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Q&A with Yvonne Hunt
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Member Spotlight

Name: Yvonne Hunt, PhD, MPH

Title/Position: Program Director

Institution: Tobacco Control Research Branch, Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute

# Years Experience in Tobacco Research: 15+


 1)      What do you enjoy most about your work as a program director at NCI?
In my role as a Program Director, I spend a lot of time interacting with applicants and grantees. These interactions can take many different forms – from talking about a research idea and its alignment
with NCI’s scientific mission and priorities, to discussing next steps after an application has undergone review, to providing guidance on managing awarded grants. One of the most gratifying activities for me is working with early career investigators, who are still learning to navigate the application process and successfully compete for funding. I always welcome the opportunity to support new investigators and answer their questions, because I see it as an opportunity to help build the next generation of scientists. I still remember the first time I called a Program Director to discuss an idea for a project. I was so nervous! I wish I had the benefit of knowing what I do now – your Program Director wants to hear your ideas and help you succeed.  


2)      Where do you see the field of adolescent tobacco research heading in the next 5 (or 10) years? From your perspective, what do you view will be the next biggest breakthrough(s) in adolescent-related tobacco research?
Our current approaches to reducing adolescent and young adult tobacco will need to evolve in response to the rapidly changing tobacco product landscape, new and emerging tobacco use patterns, demographic shifts in the
population of young tobacco users, and a complex and dynamic policy environment. Over the next decade, I think we will see the development of innovative interventions for prevention and cessation, with an increasing proportion of interventions focused on non-cigarette products and/or emerging tobacco use patterns including low-level use, dual- and poly-tobacco use, and concurrent tobacco and marijuana use.   


3)      Among the funded projects you have in your portfolio, can you share any innovative methods that are relevant for adolescent-focused research?
Web and mobile technologies represent a set of promising methods for reaching and engaging adolescents in tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. But, we still have a lot to learn about how digital interventions can most effectively discourage tobacco use and encourage cessation in young people. We have already funded a handful of applications in this area, and anticipate continued support for this type of research in the future.


4)      Do you have any advice for nicotine/tobacco researchers who might be considering a career outside of academia?
Fellowships and training programs can be a great way to learn firsthand what it’s like to work outside of a traditional academic environment. As a postdoctoral fellow in NCI’s Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, I was exposed to the many challenging and rewarding aspects of a scientific career at NIH, and this ultimately led me to apply for a Program Director position. NIH offers a variety of enrichment and training opportunities for students at all levels of education, ranging from high school to postdoctoral. And for tobacco researchers who are interested in regulatory science, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products offers a Tobacco Regulatory Science Fellowship.


5)      What strategies have you found to be most beneficial for managing all of your commitments?
It’s a daily struggle! In my job, I am constantly being presented with interesting opportunities and activities. I wish I could do them all. But I have learned to be selective about the tasks that I take on, and try to prioritize the ones where I feel I can make the greatest contribution. I also have a giant whiteboard in my office that I use to keep track of all my projects, tasks, deadlines, etc. It provides a daily, visual reminder of my “to-dos”.    


6)      From the perspective of a program director, what advice do you have for researchers seeking funding in adolescent tobacco/nicotine use?
At the risk of being redundant, my best advice is to build relationships with Program Directors who have grant portfolios in your area of interest. Many of the Program Directors in NCI’s Tobacco Control Research Branch attend the annual SRNT meeting, so that can be a good time to introduce yourself and tell us about your research. I would suggest sending an email a few weeks before the meeting, to set up a meet and greet. Also, Program Directors participate in “Meet the Experts” sessions at various conferences throughout the year. These sessions are free and are held at the NCI Exhibit Booth. 


7)      What is the best advice that you ever received from one of your mentors? Throughout my career, I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors who encouraged me to pursue opportunities to grow, both professionally and personally. Each in their own way, my mentors have gently pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone, and take on roles and responsibilities that I might otherwise have deemed out of reach– whether it was teaching a class, competing for a position, or serving as a mentor to others. These collective experiences have taught me the value of being bold, as opposed to self-limiting, when it comes to making choices about my life and career.


8)      You are a brand new mom! Do you have tips for other busy mothers in science careers?
My 10-month old daughter definitely keeps me busy! I am still adjusting to life as a working mom, and trying to find that elusive work/life balance. Getting out of the house in the morning has probably been the biggest challenge for us so far. When I first went back to work, I was stressed and running late almost every morning, thanks to last minute diaper changes and lost pacifiers. Since then, I’ve found that getting up a half hour earlier is the key to a less stressful morning. Building in that buffer allows us to ease into the day, and puts me in a better frame of mind to begin work when I arrive at the office.

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