Prostate Cancer Foundation's Women in Science Forum Discussion - Himisha Beltran, Lorelei Mucci, Karen Knudsen, and Amina Zoubeidi

At the 26th Annual Prostate Cancer Foundation Scientific Retreat 2019 (PCF 2019), Alicia Morgans is joined by the four women leaders and organizers of the Prostate Cancer Foundation's Women in Science Forum 2019. Himisha Beltran, Lorelei Mucci, Karen Knudsen, and Amina Zoubeidi each share their insights and motivations for leading the forum. Each of these professionals is moving the field forward and are each significant contributors and making a difference in prostate cancer.

Biographies:

Himisha Beltran, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School

Lorelei Mucci, MPH, ScD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Department of Epidemiology, Director of the Cancer Epidemiology and Cancer Prevention Program within the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH).

Karen Knudsen, Ph.D., Enterprise Director, vice president/president-elect of the Association of American Cancer Institutes’ (AACI) board of directors, National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center– Jefferson Health (SKCC)

Amina Zoubeidi, BSc, MSc, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Vancouver Prostate Centre, Professor, Department of Urologic Sciences, The University of British Columbia

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.


Read the Full Video Transcript

Alicia Morgans: Hi, I am delighted to have here with me today the four women leaders of the steering committee of the Prostate Cancer Foundation's Women in Science Forum for 2019. This is the fourth year that this forum has been in place. For the last three years, they've actually included young women from the local high school's STEM program. So really trying to engage women across the spectrum to support them as we all move forward in the field of trying to make a difference in prostate cancer.

So, thank you, ladies, for spending the time to talk with me. And I'd love to hear why did this forum start? What was the reason? I know the reason, but just to share with everyone, why did you do this?

Himisha Beltran: So I can start. First of all, I want to say, I'm so proud to be part of this initiative and we're really grateful to the Prostate Cancer Foundation for supporting this.

So I think this started about five or six years ago where we started realizing that there were less women receiving challenge awards or at senior positions within the prostate cancer field. Yet, we wanted to ... Diversity is, of course, very important for the field. And how do we ensure that pipeline? And how do we create role models and mentors for women at various stages of their careers?

And so I think that was really the motivation. Men can obviously be wonderful mentors and role models as well, but sometimes it's helpful just to see people that look like you up there on that stage. And so we just kind of evolved, but we just decided that maybe it's time just to have a place where people can meet each other and learn from each other and support each other. And then the high school thing came later because I think that we realized that starting even earlier can also be inspiring for them and actually for us as well.

Alicia Morgans: I agree. So motivational to have them there. And so motivational to have this forum at the beginning of every Prostate Cancer Foundation meeting recently. So love to hear what is your motivation?

Karen Knudsen: So this really I think started from identifying a need. It's something that we had talked about at a couple of different prostate cancer events, not just PCF, that we didn't have this place at ASCO or at ASTRO or at AACR, necessarily some of the other major meetings that we go to to have the women in prostate cancer really come together and get to know each other more, understand how we can help each other and to learn more about everyone's career path. And what was really beautiful about the way that this naturally came together, all of us were motivated to do it. We really easily came together to a concept. But we also have someone who's a clinician, a population researcher, laboratory-based researcher. I am as well. And I love translation and I'm in cancer center administration. So each of us brought a slightly different perspective to the table. And it's really made it a fantastic breadth of what it is that we can do within the forum. And these are just wonderful people to work with it.

Alicia Morgans: I agree. And I think it's so important that we acknowledge when problems exist. And until you acknowledge the disparity or acknowledge the difference, you actually can't then work to make a change. And so I'm really grateful that the Prostate Cancer Foundation actually heard this in a way that was constructive because one could take those kinds of comments and say, "Well, that's just the way it is," or "You're wrong." Which I knew you weren't, you knew you weren't. And they seized upon that opportunity to elevate communication and careers of women who were in their ranks and women who have since joined them. And Amina, you are really representing an international flare as well. What is so important about this forum from your perspective?

Amina Zoubeidi: Well, first of all, I would like to say that I'm very fortunate to join the team this year. And not only it's a team for organizing, a team of friends and a team of mentors, a team of role models here. Being international and being part of the Prostate Cancer Foundation is a privilege too. And I think here we are having the same goal, is curing prostate cancer, is championing a woman. And doesn't matter whether we are in US or outside of the US, we are all having the same goal. And that's the beauty of this forum is bringing us all together to speak with one language and having this one goal.

And I think also the forum is come at the perfect time and for everything. And I think also the audience in general, our counterparts, our colleagues, male, are ready for that and are ready to now, there's going to be an adjustment. And really, I think that even for us making the job somehow easier to have a forum to be appreciated by male and female perhaps next time we're going to have dates with us, we're going to have our friends male with us that they can see and they can hear the voice of women that is not unique to one person in your own department, in your own division. It's something that every woman scientist, clinician can talk about and suffer from it somehow. It's almost making them a little bit sensitive to certain things that they didn't use to before. And if we are just us talking about it just in our bubble, we have to burst this bubble and we have to make it for everybody. I think we have plans for the next. This was a fantastic morning, but I believe the future is very bright.

Alicia Morgans: I agree. And Lorelei, you've been a mentor of mine, whether you knew it or not, from afar or in certain things that we've collaborated on and conversations that we've had for years now. And I would love to hear your thoughts about this really critically important part of PCF's mission and where you think it's going. Really building on what Amina said.

Lorelei Mucci: Yeah. I think the first year that we organized this event, we weren't sure how many people would come. And all of the participants actually had to come in a day early to the meeting, pay for the hotel room themselves. So we weren't sure really whether there'd be interest. I think we were all blown away when, for the first event, 95% of the women who were registered for the meeting actually came to the forum. And so I think-

Alicia Morgans: Some men, too, actually.

Lorelei Mucci: That's right. That's right. Exactly.

Karen Knudsen: John Isaacs' our pioneering male member. 

Lorelei Mucci: Right. And I think every year it's gotten bigger and I think all of the women look forward to it, and people have reached out to us throughout the year. They're excited to be a part of a community and just feel like, yeah, it is a forum. And I think one of the things about this event is that hearing people who are really at the pinnacle of their careers are also sometimes nervous or anxious or unsure of themselves. And I think that kind of, hearing that really successful people are experiencing the same things that they are, it just creates a real community in a sense that yeah, we can be all successful together. So I think it's been really incredible.

Alicia Morgans: Exactly. And the road isn't always, the path isn't always straight. There can be twists and turns. You can make mistakes, you can make more mistakes or choices than you necessarily realize as you mentioned today. But there are critical choices that we can make that can propel us in the right direction. You gave a beautiful keynote address today.

Karen Knudsen: Thank you.

Alicia Morgans: I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to give a nugget of guidance to the community who's watching, who weren't able to see that that that wonderful speech.

Karen Knudsen: Thank you. It was really an honor to be asked. And it was one of the hardest pieces that I had put together because it asked me to really go back and think about why did I make the choices to do what it is that I do. And certainly, I hope that that can be helpful to those that are early on in their career. But I think at the end of the day, it's having a passion and following the passion for what it is that you do. We all share the passion for prostate cancer cures. And each of us are taking a different path and are contributing toward that goal. How it is that we work with each other and think about each other as we think about leadership roles that might be available, and nominating each other for those, making each other aware of the different kinds of struggles that we face, but also what's made things successful. And using that knowledge and moving it forward, I think is hopefully something that we heard today from both keynote speakers. Our other keynote speaker, Lynn Seely, was just phenomenal and also really highlighted the importance of having the passion, building the team that you need to get there and communicating with everyone around you about what that goal is and inspiring people to lead.

Alicia Morgans: I agree. I also heard from her communication is both speaking and listening. And I think that women have the unique ability sometimes to do that just in the way that we communicate in culture growing up. I don't mean to say that men don't listen. I would be in trouble on many levels if that's what I was saying. But I think that we have an innate ability sometimes to listen to each other. And I think that that's something that really can highlight or elevate us as leaders and collaborators. So, wonderful. 

Lorelei Mucci: I just wanted to ... One of the themes that you mentioned in your keynote that I think has come up before, and I think it's something that we all need to remind ourselves is that one woman's success is all of our success and that we should take every chance that we can, probably not just supporting other women, but supporting everybody on our team, but to call out at a meeting when you know somebody might be a little shy to meeting, say so and so, I know that we talked about this incredible project that you're doing right now and it's really relevant. I think supporting each other as many times as we can will help us all be successful. So I think that was a theme I know that you raised and I think that's a really important one.

Alicia Morgans: I agree. Amina even mentioned you celebrate successes big and small. So I'm doing that, calling people out, not just to contribute because that's always important, but to encourage them that this thing that you thought was small, it's actually a big deal. Let's all think about that and acknowledge it.

Himisha Beltran: I was just going to say that I think that overall what I really love is the positive energy and really how it's not about complaining, it's about lifting people up and figuring out tangible strategies to do that and just really support each other. And I think for the young people that were there, just to lead by example and just show inspirational stories to say that maybe the path won't be the same, but there's nothing that they can't do. And really the sky is the limit. And so you can be a mother, you can be a scientist, you can be a cancer center director, you can be whatever you want. And I think that it just is inspiring for me to see that. And at the same time was inspired by the young students to really actually have that wonderful perspective.

Alicia Morgans: They were. So what is your ... If you had to give a closing thought or message to viewers, what would it be?

Amina Zoubeidi: We are here for each other, not only for women but also for men. We are a team if we want to make a difference. And we just have to have our voice heard between us and just get our guard down and work together. And I think we cannot work without our counterpart male and they cannot do it without us. And we are in this journey all together.

Alicia Morgans: Great.

Karen Knudsen: Yeah, and I guess I would say I'm inspired by all of my colleagues. I was definitely inspired by the young students that we heard from today. They are so much more poised and thoughtful and full of plans about how to take on careers in medicine or in science and I just hope that we can do everything possible to support them as they become the next generation to get to the cancer cure.

Alicia Morgans: Absolutely.

Lorelei Mucci: I think one of the things that Dr. Seely talked about in her keynote was how she faced some really big failures in her life and actually didn't allow them to take her down and really to move past them. And in fact, actually, in some ways you can be more successful by going through those failures. And I think the trick is trying to figure out how to remain positive, enthusiastic and feel confident in yourself. And I think you really do need a team of people around you to help support you through all of those times.

Alicia Morgans: I agree.

Himisha Beltran: I think that the closing message for me is just that it's been really wonderful to work with this amazing group of women and we're, again, grateful to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. I think this is a unique forum for people to get together and I do think that things like this, initiatives like this are really important to sort of ensure the next generation of cancer research and cures.

Alicia Morgans: Absolutely. So working together, men, women, younger generation, and seasoned generations, to really get to the next level and find a cure for this disease. And then the next and then the next and then the next. So thank you all for your time and for all that you do to help make sure that women have a place in prostate cancer research and a place here at PCF. So thank you.

Himisha Beltran: Thank you.

Lorelei Mucci: Thank you. Thank you to you and UroToday also for feeling like this was an important thing to highlight at this meeting. We're really grateful for that.

Karen Knudsen: Absolutely.

Alicia Morgans: Absolutely, Lorelei. Thank you.

Lorelei Mucci: Thank you.