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Welcome!

Welcome to the Students and Trainees Subcommittee blog!

Here, we hope to disseminate information and discuss issues facing students and trainees in medical physics. We also aim to include relevant posts about potential clinical and non-clinical career paths in medical physics.

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clinical medical physics

STSC Member Spotlight: Anna Rodrigues, Ph.D.

In this month’s post, we talked with our subcommittee chair, Anna Rodrigues, about her experience volunteering with the Student and Trainees Subcommittee (STSC) and advice that she has for students who wish to get involved. Anna is currently a Medical Physics Resident at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she also received her Ph.D. in Medical Physics.

How long have you been a memannaber of STSC?

I joined the STSC in as a member in 2013 and was tasked with organizing the annual student meetings. Since 2015, I have been the chair of the STSC.

Why did you join AAPM and STSC?

I joined the AAPM in 2011 shortly after starting my graduate studies in Medical Physics. My graduate program encouraged us to join our professional societies such as HPS, AAPM, etc, as early as possible in an effort to integrate us to the profession, connect and network with members, and utilize the wealth of resources these societies have to offer its members. I believe one of the first things I took advantage of was the Virtual Library and (naturally) the Task Group Reports. At my first AAPM meeting in 2012, I learned about the Students and Trainees Subcommittee through the annual student meeting and applied for a position. I saw it as a good avenue for me to transfer skills and interests in medical physics education I was already pursuing in my own graduate program (as a student member on the Medical Physics Administrative Council and Student Advisory Board) and apply it to a national level. It was also an excellent introduction to the AAPM committee structure, which at that time seemed to me to be a “black box” of activity.

What have been your primary responsibilities as STSC chair?

As STSC chair, I operate on a higher level than a member, so most of my tasks are managing members and projects as well as handling logistics and communications between us and headquarters, other committees and working groups, or external groups. This means I am doing something from our SC almost on a daily basis, as our group has many ongoing efforts as well as many events planned for the annual AAPM meeting. Additionally, I periodically update our parent committee, the Education and Training of Medical Physicists Committee, on our progress and the program of the Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Career Paths for Medical Physicist and making sure we are fulfilling our charges. While those are my primary responsibilities, I am also passionate about participating on the “ground level” projects such as the interview workshop and ideas to promote student and trainee communication.

How has membership in AAPM been of value to you?

In the beginning of a medical physicist’s journey, one naturally “takes” more than one “gives” –  This means resources the AAPM provides, as well as all the members one can network with. From knowledge and education to professionalism, AAPM has been an invaluable tool in shaping me from a student to a (almost) professional medical physicist. These products are the result of all the individuals who dedicate their time to keeping our profession up-to-date and advancing. Being able to be part of such a dedicated group of scientists is rewarding and motivating – I hope to be able to “give” more than I “take” from AAPM in the coming years.

What was your most memorable STSC experience? The most challenging?

One of the most challenging and simultaneously memorable experiences was coordinating our first ever Student Day from a logistics standpoint – but it was made much less challenging because AAPM headquarters staff have been so helpful and supportive of our ideas and helping us implement them. The actual Student Day event was memorable, because it showed what a hard-working group of members (all students and trainees!) we have that managed to organized multiple successful events, such as the Residency Fair, that have a broad impact on student and trainee training.

What would you like to see the STSC accomplish in the future?

STSC activities have grown rapidly since I started: We used to only focus on annual meeting events (mostly Student Night Out and the Annual Student Meeting). Now we have ongoing efforts and have expanded the annual meeting events substantially to address student- and trainee-related topics of interest. Additional groups such as the Working Group on Student and Trainee Research have brought synergy to our efforts. For the future, I would like to see us increase undergraduate student participation in the AAPM and annual meeting, incorporate more international students and trainees, and continue promoting non-clinical career pathways.

Do you have any advice for students or trainees who wish to get involved with AAPM or STSC?

  • Join as soon as possible!
  • Attend your local chapter meetings (also an excellent avenue to get involved in the AAPM).
  • Don’t be shy! If you are interested in speaking with a member, go ahead! It may be a “big name” physicist, but they are approachable and usually more than eager to engage with students and trainees.
  • The AAPM is a great place to practice professionalism!
  • If interested, get involved in committee activities! The easiest way to do this is to sit in on committee meetings during the annual meeting. (You can find the 2017 AAPM committee meeting schedule here.)

