The Role of the PCF in Supporting Women in Science - Susan Halabi & Dana Rathkopf

February 28, 2023

Susan Halabi and Dana Rathkopf join Alicia Morgans in a conversation on women in prostate cancer research, with a focus on how the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) has supported the development of so many women in this part of science. The pair each share how their careers were impacted by the PCF and its commitment to women in science. The three elaborate on the initiatives the organization is taking to continue to evolve and how the PCF has changed the narrative of this disease.


Susan Halabi, Ph.D., Chief of the Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Duke Cancer Institute, Durham, North Carolina, United States

Dana E. Rathkopf, MD, Medical Oncologist, Associate Chair, Junior Faculty Development, Department of Medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, Genitourinary Medical Oncologist, Medical Director of Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

Read the Full Video Transcript

Alicia Morgans: Hi, my name is Alicia Morgans, and I'm a GU Medical Oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I am so excited to have here with me today, Dr. Susan Halabi, who is the Professor and the Co-chief of the Division of Biostatistics at Duke in Durham, North Carolina. And Dr. Dana Rathkopf, who is a Medical Oncologist, and the Chair of the Research Council, as well as being the Associate Vice Chair of Faculty Development in the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Thank you both so much for being here with me today.

Dana Rathkopf: Thanks Alicia.

Susan Halabi: Thank you. Thank you, Alicia, for having us.

Alicia Morgans: I really appreciate both of you talking with me today about women in prostate cancer research, with a focus on how PCF has really supported the development of so many women in this part of science. I'd love to start just by really exploring your journeys in prostate cancer science, and would love to hear from you first, Dr. Halabi.

Susan Halabi: Thank you so much, Dr. Morgan. I could say in one word that the Prostate Cancer Foundation has been phenomenal in supporting me when I was a junior investigator. In 2005, I received my first grant proposal and my proposal was based on secondary data analyses from several clinical trials. So as a biostatistician, everybody told me, well, you don't need to be a PI, but with the support of the prostate cancer foundation, my whole career path changed for the better, like drastically for the better. It opened opportunities and avenues for me to become not only an established statistician, more importantly, to become an independent investigator. And to that, I'm extremely grateful for the Prostate Cancer Foundation in investing in me, because, without that first grant, I would not even have thought to apply to other opportunities.

Alicia Morgans: I so appreciate you mentioning that. Because it is true, there are a number of biostatisticians who are supportive members of teams, and really so integrally involved. But you are a biostatistician who has led teams, and has led multiple grants and has truly carved out a very clear niche for herself and her work in the prostate cancer space. I think it's wonderful that the Prostate Cancer Foundation had something to do with that. So thank you. Thank you so much. And Dr. Rathkopf, can you tell us, from your perspective, what has your trajectory been like? You've certainly made quite a difference as well, in prostate cancer.

Dana Rathkopf: Awe, thanks, Alicia, that makes me feel so good. The PCF, also for me, was the first grant that I ever received, and it was sort of like PCF believed in me before I believed in myself. They gave me that confidence. I didn't realize I shouldn't be confident, because they treated me with such respect, even as a young investigator, that it gave me confidence. It gave me the platform to reach out to other investigators to make connections, collaborations, that served me throughout my career. And I didn't stop to think about it. It didn't seem unusual or unnatural, because they created an environment that was just full of science, and full of opportunity, and full of collaboration. And it didn't matter if you were a young investigator, or a senior investigator, or a man, or a woman, it's just an open community where they created that safe space to share ideas, not compete, but to share ideas and build science together.

And so, PCF really paved the way for me in my career to sort of pay that forward, because learning from them early in my career, how to relate to others, and feel confident around others, and learn and assist others, has sort of given me the blueprint for how I try to treat others in all aspects of my career, and really, my life. So I'm tremendously grateful to PCF for that early training, and all the things they've done beyond that.

Alicia Morgans: Again, similar to my comments for Dr. Halabi, I just think it's wonderful. The therapeutic advances that you have supported, and worked through in your career, Dr. Rathkoph, have been phenomenally successful. And as you mentioned, really involves collaborations with investigators from many different institutions. Because without those collaborations, we can not complete these clinical trials, or we can not complete the meta-analyses that Dr. Halabi does so well. So I wonder, from both of you, and we can start with you, Dr. Halabi. How do you see PCF continuing to support this collaboration, particularly among the women scientists in the organization, but actually across the entire organization? How do you see that support continuing to evolve?

Susan Halabi: Thank you. This is an excellent question. As a matter of fact, PCF has really invested in women. We had the women in science retreat now for several years, and it attracted a lot of prostate cancer scientists, whether they are women or men. But through that avenue, I met a lot of women, and it has been really wonderful to network. I feel we are in a very global community, and that everybody works together with their shared data. And I'm grateful for PCF in investing in this retreat and in science. Because by investing in women, we are investing also in them, and then it becomes circular. So I believe the sum is definitely much greater than the parts.

And what was really striking was in one of the women in science, we have seen high school students, so we are trying to engage people early on. Because as you know, one of the barriers is having scientists early on, like from their school years. So inviting them to their retreat, listening to scientists, seeing other women presenting, building confidence, and playing a role model, is so critical, especially for young women who are still in school. So I think from my perspective, PCF is doing a great job and it will be phenomenal if we continue doing those retreats.

Alicia Morgans: Thank you for that. And Dr. Rathkopf, what are your thoughts? And maybe you can comment on some of the work that you did just this year at the retreat for women that was hosted by PCF, and you certainly led one of the sessions at that retreat.

