While the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at Ohio State’s College of Medicine is collaborative in nature, leading students to complete both an MD and PhD degree, trainee David Clever has embraced the collaborative theme of his education to a fuller extent: he seeks experiences not only in both clinical and laboratory settings, but also in a variety of labs and research institutions throughout the country and even the world. This year, his specific interest in cancer research has taken him to England where he met with potential research advisers at both Oxford and Cambridge.
“He’s our first student to ever study at Oxford or Cambridge, so it’s kind of new to everybody,” said Ashley Bertran, program manager of the MSTP. “Ninety-eight percent of our students do their PhD here in Columbus. But in David’s special case, since it’s a fantastic program, we wanted to be part of that.”
But this trip abroad is only the conclusion to what has already been an exciting year for Clever, who currently holds the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-National Institutes of Health (HHMI-NIH) Cloister fellowship and has been completing research in the laboratory of Dr. Louis Staudt at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
This collage-like trajectory in his studies came somewhat unexpectedly for Clever, who, upon graduating from Ohio State in 2009 with an undergraduate degree in biology, did not anticipate that his post-graduate work would be so expansive, let alone that it would include completion of a PhD. Clever originally matriculated into Ohio State’s College of Medicine and completed his first and second years of medical school before he became a trainee in the MSTP.
As a medical student, Clever worked with Don Benson, MD, a medical oncologist. “Dr. Benson firmly believes that we are going to cure a lot of cancer in the next thirty years,” Clever said, “and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Inspired by Dr. Benson’s work, which touched memories of Clever’s own experiences witnessing his grandmother and aunt battle breast cancer, Clever thought of joining a PhD program, but realized he should spend more time in the lab before committing.
“That’s what brought me to NIH,” Clever said. “I prepared a grant for that during the second year of medical school, and got to the NIH between my second and third year of medical school. Halfway through the year, I realized I was having so much fun and could not see myself walking away from the science at that point. I really felt like I was at a time in my life where I wanted to further my scientific training.”
Specifically, Clever was spending his days looking at cancer immunotherapy at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda when he officially decided he wanted to complete both an MD and a PhD through the MSTP at Ohio State.
Today, officially a trainee in the MSTP and accepted to complete the PhD requirement portion of the MSTP through the National Institute of Health’s Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, Clever began the summer with the trip to both Oxford and Cambridge to determine which lab and adviser best matches his research interests. He plans to finish at least another year in Bethesda, complete his PhD at either Oxford or Cambridge, and finish his third and fourth years of medical school at Ohio State.
Throughout Clever’s travels, the MSTP lies at the heart of his endeavors, as his long-term aspirations match the intentions the MSTP has for its students. When asked where he sees himself in twenty years, Clever says, “Working as a medical oncologist with clinical responsibilities but also establishing my own lab. It’s a really unique opportunity to feel like you’re improving the way we treat cancer and translating findings from your own labs to contribute to this.”
Incorporating the MSTP even when he is not in Columbus has added an extra facet to Clever’s work. When he is away from Ohio State, “we keep open lines of communication and I think that especially trying to collaborate between different groups, not in the same tradition, not even in the same country takes a lot of organization and communication.”
He specifically notes that the MSTP has pushed him to emphasize the clinical aspect of his studies at times when he would usually be completely engrossed in laboratory research. “Ninety percent of my peers in the Oxford-Cambridge program are just in the PhD track. But OSU reminds me of my commitment to seeing patients. Ohio State did not want me to miss out on that and expects me to meet clinical expectations. They have really pushed me in my training to see what it’s like to be a physician scientist.”