So in conclusion, becoming a member of AAPM and volunteering can have exceptional benefits, from educational resources to networking opportunities. If you are interested in learning more about AAPM membership or want to join, please visit the AAPM membership webpage. If you have any great ideas for student and trainee initiatives, you can also contact the STSC directly at 2017.SPASC@aapm.org. Finally, be sure to follow our Facebook page and Twitter for up-to-date information regarding exciting opportunities and upcoming STSC events at the 2017 AAPM annual meeting.

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clinical medical physics

MedPhys Match Residency Interview Experience

This year marks the third year of the Medical Physics Match program for graduates of Medical Physics programs.  The MedPhys Match is modeled off the physician match program where applicants and institutions rank programs and candidates respectively following interviews. Then an algorithm matches the candidates to programs based on highest mutual ranking.  A word of warning: not all residency programs in the Match are CAMPEP approved and not all CAMPEP approved residencies are in the Match.  When applying for residencies, the MedPhys Match is not the only place to look; however, it includes a majority of programs available in the US, and if you do match, the agreement is binding. Check out this map for a geographic picture of where residencies are and interview dates (if known):  http://medphysresidencymap.getforge.io/ (Information from CAMPEP, program websites, and other information as reported by residency program directors). Red markers are imaging programs, and titles link to program information, CAMPEP or hospital page as information was found.

For many applicants, this is the first time they are marketing themselves and their skills to those established in the field.   If you have presented research at AAPM meetings or interviewed for a postdoc position, this may not be your first time interacting professionally with established members, but it is a different type of interaction.  In my opinion, it can be tempting to think of the residency interviews as a barrier you have to pass, but you would be doing yourself and the programs interviewing you a disservice.  The residency is only one step of many you will be undertaking on your way to a career in Medical Physics.

One exercise that may be helpful at this time is to evaluate what your ideal career would be.  When preparing for the residency interview process, also start thinking about the job you want after residency.  This interview is not just about getting a residency, but also about what you want to do once you complete your residency.  Candidates should keep in mind they are interviewing the programs as much as the programs are interviewing them, so don’t be afraid to ask questions of those interviewing you.   Don’t believe me… it was also a top piece of advice the candidates the Student and Trainee Subcommittee (STSC) interviewed also wanted to pass on (more on that below)! It not only shows the program you are interested in them, but it also allows you to discern what you like and don’t like. If you are passionate about research, you want to go into a residency that will help you succeed in research.  If you want to be in the clinic, you will benefit the most from a residency with a primary focus on clinical duties and maybe not include a research component.  Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to talk about them in a positive light.  Keep in mind, the people interviewing you are looking to fill a position with skills they need and are not necessarily interested in what benefits you the most.  You want to market yourself in a way that says you fill those needs and are a match for their program.  Knowing your limits and desires can help you shape answers that present you as a candidate they want and who can help them further their program while helping you weed out which residencies are the best match for you to grow into the medical physicist you want to be. For those who have not yet gone through the MedPhys Match, we interviewed a few students about their experience to help give you and other participants an idea of what it was like.  A summary of statistics from the previous two MedPhys match cycles gives a glimpse of how difficult it can be to secure a coveted residency position now required to sit for the ABR Part 2 certification exam.  Source data can be accessed here.

Applicantprogramoverall

 

 

Needless to say, these can be stressful times.  The STSC spoke with 5 individuals that interviewed in this past cycle to get their perspective on what to expect and advice for future candidates.

Overall:

The participants all participated in the MedPhys Match for the first time and applied to therapy programs.

C1: Is a candidate with a Master’s degree who applied to 21-30 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 3-4 phone or Skype interviews with 2 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 3 on-site interview offers and did not turn down any interviews. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates to accommodate potential conflicts.  At the interviews, the candidate was interviewed by approximately 5-6 individuals, given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Some of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $1000-$1200, though one institution did offer a one night stay in a hotel for the night prior to the interview.

