Stover Lab Liftoff: Year One of a Cancer Research Lab at The James

Dr Daniel Stover

Experts at The James are teaming up to take on cancer through dedicated groups focused on core components of care and research.

These teams—called “labs”—are made up of specialists in disease, research and/or treatment types working closely together to provide the best cancer care for today’s patients while striving to improve therapies and reduce incidence in the future.

My lab focuses on clinical computational oncology, the application of computational approaches to leverage available and potential data from tumor genomic profiling to improve outcomes.

To mark the lab’s one-year anniversary at The James, join me for a quick look at how we grew from a team of one to a group of smart, talented people working every day to help create a cancer-free world through innovative research.

Here’s the story of year one of Stover Lab:

Starting out on the right foot…

My decision to come to The James was heavily influenced by the knowledge that my new institution, bosses and colleagues had a clear vision for me. This shared direction helped me secure the space and clinical responsibilities that allowed me to establish and operate my lab.

…though, not without some struggles

One of the first things I learned—and still struggle with—is that imposter syndrome is real. Among the questions I’ve asked myself: Do I really deserve to be a principal investigator (or “PI,” the lead scientist of a lab)? How can I compete with other teams? How will I ever get all of this done?

Other challenges included prioritization (grants vs. papers, team management vs. hands-on work) and the navigation of a new institution and its staff and systems. Oh, and I still had to build my team.

Building a lab team is hard

After six months, I was still a one-man lab, but it turned out great. I stayed productive by writing grants, finishing papers and providing patient care while taking the time to properly put together a team dedicated to a shared vision. The result is a group made up of stellar, hard-working people.

The bottom line: it’s okay to go slow while growing a lab.

Patient care is also a team effort

Patient care is very important to me, and I could never combine my clinical and lab work without my amazing team, both in Stover Lab and throughout The James. How do they help? Every lab member shadows in clinic, and members of the clinic team discuss our work and share in our successes.

The work-life balancing act

The hardest but best part of year one has been balancing the work schedules of two doctors with new jobs—my wife is also a physician—while spending time with each other and our two wonderful kids, along with the responsibilities of home ownership (spoiler: I’m not handy).

In a world of A+ parents, it can be hard not to feel like a C-, but we’ve made it work by partnering together, leaning on others (grandparents, babysitters, friends) and letting go of the pursuit of perfect parenting. We have a bazillion years of education, but our three-year-old never made it to consecutive swimming lessons. Hey, there’s always next year!

Mentors meant a lot

I sought guidance and advice from lots of mentors during the lab’s first year, including a senior PI and other young PIs and MDs, along with a science coach. With the help of these peers and voices of experience, I was able to avoid the “going it alone” feeling while getting started.

Final thoughts

  • I love my family. Making them my first priority has kept me upright.
  • I love my job.
  • I love my team.
  • Always bet on yourself.
  • I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.

Central Ohio native Daniel Stover, MD, is a medical oncologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) who specializes in the treatment and research of breast cancer. Follow him on Twitter @StoverLab to stay up-to-date on his work at The James.