Dana Rathkopf: Yeah. First, I echo, of course, what Susan said, about these women in medicine and science and how PCF promotes them. But it's interesting, I'm glad you asked that question, Alicia, because I was asked to chair a session this year about women in science, and sort of the paths of transition that they are experiencing, which is particularly salient because of COVID. I think we are all in some type of transition now in our lives. And I would say that, because of this open dialogue that PCF gave us the space to have amongst women, I recognized issues that I maybe wouldn't have otherwise recognized, even though I'm a woman myself. And to hear other people bringing up issues that suddenly, I was like, wait, yes, yes.

I learned so much from just that conference alone. And I made connections with people, not just...I talked earlier about science but on a very personal level. And PCF is, of course, a lot about science, which I appreciate, but there is another side to all of our lives beyond science. And I think it is very difficult to separate them completely. And the fact that they give us the space to consider it all together, and meet people that might be having similar situations, and share those experiences, I think, is really extraordinary and unique in the field.

Alicia Morgans: I could not agree more. And as we think about moving the field forward, of course, a focus is on our junior colleagues and mentees. And I would love to hear how, in your experience, PCF has engaged with some of your mentees, Dr. Halabi.

Susan Halabi: Well, as I mentioned, I've been heavily funded by the PCF. So every single grant that's funded, whether it's a Movember challenge or other grant, that is based on collaboration with other PIs, I hire postdoc fellows who are being supported, and now, are very much interested in prostate cancer. So hopefully, I'm developing the next generation of statisticians who will do work in prostate cancer. Because, as you know, data is critical, and it will advance science forward. But taking the time to sit down and mentor those young investigators is really critical. And I wouldn't have been able to do that without those grants that were funded.

Alicia Morgans: Absolutely. The time that we take to mentor is time that isn't always carved out in our professional lives. And so having funding that allows us to have that time carved out, to work on these projects with our mentees, I think is so, so important.

And Dr. Rathkopf, I know that you have an interest in faculty development. You have a role there in your department of medicine, which is fantastic. And I know that so many in the field look up to you, and to your accomplishments, and to your, of course, wonderful engagements across our field. I wonder what your thoughts are on how we can best, and how PCF can best support the next generation of researchers.

Dana Rathkopf: I think PCF is already doing this. As you can hear from Susan, they are providing funds across the spectrum of disease. Not just to senior investigators, but also to junior investigators, team science is so important. I think that it's very important, particularly for young investigators, to have exposure to people that maybe aren't just at their institution. And so these kinds of awards, where they span across multiple centers, I think, create really dynamic interactions that are very unique in many ways to PCF. Because they don't only provide the funding, but they provide the platform for discussion, and ongoing discussion, and sharing the data in real-time, in a way that is very unique, I think, to the field, and so very much appreciated.

Alicia Morgans: Absolutely. And of course, we know that challenge awards must include a young investigator, that is part of their charm.  But it's also part of the way we lift up those around us too, as you said, Dr. Halabi, to sort of get the next generation ready to participate in prostate cancer research. So as we close today, I'd love to hear just your summary, or your final thoughts on women in prostate cancer research, and how you feel we can move forward, both as a PCF funded organization, but also how we can support our junior faculty and our younger mentees, in continuing to move the field forward.

Susan Halabi: Yeah. Alicia, as we've been saying, PCF definitely is providing the support. I would say definitely continuing doing that, invest in the young investigator. When I first started my career, there were hardly any women in prostate cancer. And it's so nice now to see more women engage in the disease. You go to the prostate cancer scientific retreats, you see a lot of women presenting. So these are all indicators to me that the Prostate Cancer Foundation has a vested interest in not only the scientists but especially the women scientists. So definitely continue doing that, because we are going to build a stronger community so we can cure the disease. And from my perspective, I feel like the Prostate Cancer Foundation has changed my career, and I'm delighted to talk about my story to others, and encourage them to come to the retreats, and attend, and network, because then, I think, they would realize what a great opportunity it is.

Alicia Morgans: Well, thank you. And Dr. Rathkopf, you get the final word. What would your message be?

Dana Rathkopf: I think that PCF is one of the most exciting conferences that we go to, a funding mechanism that we all look forward to applying to, which is different maybe, then some other experiences. And again, it's because they foster a community, taking your word, Susan, thank you, a community of investigators who are sharing data, really raising each other up. And that includes women, absolutely. But really, investigators from all shapes and sizes, from all corners of the globe now, and really brought awareness to prostate cancer research too. As a woman, it's funny, because years ago, I used to get asked all the time, "Oh, you do prostate cancer. Isn't that a man's disease?" And I was always like, well no, it's about the science.

I'm a wife, I'm a mother, I'm a daughter. I mean, there are a lot of men in my life that I care about. And so, I almost never get asked that question anymore. And I have to credit the Prostate Cancer Foundation to some degree. They are so successful in getting the message out, that prostate cancer affects not just patients, but their families, and all of the potential genomic findings, and what that could mean downstream for family members. It's an extraordinary organization that has that magic combination of science, and just enough competition to keep us on our toes. But so much collaboration, and so much joy involved in the process of really trying to move the field forward, that I feel really fortunate to be part of the PCF family.

Alicia Morgans: Well, again, I think, I could not agree more. PCF really has changed the narrative of this disease. And I stopped getting asked that question actually, a few years ago, as well, though I was asked a lot when I first got involved. So I do credit them with that. And I credit them, of course, with making a community where we can have these conversations, and as one community, attack this disease to try to make a difference. So thank you so much for your time today.

Dana Rathkopf: Pleasure. Thank you, Alicia.

Susan Halabi: It's my pleasure. Thank you, Alicia, for inviting us.