Category: INVEST

Getting the most out of the Conference of the College on Problems of Drugs Dependence #CPDD2015

June 15, 2015 – The conference of the College of Problems on Drugs Dependence took place in Phoenix, Arizona. When I learned that my paper was accepted, I decided to make the most out of the conference. I wanted to network. I found a blog by NICOLA KOPER especially helpful. She described how networking at conferences has resulted in more than one seminal and persistent research collaboration, and in joint publications. Koper also offered four tips on how you can make the most of conferences and use them to elevate the quality of your research programme. Here’s how I used them to make the most out of my conference.

Photocredit: cpdd.org

Make the rounds at meals

Talk to the person before and after you in the coffee line. Talk to people you don’t know, make photos with them. But remember that some conferences have a policy of no photography of presentations or data allowed.
Lunch early and create more time for standing by your poster. But stay out late, people will remember you.

Go on the field trips

Field trips are gold mines for networking, if you can do them. Re-discover your interest. Engage playfulness. Enjoy the process. Connect with your curiosity.

Spend time with your students

They’ll appreciate it. This tip is more applicable for senior investigators. Other senior tasks are to attend steering committee meetings and to prepare talks or presentations.

Go to lots of talks

Talk to the speakers after their talks. Before the conference, prepare a list of people + match ideas or questions that you can ask.

Remember to balance the talks with quality networking time.  How to (create the opportunities for) meeting people? Dance, don’t fight it.
Hang around; position yourself strategically so that you get a maximum exposure to random bystanders. Leave your bag in your room. Retreat and be quiet. Tiredness as well as weather affects us all. Take time to rest. If the climate differs from your home-country greatly, come early, adapt, adjust and fly.
Aim for at least one quality conversation per day. You can’t talk to 1000 attendees every day, but you can probably manage to talk to one of them every day. Pre-conference meetings are good for this too. Smaller audiences create more opportunities for mingling.
Go mall. You will meet more people than if you rush through the hotel. Opportunistic networking is equally helpful as targeted networking for creating new relationships.
Use discussions with your friends as spring boards for approaching new people and groups.
Three things are certain in life: Death, Taxes and Late-comers.
Stand by your poster for as long as possible. The late-comers have typically more time to talk to you.
If giving a talk yourself, remember how you present yourself. What words do you use to describe your samples? Scientists are people too; they used stigmatizing language, such as, alcoholics, in their award speeches.
Also, check out Jennifer Polk’s recent blog on UniversityAffairs: Conferences are for networking (@fromphdtolife).

New paper out now: Alcohol Screening among Opioid Agonist Patients in a Primary Care Clinic and an Opioid Treatment Program

February 25th: Drinking in people who also use other illicit drugs causes serious problems. Their doctors and health professionals can ask about alcohol, provide advice or refer the person to a specialist if the problem is too big. We had a look into medical notes of 200 people screened for an alcohol use disorder in a primary care clinic and another 200 people screened in an opioid treatment program over a two year period.
Chart reviews suggested that most people with opioid dependence (95%) seen in a federally qualified health center completed a routine annual alcohol screening; elevated scores in the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test were recorded for six people (3% of those screened) and brief interventions were completed with five of those people. 
 “When you know of … people who are using heroin, there’s a chance they’re using it IV, and if they’re using IV there’s a chance they’re accessing blood …, so if there’s people we have coming with Hep C that have been drinking there’s a whole other level of medical risk associated and it’s hard to stabilize anyone, so people are coming in ill or they have other doctors’ appointments or they’re just not physically able to engage in programs.” Physicians worried about opening up this complex issue and felt the system was not prepared.
The methadone program, in comparison, diagnosed alcohol abuse or dependence at admission in 27% (n = 54) of the patient records reviewed. People treated in the methadone program appeared to have higher rates of serious alcohol use disorders than those who received buprenorphine in the primary care clinic:
“It’s a lot easier to fly under the radar with alcohol than with other drugs.” Focus group participants recognized limitations of screening.
Practitioner focus groups were completed in the with four primary care physicians and eleven counsellors from the opioid treatment program to assess experience with and attitudes towards screening opioid agonist people for alcohol use disorders.
Focus groups suggested organizational, structural, provider, patient and community variables hindered or fostered alcohol screening. 
A primary care physician noted, “When people are in the more severe category and you run out of time and you can hand them a list of AA meetings around the town, but it’s just so unlikely that they are going to access it if they haven’t already. That warm hand off process is huge.”
Alcohol screening is feasible among opioid agonist people:
“Having a consistent way that we treat specific conditions, like alcoholism with this background and this level of care would be great. So that we can develop patterns and know how to treat them as they go.”
Effective implementation, however, requires physician training and systematic changes in workflow.
  A counselor stated, “Engagement is key; how we treat our patient has a lot to do with what they tell us, so if the people feel not judged, if they feel safe, they’re going to be more likely to engage in the treatment process.”

