Diversity and Excellence: The Key Criteria in BCAN's Travel Fellowship Selection Process - Max Kates & Petros Grivas

July 28, 2023

Ashish Kamat welcomes Max Kates and Petros Grivas, the chair and incoming chair of the review committee for BCAN's Travel Fellowship. Dr. Grivas explains that the committee had an extremely difficult task this year due to the high-quality applications they received, which showcased talented fellows, residents, and their remarkable mentors. He also highlights the structured selection process that takes into account all aspects of diversity, from institutions to specialties. The committee members express their satisfaction with the increasing quality of applicants year on year. The discussion also touches on the importance of multidisciplinary representation in bladder cancer research and patient care. Drs. Kates and Grivas encourage applicants who didn't receive the award this year to reapply in the future and to continue contributing to bladder cancer research. They strongly endorse the BCAN Think Tank as a platform for fostering new research and networking opportunities in the bladder cancer community.


Max Kates, MD, Director, Bladder Cancer Program, Associate Professor of Urology, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore, MD

Petros Grivas, MD, PhD, Professor, Clinical Director of Genitourinary Cancers Program, University of Washington, Associate Member, Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA

Ashish Kamat, MD, MBBS, Professor, Department of Urology, Division of Surgery, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, President, International Bladder Cancer Group (IBCG), Houston, TX

Read the Full Video Transcript

Ashish Kamat: Hello and welcome to UroToday's Bladder Cancer Center of Excellence. I'm Ashish Kamat and it's my distinct pleasure to, again, welcome to this forum two guests who really need no introduction. Max Kates and Petros Grivas. It seems like we're on this forum together multiple times, educating folks about bladder cancer and the various advances and nuances of taking care of patients. Today I have you here with me as two of the core members, the chair and the incoming chair, of the review committee for BCAN's Travel Fellowship. Once again, thanks for taking the time. If I might just start the discussion by asking you your general impression of the applicant pool this year, Petros?

Petros Grivas: Ashish, thank you so much for having us. Let me start by saying that the committee's job was extremely difficult this year. We had a number of outstanding, exceptional applications, really high quality with wonderful trainees, wonderful fellows, residents, and also amazing mentors. So the bar was very, very high. I know that this is probably a voice from all the committee members. There was a very hard time making the selection.

The process, just for the community to be aware, there is a large committee of volunteers who are established members of the bladder cancer community with expertise in the field who review the applications. We try to ensure diversity even in the review process. So there are multiple reviewers who review each one application, and we try to have also the different disciplines, the different institutions and of course avoid any conflict of interest. So there is a structured process just taking into account all the aspects of diversity and also in terms of specialty, urology, medical oncology, radiation oncology.

Overall, I think we're pleased to see every single year in the last few years that I'm setting this committee, talking over from Dr. Jean Hoffman-Censits, the quality is going up every year, it's becoming more difficult, and I'm sure that Dr. Kates will comment on that too and he will probably experience the same thing next year. One other thing I would say is that through the selection process, of course we take into account the scores that are being appointed, or let's say delivered, by the committee members, the reviewers of its proposal. But also we take into account, again, the aspect of diversity, not only for the reviewer, but also for the trainee and we try to make sure we have respect to the different aspects of diversity, institution, race, ethnicity, gender, specialty, so on so forth. So very elaborate process.

I want to thank BCAN, the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, for putting this together. It means so much for this growing community of talented individuals, and I'm sure Max will agree that this is such a mission and vision we need to support. And despite being very difficult, I want to thank and congratulate all the applicants for putting the application together. I think this is huge. Everybody deserves to be there and it's just sometimes it comes down to details and logistics, but I think everybody really, really does a fantastic job, both mentees and mentors.

Ashish Kamat: Thanks for saying that, Petros, because I always advise folks, and as you know, I've been involved with BCAN for, gosh, more than 16, 17 years now, I always advise anybody that's interested in applying to come to BCAN to send in an application because it's a good process, it gets them exposed to experts such as you, you get to review their application, give them feedback. And if they get selected, great. If not, hopefully they'll be there anyways at some point and they might be part of the review committee. Because we used to have maybe four or five applications for these travel awards, and now this year, Max, how many were there? A lot more, right?

Max Kates: Petros, my memory is that there was at least 35, 35 to 40. So for every one applicant who received the award, four did not. To your point, it's changed a lot. And I'll just add something that Petros mentioned, which is really that one of the unique things about BCAN and the Think Tank in particular is the multidisciplinary nature. So it wasn't just ranking one through 10 applicants. We needed to make sure that all fields were represented so that the voice of a medical oncologist and a urologist, a radiation oncologist, or a person working in the lab doing genomics, all those sorts of people need to be represented at this meeting, and that's crucial because of the multidisciplinary nature of the meeting and our need to get all these people into the field. And so that was one of the sort of unique aspects of this review process that maybe is slightly different from other reviews, is that multidisciplinary nature.

