Shelly Lu, MD

Cedar Sinai Medical Center, Keck School of Medicine, SEBM Member since 2006

SEBM  What is your position and what do you do?
SL Director, Division of Gastroenterology.  I run an academic division with over 20 full-time clinical and around 15 Ph.D. faculty members.  I also direct a busy research lab funded by 5R01s.

SEBM  Did you always wish to be a scientist in academia (industry) (government)?  What else did you want to do?  If you didn't do what you are doing now, what else do you think you would do?
SL  No, I wanted to be a clinician involved in education.

SEBM  What path did you take to get where you are today?  What did you do right?  What did you do wrong?  Did you have any periods of time where things just didn't work out?  What did you do about them?  How did they affect your career?
SL   I met my mentor during residency.  He is a physician scientist who invited me to spend some time in his lab and subsequently encouraged me to pursue gastroenterology fellowship.  I followed his recommendation and during fellowship began doing bench research.  It took some time to get adjusted to the difference in pace but when we began to see interesting results, things took off. 

My philosophy is to leave as many doors open as possible and to never ignore unexpected results.  They are often clues of something more novel.

What I did right was to have a great mentor in the beginning of my career.  Subsequently I met my close collaborator and our collaboration helped further both of our careers.  In academia there will always be times when things don’t work out (more often than the other way around) but perseverance is key.  At the end of the day, if this is something that excites you then you stay with it.  If not, think about another track.  You only have one life to live.

SEBM  What people can you point to who significantly helped you in this entire career path?  How?  Were there important people along the way who didn't help you at all?  What did you do about that?
SL   My mentor definitely helped to shape my career.  My collaborator who is far more senior than me helped to further my career.  In life you can’t please everyone and there will always be people that are negative about your work (in paper or grant reviews).  All you can do is to do the best you can to address the criticisms and move on.

SEBM  What advice would you give to a person, say, in college thinking about going into a career similar to yours?  What about someone in graduate school?
SL   Pursue a career path that you truly feel rewarded and happy about.  One can be happy doing multiple things so if one thing doesn’t work out, something else will.  Positive attitude is key.

SEBM  What do you really love about your position?  What do you hate?

I love that I get to do everything, from thinking about science, directing research, mentoring Ph.D. and M.D. faculty, writing, reviewing papers and grants.  I also am still practicing clinical gastroenterology and involved in teaching medical students, house staff and GI fellows.  There is never a boring moment.

SEBM  What is your laboratory (office) like?  How many people do you supervise?  Describe a typical day (week).
SL   I have 10 people in my laboratory and 2 administrative assistants.  However, I am in charge of a larger GI division with close to 150 people working in the division in different capacities.

A typical week consists of multiple meetings and conferences, one-on-one mentoring sessions with my junior faculty, attending in GI clinic, doing endoscopic procedures, writing and reviewing both papers and frequently grants (I am a standing member of a NIH study section).

SEBM  How are you guiding the careers of your mentees/students?  What are you doing to help those who are not thinking about following in your particular career path? 
SL  We have weekly group meetings where they present their work and I provide guidance on direction (what other questions, experiments are needed).  I critique their papers and grants.  I also mentor multiple faculty members in my division and department that are in a different career path (clinical).  As a senior woman physician scientist, I am called to mentor many junior female faculty members.

SEBM What do you feel are the most important aspects of your position?
SL   At this point in my career, it is mentoring and seeing that my mentees achieve success.

SEBM Do you feel that you have a good work-home/life balance?  What do you like to do for fun or when you are on vacation? 
SL   Yes, I am happily married with two daughters.  We love to travel and eat all over the world.  I also love watching movies with my girls.

SEBM  As a scientist, what do you feel about educating the non-scientific world-at-large about what you do and about science in general?
SL   I am a physician scientist who still sees patients.  I do feel it is important that what we do in the lab has clinical relevance and can help improve patient care ultimately.  It is important to be able to explain in lay terms what we work on.

SEBM What do you hope to be doing when/if you retire from your current position?
SL   Continue to be involved in teaching in some capacity.

SEBM  If you had to do it all over again, are there any radical changes that would you have made?  How do you think it would have made a difference in the way your life has turned out?
SL   No.  I am blessed to have lived this life that is full of interesting challenges and rewards.