Tamaya Van Criekinge, PT

European Stroke Organisation-World Stroke Organization 2020 Virtual Conference
November 7-9, 2020

Professor Karin Klijn from the Radboud University Medical Center started the session by providing young researchers with key steps when planning a career as a clinical scientist. With a little help from John F. Kennedy, she used a very relevant quote multiple times: “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” This advice continued throughout all the steps as she emphasized that it is important for you, as a young researcher, to take the initiative to further your own career. “Things do not happen, things are made to happen,” you, as a researcher, need to take the first step and take responsibility, while maintaining your own standards when finding a mentor, a supportive environment, and training.

The importance of a mentor was clarified by Prof. Peter Sandercock from the University of Edinburgh, who defined a mentor as an experienced, high-regarded empathic person who guides a young researcher throughout his or her career. When seeking a supervisor, you should look for someone who is already performing independent research but has a genuine interest in your academic career, who you can trust and have a good personal relationship with. Avoid bad mentors who exploit you, steal your ideas, or claim authorship for your work. Try and plan consecutive meetings with your mentor where you not only discuss work but how you tackle problems and how to overcome the pitfalls and downsides of an academic career. Yes, we have all received rejection letters! Yes, we have all had our own ups and downs! No, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

After this fruitful advice from established mentors, four young researchers out of 40 submissions received the chance to present and discuss their research and study protocols. First, Dr. Christophe Chautems talked about targeted delivery of rTPA with an untethered steerable microdevice. Second, Prof. Yu Zhou addressed the possibilities of using mobile phone-based telemedicine to improve medication persistence and stroke awareness. Third, PhD candidate Matteo Paolucci presented his protocol, which addresses patent foramen ovale as a marker of altered vascular development in migraine with aura patients. Lastly, Elissa Embrechts, researcher from the University of Antwerp, discussed the influence of visual spatial neglect on motor recovery post-stroke.

I got the opportunity to talk to Dra. Embrechts (@embrechtselissa) after the presentation and asked her about the advice and feedback she received from the mentors.

From left, Tamaya Van Criekinge and Elissa Embrechts.
From left, Tamaya Van Criekinge and Elissa Embrechts.

“I was very thrilled to have been given the opportunity to present my work for the first time during ESO-WSO 2020,” she said. “I found the suggestions very useful and applicable to my project. Especially the advice from Prof. Sandercock to find the key message in my research and focus on key variables is something I will take into account during my project. Prof. Sandercock mentioned a few times that it is better to have less data on more subjects than lots of data on a small sample, with perhaps missing data.”

The latter is another remark that she will keep in mind since her data collection started prior to the announcement of a general lockdown due to COVID-19.

She said: “I will most definitely be contacting a statistician to discuss how to cope with missing data, as suggested by the mentors. Nevertheless, the most valuable suggestion I received was to not let COVID-19 get in the way of my follow-up data collection. Even during this pandemic, phone assessment of several outcome measures can still be performed — participants can be asked to fill in questionnaires, to execute some tests by themselves or via video calls.”

When asked what was, for her, the take-home message of the presentations by Prof. Sandercock and Prof. Klijn, Dra. Embrechts responded: “I never felt comfortable contacting senior researchers as I believed I would be a hassle. However, during both presentations, it was very clear that established researchers are eager to mentor young researchers who take initiative, are proactive, and dare to make things happen. I feel more confident that it is generally acceptable to contact other researchers. I am not going to be afraid anymore to seek mentorship and ask for advice.”