I would like to thank the Lifeline Programs of the American Vascular Association for the honor to serve as the 2002-2003 E.J. Wylie Memorial Traveling Fellow. The E.J. Wylie fellowship has been, and continues to be, instrumental in shaping my career in academic vascular surgery. I believe that my fellowship served several purposes that clearly laid a foundation for academic success. These activities include stimulation of mentorship, awareness, leadership, and thought. The Wylie Traveling Fellowship continues to honor Dr. Wylie and his legacy to our profession.
The Wylie Traveling Fellowhip was an award that I had been familiar with for some time. I had first heard about the Wylie award from my father, Dr. Herbert Dardik. He pointed out this award as something special; in whatever field I would eventually pick for my career, he encouraged me to pick a field that encouraged academic exploration and mentorship from the organized leaders. During my vascular fellowship both Dr. Bruce Perler and Dr. Mel Williams encouraged me to pursue the Wylie fellowship; their encouragement to critically think about what I might pursue after formal vascular fellowship and during a Wylie fellowship led me to think about the award in the context of my general career path, not simply an end in itself.
However, it was the encouragement of my section head at Yale, Dr. Bauer Sumpio, who helped me crystallize and articulate my plans. Dr. Sumpio was the 1990-1991 Wylie Fellow and drew upon his experience as such. Since my focus in basic science research was the examination of the effects of the hemodynamic force shear stress on the vascular system, Dr. Sumpio encouraged me to visit both several leaders in academic vascular surgery as well as several leaders in the shear stress field. This would enable me to discuss my research ideas with leaders of the field and receive not only feedback but further development of my ideas.
The seemingly simple process of thinking about the Wylie application was the beginning of the mentorship process that the award engenders. Not only did I discuss my thoughts about the fellowship itself with established leaders of vascular surgery, I discussed my thoughts, inspirations for, and hesitations about my future career with these respected and insightful mentors.
During my first year as a faculty member I received encouragement from Dr. Sumpio to focus on the field of shear stress, building upon my previous work of my postdoctoral fellowship. For my first Wylie visit I chose to visit one of the best-recognized leaders in the shear stress field, Dr. Michael Gimbrone at Harvard. I also visited Dr. Guillermo García-Cardeña, a colleague of Dr. Gimbrone and one of the rising stars in the field of vascular biology.
Although Dr. Gimbrone was a gentleman to me, I would like to think that mentioning my receipt of the Wylie traveling fellowship helped my pave my introduction. My reception at Harvard was wonderful. The highlight was my seminar to the vascular biology section. I was able to discuss the work that we were performing in the Yale vascular surgery labs, including our shear stress model, and its spatially separated complex effects. We discussed additional control experiments and further directions to explore. However, the encouragement from established scientists to pursue a risky model so early in my career was particularly exciting. Not only did I become aware of other views of my work, I became intimately aware of work in their lab that was not yet published.
I had a wonderful visit with Dr. Alex Clowes in Seattle that shaped and ultimately completely changed my career. I was graciously welcomed by Dr. Clowes and even had dinner with him and his wife at their home. Dr. Clowes had me give a seminar on my research, well attended by his lab members and other basic scientists. I had to defend the lab work and the new model of shear stress, not only with its potential advantages, but also with its deficiencies. Comments and criticisms of this seminar became incorporated into the papers only after the additional necessary experiments were done.
More importantly was the advice given to me by Dr. Clowes, developed over several discussions during my multi-day visit. We discussed my career, academic vascular surgery, and the role of basic science in vascular surgery, and drew upon the examples of Dr. Clowes’ research studies and career path. I am still amazed and flattered by the amount of attention that I received from him. Of all the advice he gave, I am still most grateful for his direct introduction to me of two additional basic scientists in the vascular biology field, Dr. William Sessa and Dr. Jordan Pober. This introduction to these two scientists was to irrevocably change my career path, especially since both Drs. Sessa and Pober were at Yale; my interactions with them, which started with my Wylie fellowship introductions, still continue on a daily basis. I became aware of the established basic scientists of Yale’s Vascular Biology and Transplantation (VBT) section.