C2: Is a candidate with a PhD degree who applied to 0-10 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 3 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 9 on-site interview offers and turn down 1 interview due to a scheduling conflict with another interview. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates to accommodate potential conflicts.  At the interviews, the candidate experienced panel interview and individual interviews with approximately 5 or more individuals, given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Some of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $3100, though three institutions did offer a one night stay in a hotel that was not included in the out of pocket estimate.

C3: Is a candidate with a Master’s degree who applied to 31+ Non-CAMPEP and CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match or were outside the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 9 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 3 on-site interview offers and did not turn down any interviews. He/she reported none of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates.  At the interviews, the candidate was given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Most of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $1500, though one institution did offer a one night stay in a hotel for the night prior to the interview and all offered lunch.

C4: Is a candidate with a Medical Physics Certificate who applied to 21-30 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 3 or 4 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 12 on-site interview offers and did turned down 2 interviews due to scheduling conflicts with another interview and financial concerns. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates.  At the interviews, the candidate was interviewed by 7 or more people, given time to speak with the current residents, and 7-8 of those interviews required a presentation.   Most of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $3000, though some institution did offer hotel accommodations or $100-$300 for expenses.

C5: Is a candidate with a PhD degree who applied to 11-20 CAMPEP accredited programs that participate in the Match.  He/she had 9 or more phone or Skype interviews with 4 of them being a precursor to a possible offer for an onsite interview.  In total, he/she had 9 on-site interview offers and turn down 2 interview due to financial and interest concerns. He/she reported some of the institutions being flexible with the interview dates to accommodate potential conflicts.  At the interviews, the candidate experienced panel interview and individual interviews with 7 or more individuals, given time to speak with the current residents, and 1-2 of those interviews required a presentation.   Some of the interviews did include technical questions.  The approximate out of pocket cost was $4000, though one institutions did offer a one night stay in a hotel.

Advice:

How to best prepare for the interviews:

C1: “I would recommend you practice talking about your graduate study experience (clinical, research, educational, etc.).  It is easy to think about your experiences, but actually going through the act of talking about it out loud (even to yourself!) will be helpful.

It is always good to be ready for technical and clinical questions just in case, but I wouldn’t stress too hard on this.  That being said, it never hurts to brush up on the broad level subjects (i.e. basic clinical setups/strategies, LINAC components, and fundamental dosimetry concepts).”

C2: “1) Mock interview(s) 2) Have “elevator speech” of dissertation topic memorized (if applicable) 3) Do some research about the programs at which you will be interviewing and have a list of questions prepared”

C3: “I would recommend applicants decide on what they would like to experience while in residency and to verify that the residency program has those components. Applicants should also prepare for technical questions and know what types of research they may be interested in conducting while in residency.”

C4: “soft skills, present best self etc. practice questions and answers.”

C5: “Practice elevator pitch and typical interview questions; briefly review Attix / Khan”

Most challenging aspect of the interview process:

C1: “Depending on the type of interview, it is likely you will only have 20-30 minutes with a given person (or persons).  That is less time than it seems.  They may ask a question like: “talk to me about your clinical experience” or “tell me a little more about [anything on your CV]”.  It would be quite easy to take up half the interview slot giving a long-winded answer to either of those questions.

While preparing, it would be beneficial to go through each item on your CV, and see if you can give a summary in 60s or less that hits all the important points.  You can always give more details when asked for them, but it’s good to be able to give a concise answer so that you and the interviewer can cover more ground in the allotted time.”

C2: “Stress from travel and extraordinary level of social interactions”

C3: “The most challenging aspect of the interview process was trying to get information for some of the institutions. Certain programs had little information outside of what was provided to the AAPM CAP, and this made it difficult to ascertain what type of program it was and to get a good feel as to what candidates they were looking for, and what was expected of candidates.”

C4: “time and travel during intense certificate program.”

C5: “Coordinating travel between many locations”

How to get the most out of the interview process:

C1: “I left my interviews wishing that I had asked more questions.  I would suggest that you really think about what kind of experience you are looking for out of residency.  That way, you will have meaningful questions to ask the faculty during your interviews.  Also, it will make your ranking decision easier when the time comes.”

C2: “The applicant should remember that they are equally interviewing the institution. They should consider what matters most to them personally and be sure to have any questions/concerns addressed by the end of the day. They should also make a spreadsheet listing aspects of a residency that are most important to them (location, salary, state-of-the-art facilities, etc.) and record how each place fulfills these criteria shortly ASAP following the interview.”

