Spring 2019
Anne-Marie Malfait, MD, PhD, has dedicated her research to figuring out why people with osteoarthritis experience pain. Finding an aspiring scientist to help her reach that goal was decidedly pain-free.
Malfait, the George W. Stuppy, MD, Chair of Arthritis and professor of rheumatology at Rush University, hired Rachel Miller, PhD, as a postdoc in 2010, and the duo has been collaborating seamlessly since then, tackling an area of osteoarthritis research that is being conducted at only a handful of institutions worldwide.
“The day that I started working with Rachel — that’s when I knew she had a bright future,” said Malfait, who was named Rush University’s Postdoctoral Mentor of the Year at the 2016 Mentoring Programs Symposium. “She started contributing immediately. She asked novel questions — the right questions.”
Together they have earned funding from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, and other organizations for their work. And under Malfait’s guidance, Miller, who was since promoted to assistant professor at Rush, is pursuing her particular osteoarthritis research ideas after starting a lab of her own and receiving an NIH grant for her efforts.
Malfait and Miller have both benefited from being part of the Rush Mentorship Program, an effort to pair like-minded researchers with aspiring scientists to foster partnership while elevating the careers and accomplishments of both. Founded 10 years ago, the Rush Mentorship Program connects researchers by field and areas of study to develop a mutually beneficial bond and work environment.

Career-enriching experiences for both mentors and mentees

“We have seen that both the amount of grants is increasing, as is the number of papers in publications,” said Giselle Sandi, PhD, director of the Office of Mentoring Programs. “So this is to us an indication of the success of the mentees and it speaks of the fact that we are providing the correct resources and coaching that the mentees need to succeed.”
According to Sandi, 60-to-65 percent of the mentees who participate in the program continue their work at Rush and about 70 percent of participants have earned funding for their projects, including NIH, foundation and private industry grants. In 2018, 58 mentees participated in the program. Many mentees graduate to junior mentors three years into the five-year program, said Sandi.
Funding for mentorships comes from a combination of support from Rush University’s Office of the Provost and philanthropy. For the last four years, the Cohn family has dedicated $100,000 annually to fund five fellowships each year within the Rush Research Mentoring program. Twenty five percent of the Cohn fellows received NIH funding for their own projects — compared to a 5-to-10 percent national success rate for all NIH grant applications.
Miller was among the five 2016 Cohn fellows. She continues to collaborate closely with her mentor even though she’s now pursing her own research endeavors.
“We meet to discuss research, but she also takes time to discuss career development,” Miller said. “She makes sure I’m networking, attending conferences and developing as a grant writer — all of the things besides doing experiments that make you a successful scientist. It’s those soft skills that you don’t always learn at school that are so important in helping you succeed in your career.”

Alumni: Have you benefited from a mentoring program? Tell us via email or social media, using #RushUMag: