October 2009 Mentor of the Month Interview: Roland Valdes Jr.
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background
  3. What are your Board certifications?
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself.
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
Biography
  1. What is your job title and affiliation?
    Professor and Distinguished University Scholar; Vice Chairman of Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; and Chief of Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology
  2. Briefly tell us about your educational and career background.
    Started with a B.S. in physics and mathematics; then, while working for Feds, did graduate work in a combination physics and biology (actually, I asked both Departments at U Cal Fullerton to start a “biophysics’ masters – envisioned a physics and biology combination as the future for understanding biological function); then did a Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics at UVa; then a postdoc in clinical chemistry also at UVa; then a faculty position at Wash U; then a faculty position at UofL (present).
  3. What are your Board certifications?
    DABCC and also a Fellow of NACB
  4. With which professional societies/organizations (e.g. AACC) are you involved?
    AACC, NACB, CLAS, ComACC, IMTDM/CT
  5. Just for fun, tell us a few interesting facts about yourself:
    • Family
      (married >40 years; two daughters with many grandchildren (growing fast) all live in Louisville, great!
    • Favorite activities/hobbies
      (love science fiction, tending to farm property, mentoring careers of others in my discipline)
    • Favorite places you have traveled
      (Europe - many places)
    • Favorite book/movie
      (Star Trek series and other future “predictive history” genres)
Career
  1. What area(s) do you specialize in?
    Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology with emphasis on discovery and development of novel biological indicators and in identifying novel directions for the future growth of our discipline and in teaching young clinical scientists
  2. What initiated your interest in this (these) area(s) and how did you eventually choose this (these) area(s) for your career?
    Early in my career I realized the importance of combining two or more disciplines as a vehicle for creating novel approaches to solving problems, hence my interest in combining physics and biology. A fellowship program in clinical chemistry seemed the best way to combine my multidisciplinary training to medical/clinical solutions. I was fortunate that at UVa, at the time of my completing the PhD, a group of clinical chemists were just starting to move in and I was fortunate to be selected as their first Fellow.
  3. What are your clinical and research interests?
    Clinical Pharmacogenetics; Diagnostic Proteomics; and discovery of novel molecules and approaches in understanding pathophysiology. For example, I have worked on the discovery of an endogenous DLIF that has recently demonstrated anti-cancer properties. On another front, I envisioned that the road to implementing pharmacogenetics in personalized healthcare needed the clinical laboratories as the driver, hence I started a clinical PGx laboratory and also a subspecialty training program for Fellows in our Clin Chem Program.
  4. What, in your opinion, has been the most important contribution you have made to the field of laboratory medicine?
    Discovery of a new endogenous molecule; Starting two new training areas in the clinical chemistry program - pharmacogenetics and diagnostic proteomics; and, mentoring the early career development of many clinical laboratory scientists.
  5. Are there specific aspects of practicing laboratory medicine that you find unappealing?
    Day-to-day routine activities are the least appealing to me. Novel discovery, new approaches and starting new high impact programs are the most appealing.
  6. What were some of the most rewarding and/or challenging moments of your career?
    As President, shepherding the NACB toward a new vision of its role in our profession and initiating the development if its membership and recognition during the AACC Annual meeting, including the annual Luncheon. Another is when I discovered a molecule in blood that others indicated was just an artifact and after pursuit it turned out to possibly be a new hormone. Also, an important challenge was when I was given the opportunity to build a new and exciting clinical chemistry program in Louisville.
  7. How would you recommend achieving an optimal work/life balance?
    Setting priorities is a key element here. One cannot control time, only your prioritization of activities within that time. Weigh all aspects of your life with respect and provide time for contemplation. Developing “yourself” has many elements and the development of others around you (family, colleagues, and others) is central to finding this balance.
  8. What excites you about practicing laboratory medicine everyday?
    Novel discoveries and new approaches as well as organizing and implementing new programs that enhance and add value to medical practice.
  9. What are your predictions for advances in laboratory medicine and/or your area over the next ten years?
    My assessment is that the future of clinical chemistry lies in the development and implementation of new findings to healthcare. My thinking was (and still is) that our training puts us in the middle of the “translational sciences” arena, hence my interest in expanding our clinical chemistry program in Louisville and forming 3 new areas of sub-specialization: Clinical Pharmacogenetics; Diagnostic Proteomics; and Bioinformatics. These three, I believe will form the future and growth of our discipline within healthcare. In addition, I think that our ability to link our expertise in clinical biochemistry with other diagnostic modalities (therapeutics, imaging, devices, etc.) will have the greatest impact on personalized healthcare.
  10. What do you see as the challenges facing young scientists in laboratory medicine?
    There is so much going on and this places difficulty for focus in a rapidly changing environment. However, understanding the basic fundamentals is the real challenge for applications in new areas of our discipline and is what can build your career most effectively.
  11. What specific goals would you recommend that young scientists in your discipline set for themselves? Any suggestions on how to achieve them?
    Successfully complete a rigorous training program, become Boarded in your discipline specialty, and most importantly, open yourself to the suggestions and guidance of appropriate mentors and role models. Importantly, seek mentorship all throughout your career, that need does not stop after you finish school; on the contrary, that is when it really begins.
  12. Describe how you have been able to give back or contribute to the organizations and the profession in general through your involvement in AACC.
    I have served on the Board of Directors of AACC, served on and been chair of many committees that have set and implemented new directions. I initiated activities linking NACB activities to AACC during the annual meeting. Presently I chair the Personalized Medicine Advisory Task Force for the AACC, etc. Still, the most important contribution I feel, is that of mentoring the careers of other young clinical chemists and the reward in seeing them flourish in the profession and in some cases knowing that this changed their lives by providing them opportunities for the better.
  13. How did you get started in these organizations and what advice do you have for young people wanting to get involved?
    Start by joining committees, ask and volunteer to be involved in activities where help is needed. Be a team player by helping others achieve their missions – eventually, they will help you achieve yours.
  14. Do you have any other specific comments or advice that you like to provide to the members of SYCL?
    Work smartly, focus on your goals and be cognizant of your interaction with others. If you want more specific advice, please call me any time to talk.
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