Profile: Tien Peng, MD, University of California, San Francisco
Former Lung Repair and Regeneration Consortium (LRRC) Young Investigator Lands Coveted Faculty Position at UCSF
Tien Peng, MD, a clinical pulmonologist and former Young Investigator with the Lung Repair and Regeneration Consortium (LRRC), is now three months into a faculty position at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Tien credits the LRRC – a network of research centers dedicated to developing cutting edge technologies, innovative strategies and new ideas to catalyze research on lung repair and regeneration – with giving him a forum to share his work and network with highly influential LRRC members.
Before joining UCSF, Tien was a fellow in the Morrisey lab at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, which focuses on the molecular pathways that regulate cardiovascular and lung development. He holds an MD from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a BA from the University of Virginia.
At Penn, Tien’s mentor was Ed Morrisey, Ph.D., Scientific Director, Penn Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who is also a member of the LRRC Steering Committee. Key joint publications from this period include two papers in the prestigious journal, Nature. The October 2015 paper was titled ‘Hedgehog actively maintains adult lung quiescence and regulates repair and regeneration.’ This found that the whimsically named sonic hedgehog gene, best known for controlling embryonic development, also maintains the normal physiological state and repair process of an adult healthy lung (see press release). The 2013 paper was titled ‘Coordination of heart and lung co-development by a multipotent cardiopulmonary progenitor.’ This reports identification of the novel progenitor population in the heart that gives rise to the pulmonary vasculature and that progenitor’s essential role in cardiopulmonary co-development (see press release).
Through LRRC travel grants, Tien was able to attend multiple conferences, where he connected with two researchers affiliated with the LRRC who would become key players in enabling his transition into a faculty role. The first of these was Jason Rock, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Anatomy, Medicine and the Cardiovascular Research Institute at UCSF who completed his post-doctoral fellowship at Duke in the lab of Brigid L. M. Hogan, Ph.D., FRS, another steering member of the LRRC. Dr. Rock was on the search committee for an open faculty position at the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at UCSF, and he encouraged Tien to apply for the position. “Jason was instrumental in helping me identify this position and introduced my work to the search committee at UCSF,” says Tien.
The second was Hal Chapman, MD, Professor at UCSF, whose lab investigates basic and biomedical aspects of lung injury and lung tissue remodeling. Chapman is a Principal Investigator (PI) at UCSF and a member of the LRRC Steering Committee. “I was a big fan of Hal’s work before coming to UCSF, and his presence reassured me that there would be excellent faculty mentorship for early-stage investigators at UCSF.”
Tien describes the environment at UCSF as incredibly welcoming for junior investigators, which is validating his decision to join this institution. “The transition is exciting but also challenging,” he explains. “The skill set required to be a successful PI is not necessarily the same as the one needed to be a successful post-doc, since a PI must manage and motivate people, while a post-doc only has to motivate him or herself.”
For Tien, the opportunity to create his own lab in a new institution won over the equally-attractive option to continue his research at his former institution at Penn. “While Penn is a wonderful scientific environment and my mentor Ed is a big proponent of my work, I believe that a new environment will make my science more distinctive and allow me to bring a unique perspective to my field. On the flip side, though, recreating the research infrastructure that allowed me to be successful as a post-doc can take a frustrating amount of time. To counter this, I’m focusing on embracing my new environment and meeting many new colleagues.”
As an added challenge, both Tien and his wife, Rupal, who is also a pulmonary critical care physician, were seeking faculty positions at the same time. Both had the choice of staying at Penn, but accepted the challenge of moving to UCSF.
“It’s a challenging job market for scientists, and that’s not going to change any time soon,” says Tien. He advises aspiring faculty members to “be sure to find a great mentor who will advocate for you. And really get yourself and your work out there – your work is only interesting if people have heard of it!”