To read the full article, go to the website of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02791072.2014.991859#abstract

How to go about getting a postdoc position? Finding funding

There probably isn’t a simple answer to this question. Everybody has a different experience. My path was one of finding my own funding to do what I liked. Other people get postdocs via other routes, but I’d hope that my story bellow illustrates one of the paths people can take.

My mentor helped me identify funding calls and write funding applications. Then, I applied for everything and some of the applications were successful. Keeping up with the current funding calls via Research Newsletters and email alerts, such as Find A Phd, helped me too. I met the collaborators for my projects at conferences and seminars.

 
My experience is from Ireland, although I have a Slovakian PhD in Social Psychology(04/2011).
First, as a Research Assistant, I applied for and was successful with getting a Cochrane Training Fellowship to complete a Cochrane Systematic review over two years – 2 days p/week – from the Health Research Board Ireland (2010-12). The fellowship examined psychosocial interventions to reduce alcohol consumption in concurrent problem alcohol and illicit drug users. The absence of evidence on the subject helped us to identify priorities for research.  To find out more about the Cochrane Systematic reviews of literature, go to: www.cochranecollaboration.org
Towards the end of my two-year Cochrane Fellowship, my Irish supervisors offered me two complementary part-time postdoc positions, both of which I accepted. The first was a three-year position in emergency medical science research. The second was a one-year position developing new projects in primary care settings and supervising medical students (2012-13). From a personal perspective, teaching literature reviews to medical students taught me how to address a training gap through addiction research education for medical students.
At the same time, I applied for two other grants. First was a three-year feasibility study in primary care from Health Research Board Ireland (Co-applicant). Second, an INVEST drug abuse fellowship from the National Institute for Drug Abuse – NIDA (Fellow). The feasibility study was a direct result of our efforts to highlight the problem of alcohol consumption among people receiving methadone treatment. We’ve trained family physicians in psychosocial interventions for concurrent problem and drug use disorders. Hence the title for the PINTA study.
Both were successful. Thanks to the patience and flexibility of my supervisors, I was able to combine and merge all of these opportunities. The INVEST postdoctoral fellowship was a six months job in at Oregon Health and Science Universityin Portland, OR, studying implementation of alcohol SBIRT in primary- versus secondary-care based opioid agonist treatment (2013). Our poster at the Annual Symposium of the Society for the Study of Addiction described qualitative component of the study. Training health care professionals in delivering alcohol SBIRT is feasible and acceptable for implementation among opioid agonist patients; however, it is not sufficient to maintain a sustainable change. After INVEST, I returned back to my composite Irish postdoc.
Eight months after the return back to Ireland, and one year before the end of my three-year Irish postdoc, I received another fellowship from the Irish Research Council. This International Career Development Award is co-funded by a European Union scheme called Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions. To improve the addiction medicine education for doctors (BEAMED), I’ll do an external and independent evaluation of the addiction medicine fellowship and plan a similar training in Ireland (2014-17). To learn more about the Marie Cure awards, go to: http://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/

Three years post doctorate

27 April 2014
Transitions are life changes that allow us to pause, reflect and plan. Here’s a short history of my transition from the pre-doctoral to the post-doctoral stage. Read the full story here.
Hungary 2007. My Hungarian adventurewas a real turning point in my career. I had to commute to work and spent long hours in trams. Bored of watching cars and people, I started to read open-access articles about addiction. When I found something really relevant to my PhD, I felt like a gold miner who just dug his jewel out of piles of dirt. My passion grew stronger with every new paper.
Figure 1. Jano in transition
Ireland 2008. When we arrived to Ireland in late 2008, I had a small EU grant, with a budget of 3000 euros, and an unclear host organization. We survived for almost a year living from my wife’s EVSstipend and seasonal part-time jobs. My PhD and the EU grant took most of my time, leaving only a couple of hours for job-hunting. When I eventually ran out of money, it was late winter and the job market had dried up. Finally, I found an academic job, initially advertised as a PhD in Translational Medicine but my potential boss – Prof Walter Cullen – told me at the interview that I should apply for a p/t job on the same project. That’s how I came to research drinking among methadone patients in primary care at UCD.
Oregon 2013. In July 2011, only two months after receiving PhD, I have attended a summer school on addiction in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Dr McCarty, the school director, lectured about various policy models and evidence-based treatments for several days. Two years later, I did a NIDA fellowship with Dr McCarty at Oregon Health& Sciences University. Read this post about how I got there.

