Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 10, 1995

JHMI Honors Investigators Still In School

By Steve Libowitz

     If you are a young medical student or graduate  student,
receiving the Michael A. Shanoff Research Award on Young
Investigators' Day is something like getting the Oscar for Best
Picture of the Year. But you don't get to meet David Letterman.

     The Shanoff award is one of more than a dozen awards given
each year to students and postdoctoral fellows at the School of
Medicine whose research is considered the cream of the crop. 

     Making that determination is not an easy task for the
interdisciplinary committee of 20 faculty who find themselves
reviewing what this year's program coordinator calls work that's
outstanding, more outstanding and most outstanding.

     "The truth is, the research projects that we judge are all
of extremely high quality," said Peter Agre, a professor of
medicine and biological chemistry. "Often what separates winners
from those who don't win is the subjective importance of their
topic and one or two votes."

     Although there is about $10,000 in endowments divided among
the winners, Dr. Agre believes the students make the effort to
apply because they are proud to showcase their accomplishments.

     To be considered for one of the young investigator prizes,
students are required to write an abstract detailing their
research, which in some cases is the culmination of four and five
years of work totaling many thousands of hours, Dr. Agre said. To
qualify for the three top prizes, the Shanoff and awards named to
honor David Israel Macht and Martin and Carol Macht--
affectionately referred to as Macht I and Macht II--students must
also write a journal-quality essay.

     The School of Medicine sponsors Young Investigators' Day,
Dr. Agre said, because it helps promote the idea that scientific
research is an essential part of medical and graduate education
at Hopkins.

     "We want to let students know that they can pursue exciting
and fulfilling--and important--careers in basic or clinical
research as well as in patient care," he said.

     The point seems to be driven home by the students' formal
presentation to the faculty, peers and friends. Although the day
is mostly casual for those in the audience, Dr. Agre admits the
15-minute presentations of the research and the follow-up
questions can be nerve-racking for the presenters.

     "I remember when I stood up there, and I can clearly recall
shaking in my boots," he said.

     It is worth it, though, Dr. Agre said, not only for the
experience but because quite often the winners go on to
distinguished international careers in their fields.

     "One person on our current faculty who comes to mind is
David Shortle, a professor in biological chemistry," Dr. Agre
said. "He's gone on to be one of the world's experts on protein

     But winning isn't everything for young investigators.

     "Years ago my classmate Robert Schooley didn't win," Dr.
Agre said, "but it didn't really hold him up. Today he is
President Clinton's primary adviser on AIDS policy."

     So in medical research, as with the Oscars, it can be an
honor just to be nominated. Even if you never get to meet David

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