[Dr. Stein]: I'm here with Dr. Steffanie Strathdee of the University of California, San Diego and she is here to talk to us about some of the exciting research she is doing on behalf of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
[Dr. Strathdee]: Thanks very much for inviting me Jack. It’s a real pleasure to be here.
[Dr. Stein]: It’s great to have you here, I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about so of the work that your doing along the US-Mexico border and why that is so important?
[Dr. Strathdee]:I’m one of many investigators that are funded by NIDA to study HIV, Sexually-transmitted Infections and TB on the Mexico-US border.
[Dr. Stein]: Can you tell us a bit about your research studies and some their findings?
[Dr. Strathdee]: Sure. Well I think it is really important to understand it’s a whole team of people that does this work and it requires bi-national collaboration. So we have trainees that are funded through the NIDA training program, through our T-32 program, as well as the Fogarty International Center—that are training side by side. So some of our most innovative research is actually done by our trainees.
[Dr. Stein]: You mentioned some of the NIDA training grants you have. Can you tell us a little bit about how they contribute to the science?
[Dr. Strathdee]: I think that training programs that NIDA offers has been absolutely instrumental, not only to our program at UCSD, but throughout the country. For example, when someone is doing their Ph.D., it takes a lot of money to fund their tuition and many of them have to work double; they have to go to school during the day and they have to work at night to fund themselves. If they’re to get, for example, a NIDA diversity supplement, that pays their tuition it give them a little bit of a stipend so they don’t have to work double-duty. That really helps them in a mentored environment to achieve their goals. So, that has been really critical for us. We also try to create a pipeline, so that someone who is funded through a short-term internship program doesn’t just fall off the end of that and be expected to become an independent researcher overnight. We have mentoring teams where we have a senior researcher who is paired with a junior researcher and both of them offer training to a NIDA fellow. So the special populations office at NIDA has been really critical with our diversity that we are able to piggyback off of on to the parent studies that really make all of our work possible.
[Dr. Stein]: Is there one piece of advice that you would give a researcher who is studying people who use substances?
[Dr. Strathdee]: Yeah, I think looking back the most important lessons that I’ve ever had have come from people how use drugs, themselves. I’ve spent a lot of time as a Master’s student, interviewing participants for someone else’s study. And it was the voices of the drug users, themselves, that told be their story, that made them real. I think of those stories everyday. They led to hypotheses I’m still testing today in my grants. So my advice to new investigators is, ”hit the streets,” “get out there in the field.” Spend some time getting to know your population, and don’t assume that an example that you’ve learned from Baltimore or New York City is going to necessarily translate to Tijuana or Vietnam. You need to understand that these communities are very idiosyncratic and that there are different cultural, political, economic drivers that are at play that you may not understand.
[Dr. Stein]: Do you have any advice for a new investigator who is interested in getting a grant to study these populations?
[Dr. Strathdee]: I think the most important thing that new investigators need to understand, is that they shouldn’t pick a program because it’s got a great reputation. If they want to succeed they need to find the right mentor. They need to find somebody that they want to emulate. So they should spend the time looking at the NIH PUBMED, for example, reading papers that people have written to find out what paper and scientific study speaks to them. They should look at the NIH-Reporter database to find out if a certain group of investigators at a given university is going to have the depth of the bench to mentor them if the one person that thought they were going to work with was to move away. Those are incredible resources that publically available and thanks to NIH we have them at our fingertips.