C3: “I would suggest applicants determine what they are looking for in a program, what is vital to their training, find programs that have those components and apply to those.”

C4: “Approach it as a good opportunity to meet many leaders in the field.  I got kind and helpful advice from several people.”

C5: “Be yourself: you’re looking for a good fit between applicant and program, and trying to be someone you’re not will not work out well in the long run.”

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research

AAPM abstract submission tips

With the abstract deadline for the AAPM 2017 Annual Meeting approaching, many of us are diligently collecting data for that perfect submission that is sure to get an oral presentation, or even a spot in the Young Investigator Symposium. (If you are unfamiliar with the structure of an AAPM abstract, an overview can be found here.) As scientists, we tend to focus on our experimental design and execution, but effective communication of these concepts and the significance of our results is just as important. With only 300 words, the AAPM abstract is particularly challenging, and the organization and clarity of a submission can make the difference between a poster and an oral presentation.

So what makes for a good submission? We can start by looking at the instructions given to abstract reviewers, which can be found here. Scientific abstracts are given a score of 1-10 based on six criteria:

  1.      Clarity
  2.      Quality of supporting data
  3.      Scientific rigor
  4.      Innovation
  5.      Potential significance
  6.      Interest to researchers

To reduce systematic scoring bias, reviewers are instructed to use the full score range and aim for a mean of 5-6, and they can provide comments to help break ties. Dispositions are based on loosely-defined score ranges:

blogpost_2017_02_scoreranges

Each abstract is scored by several reviewers, and the final dispositions are assigned by the track directors based on score averages, ranges, and the number of slots available for each type of presentation.

When putting your submission together, it’s important to consider that each reviewer scores about 15-40 abstracts. They are not going to spend much time on each submission, so be sure to convey the “big picture” information in a way that is concise and immediately apparent to the reviewers within the text of the abstract.  This is especially important in the Purpose and Conclusions sections. In the supporting document, it is tempting to cram as much information as possible to ensure that the reviewers understand the details and context of your work. However, an overload of information may force them to skim over the document, missing the points you were trying to make entirely. It is generally most effective to convey information graphically in the supporting document with as little text as possible, and an explicitly-labeled statement of innovation and impact set at the top of the page apart from any other text or figures helps to focus the reviewers’ attention.

One final piece of advice: don’t underestimate the importance of peer editing when finalizing your submission. It is all too easy to write something that seems clear, but others will find confusing until you rephrase the text or include extra details. The reviewers of your abstract don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about your research topic as you do, and they won’t have the option of asking you for clarification when they assign their scores.

Now that your submission is refined and polished, what are your chances of getting an oral presentation, or even an elusive spot in the Young Investigator Symposium? The good news is that it is very unlikely that your submission will be rejected: in 2016, over 97% of submissions were accepted. Roughly half were given poster presentations. The Young Investigator Symposium was very competitive, with over 150 submissions vying for 10 spots. Submission numbers and acceptance rates are summarized in the tables below:

blogpost_2017_02_overallstatistics

blogpost_2017_02_younginvestigatorsstatistics

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clinical medical physics

Want to Become an Innovator? Want to Broaden Your Research? Apply for the Expanding Horizons Travel Grant!

As part of our efforts to publicize opportunities available within AAPM for students and trainees, we are featuring a newly available grant that allows students to incorporate cross-disciplinary approaches into their research. The Expanding Horizons Travel Grant is sponsored by the Science Council. The grant allowance has been increased to $2000 for registration and travel expenses related to attending a conference not traditionally attended by medical physicists.

Am I eligible?

Eligible applicants include graduate students, post-docs, and residents. If you are nearing graduation, but are not planning on being done before the application deadline, then you are eligible! Up to 10 grants per year may be awarded. The first deadline to apply for this grant is September 1st, 2015, so hurry up!

Why should I apply? Which conferences are eligible?

As medical physics continues to expand in scope and explore new methods to improve treatment and diagnostics in medicine, incorporating unique and varied perspectives becomes an important factor for innovation. The Expanding Horizons Grant is designed increase these types of experiences for graduate students. Conferences sponsored by the AAPM, such as the Annual Meeting or the Spring Clinical Meeting, are disallowed. Any conference that relates to your research outside of the typical AAPM-sponsored events can be an eligible meeting.

How do I increase my chances of being chosen?

Each application will be graded on multiple factors: the significance and potential impact on the candidate’s research, as well as the possible benefits to medical physics, the appropriateness of the conference selected, and the candidate’s qualifications. To increase your chances of landing the grant, try to demonstrate how you can incorporate alternative methods into your research. Use your personal statement to describe your research interests, the challenges you’ve encountered, and the fields you want to interact with for your project. Describe the collaborations you’ve already started or what you would look for in a collaborator. Make sure it’s clear that the meeting you are proposing to attend has a direct relationship to your project. For example, if you’re working in nuclear imaging, emphasize that the Nuclear Imaging Scientific Session available at the WMIC Annual Meeting will directly benefit you. If your research is far enough along, submit an abstract to your intended meeting! Use any way you can to demonstrate your interest in the subject that you are trying to expand into.

Additional benefits of the grant:

If you plan to apply for this grant, be prepared to make a short presentation or poster for the next AAPM Annual Meeting reporting on what you learned while attending an alternative conference. It’s important to bring back and disseminate the ideas and knowledge that you took away, and use that to promote innovative research ideas and techniques within our professional and scientific communities. How exactly this will be implemented still hasn’t been finalized, so stay tuned.

As part of this grant, you will be included as a reviewer for the next round of explorers. You will have an opportunity to help mold the careers of future researchers and scientists. We here at the STSC and the WGSTR strongly encourage young, up-and-coming graduate students to seriously consider taking advantage of this great opportunity!

Once more, the deadline to apply for the Expanding Horizons Travel Grant is September 1st, 2015. For official information on the eligibility criteria, requirements, allowed meetings, deadlines, and how to apply, please visit https://www.aapm.org/education/EXHG/.

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clinical medical physics

Tips for Landing Your Dream Residency Spot!

Tips for Landing Your Dream Residency Spot!

The Residency Fair:

You will be meeting quite a few residency directors as well as current residents at the fair this Wednesday. They will talking about what their program is like. This is the perfect opportunity for you to introduce yourself to potential interviewers to give yourself an idea of which programs you will want to apply to.

Some good starting points questions include:

  • Asking about the structure of the program,
  • Asking about the overall culture or feeling of the program
  • Asking what life is like outside of the residency in that geographic area.

Be yourself and let them get to know you and your personality! Remember that you will be working with each other on a day to day basis so it is important that your personalities mesh. The currents residents will be more than happy to help you if you have any questions while you are there! (Look for John Ready or Melissa Lamberto if you need them to point out residents to you!)

Factors to consider when you are choosing where to apply:

  1. Type of program (community vs. consulting group vs. university)
  2. Types of research and projects too!
  3. “Gut feeling”/personality fit
  4. Location
  5. Department size
  6. Opportunities for experience in specialized procedures
  7. Salary/benefits

Personal statement writing 101:

First impressions are formed from your personal statement! Be proud of your achievements and describe why you would be a great choice for the program. Use this time to show what makes you stand out, so identify any obstacles you’ve overcome and address any blanks in your job experience timeline. Also, include why the program is a good fit for you (your top choice) and why you want to go there. Most importantly, be concise and check your grammar. You want to be someone they can’t wait to meet!

If any programs require a photo, remember to keep it professional (think similar to an I.D. photo, no selfies please!).

Phone interview:

This is your pre-screening for an on-site interview invitation. Most phone interviews can be tough (some even ask you clinical questions to gauge your clinical knowledge) and address any questions that are more difficult to answer in person (like questions about gaps in your resume or comments/concerns they might have from your application). Study up, be confident and answer with poise. Also, be sure to remember to pause after you answer a question; do not continue to nervously talk to fill in the silence (this time is usually taken for the interviewers to take notes on your responses).

