Fellows: Career Profile

Dr. Núria Pastor-Soler - Junior Faculty Nephrologist

Dr. Núria Pastor-Soler

I am currently a basic science researcher and nephrologist at the University of Pittsburgh Renal- Electrolyte Division. My research is in the field of kidney and epididymal epithelial cell biology and physiology. I am an independent investigator, with a laboratory of three staff positions, including two technicians and one research associate.

Before I go on about my career choice, I must mention that I am very thankful to many mentors, advisors, supervisors, sponsors and funding agencies for their support. I obtained an MD and a PhD, as I envisioned my career as having a combination in patient care and research. My PhD thesis was on a translational project in molecular genetics, where I worked directly with patient samples. During the clinical years in medical school I did miss the research world, so I decided to apply to programs that offered strong training in nephrology basic research.

I looked for nephrology training programs that would also teach me how to write grants and how to collaborate. Therefore, during the last year of internal medicine residency and after being accepted in a nephrology fellowship, and with the help of my soon to be research mentor, I spent one elective month writing a grant that would help support my salary for the research years of the fellowship. My entire nephrology training took four years, with one year concentrating in clinical nephrology. I spent the first three years mainly in the lab while keeping up with an outpatient weekly continuity clinic. During the last of the three research years, I applied for a K08 grant with the support of two senior faculty sponsors. For the K08 application I had to have the support of the Division Chief of Nephrology to indicate that I would become a faculty member at the time of start of the grant support. The K08 grant was approved for funding while I was in my clinical training year, and it funded my salary for the next five years.

After the first year of K08 support I had to relocate due to family reasons. In that first year as junior faculty, I made it a point to take some courses that could train me on how to negotiate, how to manage a lab, and how to write grants and scientific papers. I was offered a position at my current location, and I started as an Assistant Professor in August, 2005. I also became very involved in the organization Women in Nephrology, which offered me many opportunities for leadership. For example, I learned how to organize a meeting by becoming one of the junior co-chairs for the Women in Nephrology-American Society of Nephrology Professional Development Seminar. The more senior Women in Nephrology members were also sources of advice, mentorship and inspiration.

In 2009 I was successful in obtaining additional funding. The environment at my university was essential in this important transition to independent investigator. This transition to independence, in my experience, cannot be done "alone". I have had a lot of help both at work and at home. The K08 grant and the start-up funds provided as part of my contract allowed me to hire two assistants in my laboratory. My salary at my current institution was also significantly higher than previously. The higher salary allowed me to hire support to help me take care of household chores, and I was able to send my children to a school that offered safe and instructive after-school care. In addition, my division is a very collaborative and supportive environment. The University provides many formal and informal opportunities to learn skills that promote career development. There are many seminars and courses on how to write a grant, how to get promoted, how to manage your lab, etc.

I compare my life now to that of a small business owner. I work long hours, but I try to work from home as much as possible. I take vacations, but they are short. I have a good network of colleagues and friends. I keep in touch mostly via email with friends and colleagues across the country, and we have developed a strong network for advice and support. I try to give back to the community of nephrologists and researchers by volunteering to help local and national organizations.

A couple of years ago we invited a world-renowned nephrologist and researcher to speak at our institution. She has been very successful in her career and her children are now grown. I wondered if she had any advice for junior women on how to combine work and family during the critical early career stage. She thought about it for a second and then she said: "I would tell junior nephrologistsresearchers to work very hard, to pay their baby sitter very well, and to let their house go as dirty as they can possibly stand it". I have been following this advice for a while...