Maria E. Figueroa, MD: 2007 ASH Scholar
University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine
On Receiving the Scholar Award
I finished my residency in 2000, then I did my training in Argentina. In 2004, when I left Argentina and moved to the US I was already an attending physician. Bit by the bug of research and with no prior experience in research, I uprooted my husband and relocated to New York. I said, “I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I want to try.” Ari Melnick, who knows more about these things than I do, gave me the opportunity despite the fact that I had no prior training in basic research. He recruited me as a post-doc and he gave me multiple projects.
My main project was supposed to be something else, but I just fell in love with the epigenetics project and I ended up dedicating more and more time to it. Two years later, I was applying for awards with enough preliminary data to convince people that we could do this crazy idea; that we could take hundreds of leukemia samples and just by looking at the epigenome, we could learn more about disease subtext and heterogeneity and maybe improve classification and prognostication. It took writing multiple awards and not everyone agreed with us, but ASH took a chance on us; they saw the potential. I had no basic research track record of my own. I had no publications. It hinged on: we have a good idea, we have strong preliminary data, and I had a strong mentor like Ari, and ASH saw the potential.
Getting the ASH Scholar Award, was really the seal of approval. I had generated enough preliminary data to convince a panel of leaders in the field who believed that I could do this. For me, this was instrumental. It really made my career.
It proved to others and to me that, not only were we onto something important, but that I could take that project and lead it – that despite my lack of prior training, I could make it happen. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the support of my mentors, their training, and their vision. It was just a great team at a great time with a great system. So, it was combination of hard work, opportunity, and vision.