Ashish Kamat: And that's a great point, because when BCAN first started in the Think Tank, it was mainly almost 95% urology, and then slowly other disciplines came in. We always recognize it, but now we definitely want to emphasize that it is truly multidisciplinary care of patients that drives the improvements in the field. And towards that end, if either one of you, and maybe now I'll start with Petros again, do you want to share with us the range of topics that you can considered and how you distill down the topics when you decided to prioritize what was worthy of an award? Not worthy, they were all worthy, but worthy of an award.

Petros Grivas: Yeah, thanks Ashish for asking this. As Mark said, the multidimensional aspect of this is really important. BCAN has developed these standardized questions that span across the topic of their research that the applicant is working on. We want to know what they're working on, what their environment is, the mentor, and to see pretty much their focus and commitment in bladder cancer. And many of the questions pretty much go around that. Go around seeing how the applicant is thinking about bladder cancer now and in the future. How do they think that the participation in the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network Think Tank will foster and support their career, what their contribution can be in this particular Think Tank in 2023, but also in future Think Tanks, because, you know Ashish and Max, when you're in, you're in forever. So it's, let's say, a ticket to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network community. I want to make sure that we have people who are dedicated in that mission.

There is no restriction in the particular topic. I think the big announcement and goal here is to make sure it's a bladder cancer-focused project. We always encourage, as Max mentioned, colleagues from different backgrounds, and even someone who was doing something different before, but now they want to switch and focus on bladder cancer. That sometimes bring diversity and new ideas, so that's also welcome. So in terms of the topic, I would say it's very broad. We want to cover epidemiology, research, community outreach outcomes, basic science research, clinical trials, and so many other topics. So it's pretty broad and I think the reviewers try to take into account all the parameters. Again, focus on the promise of the applicant. The way I about it, and Max, you can comment on it, I think it's more about the applicant than the actual topic. And of course, as I mentioned before, because of the high quality of all the applicants and the applications, I think it's so hard to make the selection, and the number of applications went up as are going up, I think, every year.

Ashish Kamat: Max, towards that point, any words of advice, pearls of wisdom, to those that did not get the award? Obviously we don't want people to be dejected and say, "I don't want to deal with BCAN or the Think Tank." Any advice to those that did not make it this year?

Max Kates: Yeah, I would strongly encourage those applicants to reapply next year and also to apply for a Young Investigator Award. One of the interesting aspects of this is that either the Young Investigator Award or the BCAN Quale Travel Fellowship can be sort of a ticket into the meeting and into the Think Tank and into that networking. And so just to maximize your chances, I would strongly encourage the applicant to reapply, apply to both initiatives, and to do what they would do anyway, continue the research project that they had proposed, do that research project anyway, continue to build those relationships, continue to have that mentorship support, continue to reach out. That would be my recommendation.

Ashish Kamat: Great. And with that, again, in closing, I want to congratulate all of the folks that got the award, but also everybody that applied for actually taking the time to apply. In closing, let me hand the stage back to each one of you, and Max, I'll start with you and then we'll let Petros close. Short take-home message for anybody listening here that is considering the Think Tank as something they want to be interested or involved with.

Max Kates: Yeah, I would say that the BCAN Think Tank is the forum for exciting, new research and networking within the bladder cancer community, and I would strongly encourage those interested in a career in bladder cancer to think about applying for the Quale Travel Fellowship.

Petros Grivas: Ashish, I think Max said it perfectly. I would strongly and enthusiastically invite all the applicants who apply this year and everybody else to apply next year and the years to come if they meet the criteria, I think the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network Think Tank is a wonderful opportunity for people getting together as a family, I call it a community, of people dedicated to treat, diagnose, cure, prevent bladder cancer, and I think this osmosis and interaction is unparalleled. So I think it's a wonderful opportunity for people to get ideas, receive feedback on the project, contribute ideas to the table, participate in the breakout sessions, participate in the Q&A, and it is just really, really so fulfilling.

I think each one of us, we go back to our institutions refreshed with replenished energy and even more motivated and inspire to cure bladder cancer. So definitely I echo Max's point to encourage colleagues to apply, and persistence and perseverance and is part of what we do in life. So this is not a rejection. This is an opportunity to reapply again next year if you're eligible. And thanks Ashish for asking this very important questions.

Ashish Kamat: Very well said both of you, and hope to see you at the Think Tank. Again, message to everybody listening, this is a great forum. Apply. We really will look forward to welcome you to the BCAN Think Tank family.