Preparing for the interview:

  1. Be prepared, be on time, and be yourself! Your application got you this far, and now employers need to know if they can work with you on a daily basis.
  2. Know your application packet. If you don’t know a lot about something, don’t put it on your resume/CV!
  3. Do your homework about the position and program you are interviewing for! What makes you interested other than the location (even though this is also important)?
  4. Often travel arrangements must be made with short notice. Be sure to allow yourself enough time to arrive to the interview location early to find your way around the campus.
  5. Stay involved in the interview process. Don’t look bored! Stay awake, alert and inquisitive.
  6. Dress appropriately and skip the coffee if you think it will give you the jitters.

What should you ask on your interview?

  1. What makes this program better than others, and how will this program allow me to accomplish specific goals I have set for myself.
  2. What changes are planned for the program/department for the upcoming year (only if this was not discussed in the program introduction)?
  3. Reflect on experiences and interactions that solidified your interest in this profession.
  4. What are the typical characteristics of a successful resident in your program? What are the previous graduates doing now?
  5. If there are multiple sites, ask about the physicist’s role in each of those sites, and any logistical issues tied to those sites (this shows you are really thinking about what they have to offer).
  6. Remember you are going to ask the current resident’s questions too. These are the people that will give you the best idea of what the program is like. Some example questions, “What is the morale of the program? Is your feedback valued and implemented?

Whatever you do, always ask a question after your interview. You should be able to come up with at least one!

Example of residency interviewee’s behavior that really impresses program directors:

The candidate who comes well prepared, knows:

  • Our program and our specialty
  • Asks appropriate questions
  • Allows time for me (the interviewer) to talk and pose questions to the candidate!

After you finish the interview, it isn’t necessarily over! Remember to show your gratitude for the opportunity to interview with a thank you email (notes are fine too, but an email will suffice). Try to find the email address of anyone you interviewed with, and address them directly.

Don’t forget to check out these excellent resources AAPM Career Services!

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interviews, medical physics, non-clinical tracks

I am about to graduate – what on earth do I do now? 10 things you can do NOW to get a job and move your career forward

physics todayOur post on “Inside Look into the MedPhys Match: Part II” will be available in the coming weeks, but we wanted to share with you this important and exciting webinar that will take place on April 30th from 2:00-3:00 PM EDT. You can register by going to this link:

Free Webinar on 10 Things You Can Do NOW to Get a Job 

About this webinar:

Whether you started career planning and job searching a year ago, a month ago or today, there are a few things you can do to get the ball rolling to land a job you enjoy.

  • Number 1: Don’t Panic! It’s never too late to launch a thoughtful strategy designed to land you employment.
  • Number 2: Know you are valuable in myriad industries and ecosystems. In this webinar, you will learn specific tasks you can do RIGHT NOW to get a job and advance in your career. You will emerge with a solid and strategic plan that you can adapt at any stage of your career, but is especially valuable for those who are about to graduate or finish their postdoc and haven’t lined up a position yet.
  • And perhaps equally important, you will leave the webinar feeling more confident and excited about what your near (and far) future holds for you.

About Your Presenter:
Alaina G. Levine is an award-winning entrepreneur, science journalist, science and engineering careers consultant, professional speaker and corporate comedian. Her new book, Networking for Nerds, will be published by Wiley in 2015. As President of Quantum Success Solutions, she has been advising scientists and engineers about their careers for over 15 years. She has given over 600 workshops and seminars for clients in the US, Europe and Mexico, and is the author of over 200 articles pertaining to science, engineering, science careers and business in such publications as Science, Nature, World Economic Forum, Smithsonian, Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, & COSMOS. As a science careers journalist, Levine constantly researches employment trends in STEM fields and delivers up-to-date vital information about STEM career issues from interviews with hiring managers, decision-makers and recruiters in myriad industries. Levine has also served as a Contributor to National Geographic and currently pens the career columns for Physics Today and APS News.

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interviews, medical physics, non-clinical tracks, residencies

Interviews with AAPM’s student volunteers

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

Over the past few years, students have really expanded their presence in AAPM. What was once the Student Physicist Association Subcommittee has expanded and been reorganized as the Students and Trainees Subcommittee (STSC). Members of the STSC took the initiative to form a new working group, WG for Promoting Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics (WGNCMP).  The Working Group on Student and Trainee Research (WGSTR) has also welcomed student involvement. Both of these working groups offer students the opportunity to shape career opportunities for current and future trainees in medical physics.

