Stinson, MLIS

How did you get involved with NRMN?

Sometime ago, I received an email from our university (Rutgers) faculty development program that mentioned an NRMN-CAN workshop on “Facilitating Entering Mentoring”. I was curious about this program and so I participated in that meeting at Chicago this year. That’s when/where I learned more about NRMN-CAN activities.


Which of NRMN’s program(s) have you participated in?

This year, I participated in “Train-the-trainer” Facilitating Entering Mentoring organized by NRMN-CAN at Chicago. It was meant for Big10 staff/faculty to provide a structured way of mentoring students, postdocs and junior faculty members.


Describe your role in “Train-the-trainer” Facilitating Entering Mentoring and tell us a little about your experience in that role.

As a curious individual on a structured program for mentoring, I was actively participating in that program. The organizers were very friendly and thorough with the subject. They basically walked me through step-by-step over the program, making my participation a pleasant learning experience.  Following intense workshop on mentoring and facilitating, in which everyone actively participated and contributed to the subject, I also did a short “role-play” on facilitating a conversation about a mentor-mentee situation.  My colleagues from the program evaluated my performance; their suggestions/comments were useful. Overall, it’s a nice, pleasant learning experience.


Have you participated in other similar programs in the past?  If so, how was your experience with NRMN different or unique?

Well, this year’s NRMN-CAN meeting was my first on mentoring/facilitating. I’ve been to a faculty network event at our university; it was a small group of faculty/staff; therefore, the magnitude and dynamics were completely different. From my first experience, I think the uniqueness of NRMN-CAN was the active participation of large number of attendees, whose expertise ranged from basic science research to policy makers, that provided a variety of useful knowledge that’s difficult to ascertain in small group of participants from similar educational/professional background. I also think that the uniqueness stems from the way that the NRMN-CAN workshop was created, especially the trainers/organizers were very friendly and open to engage any type of scenario from the attendees that involved mentoring. They explained the concept (mentoring/facilitating), suggested ideas/tips; at the same time, they were flexible to incorporate ways of interpretation/presentation of ideas from the attendees, which, I think is a healthy and productive way of learning.


If someone called you and asked, “Why should I become involved with NRMN?” how would you respond?

Well, I would ask them if they ever had a formal, structured way of educational exposure or training on mentoring and related activities. If the answer is “no”, then I would suggest them to participate in an NRMN meeting to educate themselves. If the answer is “yes”, then I would suggest them to participate NRMN to evaluate and validate how their perspective in regard to mentoring fares with peers in the field.


How has your experience with NRMN changed the way you approach your career in the sciences?

My experience with NRMN did change the way I interact with my mentees and colleagues; I learned some simple but essential information in this regard by attending that NRMN meeting. Perhaps, at some stage I may shift my career to scientific communication and teaching, particularly focusing on research mentoring to students from undergraduate to post-doc level.


Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

I am a principal investigator working on infectious diseases from basic/translational/clinical aspects. For this type of endeavor, getting grants, publishing peer-reviewed research articles are the key to survive/persist. So far, the most significant accomplishment in my academic research career is my grant profile. I consider it as “karma” that we’ve got an R03, R21, R01, two grants from Gates Foundation and two internal grants over the past 5 years. Well, we do a rabbit model of tuberculosis, which produce very relevant pathology to human disease, yet only a few labs work on this model. We pioneered this model and recently provided a proof-of-concept using this model for host-directed therapy as adjunct to conventional antibiotic therapy for pulmonary tuberculosis; this work laid the foundation for a human clinical trial. I am happy about the outcome of this bench-to-bedside research.


What makes you an ideal mentor?

I think I am not there yet to claim an ideal mentor. I’ve mentored undergraduates, graduates, post-docs and research technicians in training them with techniques and/or providing advice/suggestion on research and career-related issues. I am a member of American Society of Microbiology (ASM)’s minority mentor program and also serving as a judge to evaluate scientific abstracts for poster/oral presentations at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) since 2008. Through these activities, I am trying to share my experience/knowledge and connect with the future generation; at the same time, I am learning new things from them on socialization, networking and related knowledge.


Each morning, what do you look most forward to in the day?

I look forward to finishing all the chores in my schedule for that day. A good/fruitful brain-storming session with fellow researchers/post-docs/graduates on our research subject is always a feast to my brain; it enlightens my day and make things go easy.


Is there anything you’d like to share about yourself with a potential future mentee?

I think that a true “mentor-mentee” concept is not a short-term relationship or an arrangement to find a quick-fix to a problem; rather it is a long-term sharing of knowledge/wisdom and experience. I believe in life-long learning; we can always learn something in every walk of our life from anybody. In the same line, we can also teach something. I think pursuing a research career requires a lot of sacrifice and at some stage it may become a way of life (critical thinking and quest for intellectual achievement); therefore, it is important to choose wisely on that. Basically, know what it takes to lead a research career; it’s not for everyone; at the same time, it’s not the only one to pursue. I think some kind of a “call from inside” is important in choosing a career track and/or job.


What is your current position and what is your favorite aspect of it?

Currently, I am a Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor affiliated with the Department of Medicine and located at the Public Health Research Institute of New Jersey Medical School at the Rutgers University. We do mainly research at present. My favorite aspect of it is to think about “what’s next” and discuss with fellow researchers on how to be successful as a team in our scientific endeavor, something similar to “group evolution” concept.


Anything else that you would like to share?

“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”. -Stephen Grellet

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