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A Defining Moment

Claflin Awards Allow Research to Continue

Merit Cudkowicz, HMS Julieanne Dorn Professor of Neurology and chief of the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, was at a critical juncture in 1998. She was just starting both a career and a family, trying to juggle equally serious, competing demands.  For many women, this can be a moment that defines the rest of their lives. Faced with seemingly impossible demands, some will opt to put professional life on hold to devote more time to child-rearing. Others will struggle to carry on in the face of what may seem like insurmountable odds. 

Merit Cudkowicz, HMS Julieanne Dorn Professor of Neurology

Cudkowicz, however, was given another choice. She was awarded a Claflin Distinguished Scholar Award, which supported her to efforts to carry on her research and fulfill personal responsibilities.

 “It was during these years that I received mentored training and a chance to learn how to be a physician-scientist and leader. Meeting and networking with other Claflin awardees helped me to grow as a leader and physician-scientist” Cudkowicz said.

Established in 1997, the awards are named for an honorary Mass General trustee Jane D. Claflin, a longtime champion of women at the institution. By supporting women scientists during the child-rearing years, the program ultimately aims to help awardees advance to senior positions in academic medicine. (See 2012 awardees below.)

“MGH leadership and Mrs. Claflin believed in giving talented young people the chance to grow. Thanks to their vision and support, we were enabled to blossom as scientists, clinicians and leaders,” Cudkowicz said.

With the support of the Claflin award, Cudkowicz’s passion for patient-oriented research grew as she spent time working with patients and their families to develop biomarkers and treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Working collaboratively with Steve Greenberg, HMS associate professor of neurology at Mass General, Cudkowicz co-founded the Mass General Neurology Clinical Trial Unit, which has grown into a national neurological clinical research program.

The importance of collaboration in achieving success has been a lasting lesson for Cudkowicz from her time as a Claflin Scholar.

“I learned during this time just how critical collaboration across disciplines and across fields is to achieving progress in research, treatment and care of neurological diseases. With Bob Brown (HMS professor of neurology at Mass General), we created the Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS), a group of over 100 centers that work together to develop treatments for people with ALS. I am a firm believer in the kind of collaboration, openness and inclusiveness that NEALS embodies,” she said.

A longitudinal study of past award recipients has shown the long-term success of the program on the successful retention, promotion, and future research funding of its awardees [Click here to link to a video describing the results of this study] and six new, outstanding women researchers at Mass General were recently added to the roster of recipients. 

Both basic science and clinical researchers are eligible to apply for the awards, which are open to women junior faculty members at Mass General who have childcare responsibilities and external salary support from a grant or other source. 

“As chief of the department of neurology at MGH, I believe that our department’s continued leadership in neurology research, patient care and education depends above all on people and partnerships; lessons I learned from the Claflin Distinguished Scholar Awards Program,” Cudkowicz said.

2012 Claflin Distinguished Scholars

Amy Barczak, MD, Division of Infectious Diseases

Susan Cotman, PhD, Center for Human Genetic Research

Katharina Eikermann-Haerter, MD, Radiology

Pouneh Fazeli, MD, Neuroendocrine Unit

Janet Lo, MD, MPH, Neuroendocrine Unit

Lecia Sequist, MD, MPH, MGH Cancer Center