In this post, we have interview two students involved in these working groups:

Sean Tanny, WGNCMP Co-Chair and founding member; and Chris Peeler, WGSTR founding member

Q1: Could you tell us about your WG? What does the group hope to acheive?

Sean, WGNCMP:

The Working Group to Promote Non-Clinical Careers in Medical Physics is doing exactly what our name says, promoting non-clinical careers for medical physicists. What we have seen since the ABR 2014 initiative is that there are so many students competing for a very limited number of residency slots. This issue was anticipated, but no real solution has been put forward in an organized sense. What we are charged with is to explore what the potential options are for students who don’t want to get railroaded into being a purely clinical physicist.
A few of our current goals include:

  • assessing student awareness of these career options.
  • investigate the effort of interest of CAMPEP Medical Physics Education Program Directors in providing training specifically for people who want to work outside the clinic.
  • present a white paper for Medical Physics to help inform students already within the field.
  • reach out to students beyond medical physics, particularly undergraduates who may be considering a career in medical physics.

Chris, WGSTR:

The primary focus of our group is to initiate or promote activities aimed at enhancing and broadening pre-doctoral research conducted by students and trainees. It is also our intention to act as a platform to connect students and trainees that share interest in research-related topics in medical physics. To achieve this we are actively working to gather feedback from students and transmit that information to AAPM so that it may be used to better diversify research-oriented education and training in the field of medical physics.
A few of our goals include:

  • a travel grant program designed to help fund student travel to meetings not associated with AAPM or even medical physics specifically, in order to broaden the scientific approach in medical physics research.
  • a regular symposium at the AAPM Annual Meeting at which scientists who have had successful careers focused on research describe how they got their start and how they built their career. Both the travel grants and the symposium should make their debut in 2015.
  • encourage an on-going student dialogue regarding research-oriented education. The first major action in this effort will be our hosting of a student luncheon at the 2015 AAPM Annual Meeting, where we can present efforts within AAPM to foster research and students can discuss ideas.

Q2: What inspired you to found this WG?

Sean, WGNCMP:

There was some talk within the Students and Trainees Subcommittee when I was first joining on about trying to explore some non-clinical options to see if there’s a potential to ease some of the strain on the residency process. John Ready and I were teamed together for two to three months, conducting interviews with non-clinical physicists, collecting data from the AAPM membership, and came back to the Subcommittee and said that we thought there was enough here to form a working group. Since then, we’ve made a lot of progress, thanks in no small part to the help from Alison Roth, Katherine Dextraze, and Anna Rodrigues.

I think the thing that is particularly inspiring from a project like this is that we have the privilege to reach out to so many outstanding physicists who are working to improve all the pieces that go into clinical medical physics. We’re looking at how non-clinical physicists fit within the AAPM as their careers progress and it can be a little varied. But there’s not a systematic way that the AAPM treats non-clinical physicists different from clinical ones, at least not in the data we’ve collected. Personally, I think for non-clinical careers to be more approachable as someone entering the field, we need to work with the ABR to establish a way for those forgoing board certification immediately, but actively working in medical physics, to have a path that allows them to transition back into the clinic without having to start back at square one.

Chris, WGSTR:

In light of the ABR 2014 initiative, it has become apparent to us and even to many among the AAPM leadership that most of the effort in medical physics education program design has been focused on fulfilling the topic requirements set forth by the ABR. Most of these are clinically-oriented requirements with less scientific depth which has resulted in programs that in many cases cover the required subjects with little to no effort placed on the introduction of new topics that will move the field forward.
The initial catalyst that eventually led to the creation of our group actually occurred in 2013, when I invited Robert Jeraj from the University of Wisconsin to speak the student in my program. Knowing that he was a co-chair of the Working Group on Future Research and Academic Medical Physics (also known as FUTURE), I requested his talk focus on his thoughts on the future of education and research in our field. In a better fashion than I ever could have expected, his presentation, or discussion rather, really got our students talking! Dr. Jeraj was equally ecstatic about the discussion because upon his return to Wisconsin he put me in touch with a student from their medical physics program, Stephanie Harmon. Dr. Jeraj suggested that we hold an informal gathering at the AAPM meeting that year in which we would bring together students from our programs to continue our discussion of research and research-oriented education.