Both Dr. Sessa and Dr. Pober gave me enthusiastic receptions. They listened to my projects and dreams, and they had plenty of advice. The most tangible suggestion they each made was for me to join the Yale VBT section and become the center’s junior faculty scholar; this would let me physically move my laboratory, previously geographically isolated, into the same space as the rest of the VBT section. In addition, I could move my office into the basic science faculty space. Although it took almost a year for this move to occur, the wait was well worth it. I now interact with established basic scientists on an almost constant basis; my lab members have an enormous increase in resources instantly available, both other basic science postdoctoral fellows with knowledge and expertise, as well as complex or expensive equipment that would otherwise be unobtainable to a junior faculty member. My Wylie fellowship not only made the introduction, but also directly led to the establishment of my laboratory in the midst of other established basic scientists. The Wylie fellowship continues to provide daily dividends and probably years ahead of schedule.
My fellowship also allowed me to attend the Joan L. & Julius H. Jacobson Research Initiatives in Vascular Disease Conference, sponsored by the Lifeline Foundation and the Society for Vascular Surgery, as well as the basic science Lifeline sessions of the Vascular annual meeting, where our laboratory work was presented. I was able to visit Drs. Louis Messina, Raj Sarkar, and Darren Schneider at UCSF; I remain grateful for their reception, discussion, and advice during my visit and seminar. I am still doing experiments that Dr. Messina suggested. In San Francisco I also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Wylie’s wife and chat with her about the legacy of Dr Wylie and the principles that the Wylie traveling fellowship engenders.
The insights gained and opportunities seized, as introduced by the Wylie fellowship, gave me perspective early in my career that I would otherwise not have had the chance to form. As new junior faculty came to Yale, they sought me out to provide advice for their career pathways and to recount how my pathway – and laboratory – was formed. Interestingly, most of the junior faculty were not vascular surgeons but in general surgery as well as in specialties such as Pediatric Surgery or Urology. This is particularly flattering for Vascular Surgery. The friendships and scientific collaboration that quickly formed continue to provide academic inspiration as well as early opportunities to provide leadership and advice.
Ultimately, the Wylie Fellowship has had its most significant effect on me by changing the way I think about my career and my research in particular. My initial research projects as a junior faculty member have been recently published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery: "Shear stress stimulated endothelial cells induce smooth muscle cell chemotaxis via platelet derived growth factor-BB and interleukin-1 alpha" (J Vasc Surg 2005;41:321-331), and "Differential effects of orbital and laminar shear stress on endothelial cells" (J Vasc Surg 2005; in press), and "Sustained orbital shear stress stimulates smooth muscle cell proliferation via the ERK1/2 pathway" has been submitted to the Journal of Vascular Surgery. In all of these papers I acknowledge the inspiration and support of the E.J. Wylie Memorial Traveling Fellowship and the Lifeline Foundation, as so rightly deserved.
I look back upon my travels and remember the fraternity of the vascular surgeons and scientists that I visited. They encouraged me and provided insightful advice at a crucial, early, formative point in my academic career. The immediate project advice led to improvements in my science; the career advice led to changes in the structure of my workplace and environment that I expect to lead to continued scientific research and career development in academic vascular surgery.
I would highly recommend to all junior academic vascular surgeons to consider an application for the Wylie fellowship. Winning the award will change your career as it already has changed mine; simply thinking about the application is a first step that helps focus and plan. I would only like to repeat my gratitude to the Lifeline Programs of the American Vascular Association for my Wylie award and the opportunities to which it has led.
Alan Dardik, MD, PhD
Yale University School of Medicine, Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine
295 Congress Ave., Room 436
New Haven, CT 06519
Posted June 2010