Interview with the Researcher of the Year 2019

By Staff Writer - March 05, 2020

Heather Jim, PhD, joined Moffitt in 2005 and is now an associate member in the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior. Prior to being awarded the Researcher of the Year award in 2019 she was recognized in 2012 with the Junior Faculty Research award. Dr. Jim was recently promoted to program leader in Health Outcomes & Behavior which she co-leads with Thomas Brandon, PhD. Her research focuses on psychosocial and behavioral aspects of cancer control with the goal of developing behavioral interventions that reduce side effects and contribute to increased well-being and quality of life among patients.

Congratulations on winning the W. Jack Pledger Researcher of the Year Award 2019! What was your reaction when you found out, and how did your family and friends react? 
I was very surprised and humbled. Moffitt has such amazing, world-renowned researchers who have had a huge impact on cancer, and to be considered in that same league was really quite moving. My family and friends were very proud and happy for me. It was especially fun that my mom was able to attend the award ceremony. She has always been so supportive, and for her to meet my colleagues and see me receive this kind of recognition meant a lot to both of us.

Why is this award meaningful to you?
Only one other woman before me received this award (Anna Giuliano, PhD, in 2011), which makes it extra special. It just shows that women can have a significant impact on science and that they are recognized for their work. It also shows that Moffitt values the best scientists regardless of gender or background.

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"It just shows that women can have a significant impact on science and that they are recognized for their work."

- Dr. Heather Jim, Vice Chair of Health Outcomes and Behavior Program at Moffitt

What did you hope to achieve when you decided to become a researcher?
I didn’t really have an end goal in mind when I set out on this path; I just followed my intellectual curiosity and somehow achieved more than I ever thought I would. At the point where I am at now, I realize that my focus is shifting to helping junior faculty be successful in their work. I have received wonderful mentoring over the course of my career so I am happy to be able to pay it forward now. It is very fulfilling to see them accomplish their goals, and it gives me the opportunity to multiply my impact on science.

Where there any challenges you had to overcome on your path to becoming a researcher?
I always wanted to be an architect growing up, but as I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in architecture, I realized it wouldn’t be the right career for me. I feel that by restarting over in clinical psychology it took me a long time to catch up to my colleagues. Looking back, I am very happy I made the career choice I did because I enjoy my work so much.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from your research colleagues?
My colleagues are such smart, fun and generous people. I have tremendous respect for them. What’s most rewarding in my field is when you realize how much more you can accomplish when collaborating with other people. Colleagues can be such a powerful supplement to one’s own limitations. It really is true that the whole is more than the sum of its part. Being able to contribute to that greater whole is really special to me.

What is the secret to your success?
I know the perceived wisdom is that you have to work hard and make sacrifices to be successful, but I haven’t found that to be the whole truth. In my experience, success is a secondary benefit of enjoying what you do. If you love your job, working hard and making sacrifices come naturally and joyfully.

What are your future plans? Do you have a project that you are particularly passionate about?
It’s not really a project, but I am particularly passionate about connecting amazing people with available resources in unusual ways to pursue creative ideas. When you have such tremendous resources like we have here at Moffitt and you have people with fantastic talent in very different areas you can really chart new territory, which is very exciting.

As a research leader what advice would you offer to others who want to follow a similar path?
It’s important to have faith in yourself because as a researcher you get a lot of negative feedback when your papers get rejected or your grant proposals are not accepted. You have to develop a thick skin to accept criticism without taking it personally. Most of all, follow your intellectual curiosity and enjoy the journey. Every day I wake up and can barely believe I get to do this kind of work.

This interview originally appeared in print in the 2020 issue of Women in Oncology at Moffitt. The annual publication spotlights the experiences, insights and accomplishments of our women faculty, and serves as a testimony to the valuable role they play at Moffitt Cancer Center and in their communities.

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