Following the meeting at AAPM, we began a conversation with a representative from the program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Clemens Grassberger. Stephanie, Clemens, and I continued our collaboration throughout the following year, and at the 2014 AAPM Annual Meeting, we were invited to attend the FUTURE meeting. During this meeting, the group made the decision to form a student working group dedicated to continuing our efforts related to student research and education. I’ve related this story to you because I believe it is a great example of what students can achieve if we’re willing to simply express our heartfelt opinions. If you see a deficiency in our field, don’t be afraid to suggest a solution or to even go further and do something about it.

Q3: Have you released reports from your WG?

Sean, WGNCMP:

No official reports yet. We have published a brief article in the AAPM Newsletter and have submitted some of our work for presentation at various meetings. We are currently working on producing a white paper for Medical Physics and also an outreach article for Physics Today. I think that it’s important that we try and reach students who are still in their formative process of deciding what medical physics is going to be for them.

 Chris, WGSTR:

Our working group was only officially approved in 2015, so we have not yet had the opportunity to release any reports. It is our intention to gather statistics related to student research and also courses offered across different graduate education programs and to present this information on the AAPM website.

Q4: Why do you feel that student involvement is important in AAPM?

Sean, WGNCMP:

Two reasons:
1) We need to advocate for ourselves as students. No one else will do this for you. If there’s something you see that you think can be done better, speak up. I’ve worked a lot with Chris Peeler over the last couple months, and what is great about that group is that it truly was student-driven. It started as a group of students who wanted to interact and review what everyone was researching, and found that it was so very beneficial for everyone, so they started a group to promote student research interests. That’s a powerful example of what student involvement can do.
2) We are the future of the organization. How do you learn to do something? You do it! Without that practice and experience, it’s a bumpy road to figure out how to work within the framework of such a complex organization. There are so many different subcommittees, different councils, etc. Learning how to create meaningful change is an important step in being able to pick up the torch when it comes time.

Chris, WGSTR:

As in any scientific field, the future of the field will rest on the students and trainees of today. These are the future scientists that will serve on the larger committees and boards of AAPM. Initiating student involvement early on will provide for smoother transitions later as the students and trainees will already be familiar with the operation of the organization. More importantly, it is the students and trainees who directly feel the impact of education or training-related decisions from AAPM so it is vital for that perspective to be considered when such decisions are made. One of the best ways to foster that involvement is to have students and trainees be tied into the organizational structure of AAPM. Students are fortunate to have a clear voice within AAPM thanks to many well-established groups; however, in our case we felt there was a gap in representation for those interested in fostering research-related personal development throughout their graduate career and extending into all professional, academic, and industrial career pathways.

Q5: Do you feel that students could derive personal/professional benefits from being involved in AAPM?

Sean, WGNCMP:

By being involved in AAPM, students can create meaningful change with their organization and potentially impact the training and career opportunities that current and future trainees. In my experience in particular, I have establish strong connections the physicists through out our field – at major vendors, such as Varian; within federal regulatory bodies; in the clinic; and in research. The connections contribute the research that my group is doing and also may impact my personal career later on down the line. The personal benefit of AAPM involvement is the satisfaction of addressing important issues and the professional benefit is certainly creating an all-star network of physicists in all branches of medical physics.

Chris, WGSTR:

If our working group’s experience is an indication of how one could derive personal or professional benefits from being involved in AAPM, then the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Being involved provides direct opportunities to interact with leaders in the field and gives you an chance to show them what you can bring to the table. Depending on the direction you decide to take your career after graduate school, the type of experience you can acquire through such involvement could be incredibly valuable. A large part of achieving success in medical physics hinges on the development of a person’s soft skills, such as communication, organization, presentation skills, and professional interaction with others in the field. Involvement in AAPM provides an excellent setting to develop in all of these skill areas.

Volunteer work is absolutely necessary to keep AAPM up and running. In same newsletter that showcased the work of WG NCMP, John Hazle commended the volunteers of AAPM and called for physicists to dedicate themselves to this great professional organization. The working groups that we have showcased here are perfect examples of how our students’ passion is moving our discipline forward. If you are interested in contributing your time to AAPM, please feel free to contact any student volunteers through the AAPM Committee Tree.

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