Lessons learned from junior post-doc

1) Write a lot. Like some teenagers, I used to write poems, songs and short stories. Then I stopped for many years. In Oregon, my wife surprised me with a Prompt-based creative writing course for my birthday. She thought it would be good for me and that I would enjoy it. Dr McCartyencouraged me to submit an essay to the Wellcome Trust Science Writing competition and to write a lot. Since then, writing became the core of my work.
2) Learn a lot. If you think of life as a huge learning experience, you welcome trouble as a gift.
3) Keep at it. Perseverance is critical in science. Progress takes years. New knowledge accumulates slowly. And the desired change is uncertain. While I was distributing clean needles to injecting drug users in inner-city Bratislava, Slovakia, I could see the effect of my work immediately. Now I have to wait ages and the change may not come in my life.
I’ve learned many more lessons than just these three, but I’ve learned how to separate the weed from the wheat from the chaff too. I don’t write about the minor lessons.

Future plans for senior post-doc

  • To stay true to myself
  • To reach a position of independence by:
    • conducting a randomized controlled trial
    • supervising work of junior investigators
  • To maintain a happy work-life balance
  • To pass the accumulated knowledge and skills on other:
    • Doctors and helping professions, by helping them become more competent and confident in addiction medicine research
    • Medical students, by helping them discover and master addiction medicine research

Going home

West coast and East coast of the U.S. are very different, people always told me. West coast was my home for 6 months – spring and summer. At the summer’s end, I took a long trip home to explore the East coast. This blog is about our journey to NYC, Ocean City (NJ), Millstone and back.
On Monday, we went from Portland, Oregon, to New York City. The Portland cab couldn’t find our address and stopped at the bottom of the block, leaving us to carry our heavy luggage alone. This was his second day at work, and his first airport ride – as we discovered later. He played in a heavy metal band for 11 years, since he came to Portland, and he was a vegan. To our great surprise, he knew many towns in our homeland – Bratislava, Prague and Brno – because he played there with his band. His intimate knowledge of those places made us feel closer to him, as we talked about the live in Portland. People who move to Portland are … bums, they are different. What is it about the city that attracts this special breed of humans? We couldn’t find an answer to that question, but agreed that it is the best city in the States. The driver wanted to give us 5$ discount because of the address issues, but we refused recognizing that starting a new job requires learning new skills, which takes time.
NYC was dirty, crowded and noisy. Our red-eye flight drained away all our energy and motivation to explore the city, so our greatest experience there was a long, morning nap in the Central park.
On Tuesday morning, we woke up in the Ocean City, New Jersey. I chose to stay in the Crossings Motor Inn long time ago. Ten years ago, I spent a summer working in its laundry room. It was my liberation summer, when I gained independence and self-reliance, changing my lifestyle forever. I was just a kid when I was here the first time. I didn’t realize it until now; 10 years of independence. As an adult artist-scientist, I am much more self-aware; I’m also very thankful that my research job allowed me to get here after 10 years and to have a great time, and to relax my tired scientific brain.

Crossings changed me; how has the motel changed?

The motel was no longer owned by my Italian friends; staff and housekeepers were different too. Our housekeeper was Kayla – a quiet student from Russia. J1 students, like her, were experiencing increasingly more problems with obtaining visas for this type of work/ region. Sandy damaged the Jersey shore and left its mark on the Crossings too; the lobby was painted and refurnished. Should I have come back last summer – before the Sandy storm – I would still see the ugly pink countertop in the reception. The season ends in Crossings on September 29th, the receptionist stays with her daughter during winter. The handyman hopes to get a job in the construction; he was able to do so during the last 2 winters
On Friday, we went to visit my cousin in the Millstone Township, in the Lakewood area. After dinner, and a short card game with Cassandra, they drove us to the JFK airport. Journey to the airport was never-ending. The traffic was really bad. We needed to pee badly and struggled to find a toiled. So we left the free-way and found a supermarket, where we were the only white customers. The bathroom smelled badly. Half of the toilet desk was missing and so were the bath tissue and soap. Nobody wanted to use the toilet and when I opened the door to get in, a nearby girl told me to save myself. Under these circumstances, there was no discussion about finding another toiled; we did it there. Luckily, we had just enough time to catch our flight back home. Our home away from home – a second home in Ireland.