Navigating The AHA: What Role Can AHA Involvement Play In Your Career Development?

First of all, I would like to thank the organizer for providing this opportunity to volunteer and interact with American Heart Association (AHA) members. I am also very excited to reach out to other members via Early Career Voice. Since first attending the 2002 Scientific Sessions, in Chicago, I have been a member of the AHA, now an integral part of my career.
My name is Sakthivel (Sakthi) Sadayappan. I have been serving as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Cell and Molecular Physiology at Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, IL, since September 2009. At this early stage in my career, I am working hard towards establishing my laboratory, training my graduate and postdoctoral students, networking with collaborators, writing grant applications, and publishing findings based on my extensive work on the structural and regulatory functions of the cardiac contractile protein known as cardiac myosin binding protein C (cMyBP-C).
Early on, I received an Indo-German Exchange Fellowship (DAAD) during my PhD work at Madurai Kamaraj University in India. This award enabled me to visit the lab of Hans-Peter Vosberg, MD/PhD, at the Max-Planck-Institute in Bad Nauheim, Germany, to complete part of my doctoral work. I then received my PhD in Biochemistry in 1999 from Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India, under the supervision of Chellam Rajamanickam, PhD. My thesis was entitled “Molecular Aspects of Cardiac Hypertrophy”. Upon completion of my graduate studies in India, I returned to the Vosberg Laboratory for my first postdoctoral fellowship to acquire greater expertise in the pathogenesis of cardiomyopathies. For my second postdoctoral fellowship, I accepted a post to work with Jeffrey Robbins, PhD, at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. This offered me the opportunity to advance my understanding of the functional consequences of contractile protein phosphorylation and cardiac function using transgenic mouse models. It was a big jump from training as a postdoctoral fellow to fulfilling the responsibilities of an assistant professor in 2009. However, I’ve tried hard to represent my lab, department and school, and last year, I was the 2012 Junior Scientist of the Year for the Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago. Importantly, the AHA has played a major role in my successful transition from postdoctoral fellow to faculty member, as detailed in the next section.
The Role of AHA in Career Development
As a struggling newcomer to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Robbins urged me to secure funding from the AHA. In 2003, the payline was set at a 34 percentile score, compared to the 14 percentile score today. To my surprise, I received the top score of 0.68 and received funding from June 2004.  Through this award, I was able to change my J1 visa, which is temporary, to H1B status, allowing me to apply for a green card. During the ensuing two years, I published findings from my work on phosphorylation and function of cMyBP-C, and I was ready for the next level of career transition to research instructor. Again, however, I was in need of funding. At that time, the NIH pathway to independence (K99/R00) had been introduced, but I was not eligible to apply as I had crossed the 5-year limit of postdoctoral training. The alternative to K99 funding was the AHA Scientist Development Grant. I applied for this award with a project aimed at determining the effects of PKC-mediated phosphorylation of cMyBP-C, and, again, I achieved a percentile rank of 0.63. Funding for this award began in January 2008. This AHA SDG award proved to be a key event in my life, as it provided a clear pathway to research independence and the stepping-stone to my current position as tenure-track Assistant Professor at Loyola. I’ve encouraged my students to follow this same pathway, and last year, one of my graduate students was supported by the AHA Predoctoral Fellowship. Currently, two of my postdoctoral fellows are being supported by the AHA Postdoctoral Fellowship for their training and research studies. 

Giving Back to the AHA
The mission of the AHA states “Building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke”. To accomplish its mission, the AHA provides public health education in a variety of ways. It has currently funded 2100 scientists around the United States. In FY 2011-12, the AHA provided more than $116.9 million toward this effort. A big team is working 24/7 behind the scenes to generate these dollars. So, at this point in my career, I believe it is time to give back to the AHA.
To do this, I have maintained my membership since 2003, and I have been actively involved in the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences.  I have also been serving as a reviewer on the AHA Scientific Journals, such as Circulation Research and Circulation, and the grant study section (PC3). In addition, I have been a member of the Early Career Committee, Basic Cardiovascular Sciences, since July 2012. Most recently, I organized a network of local cardiovascular scientists within the Greater Chicago Area AHA. This culminated with the 2013 Chicago Research Network Symposium held on September 20, 2013. Some 175 scientists from the greater Chicago area were in attendance, and 71 posters were presented. As a volunteer, I have promoted the AHA Heart Walk each year, and, in return, I was recognized as a “Research Champion” for the last two years.
What have you done to support the AHA? Think a minute! If you have utilized AHA resources in any way, it is your turn to give something back. Remember that AHA has been working for our community, our family and our health. If you have any questions, please let me know. I will be at the early career sessions on November 16, 2013.

On Saturday, November 16th, there is a BCVS Early Career Breakout Session entitled “Mission Possible: Keys to Early Career Academic Success.” This session will take place from 1:00 to 4:45 PM in Room C143, with a reception at 5:00 PM in Lobby F at the Dallas Convention Center, Dallas, TX. The audience will mostly consist of graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty.
I look forward to seeing you, and I hope you will all have a great time at the 2013 Scientific Sessions.
Sakthivel (Sakthi) Sadayappan, PhD, FAHA
Posted by Sakthivel Sadayappan on Nov 11, 2013 1:28 PM America/Chicago