CARG Spotlight: Dr. Melody Schiaffino, A Journey Through Mentorship

Melody K. Schiaffino, PhD, MPH, has recently been awarded a Research Scientist Development Award (K01) grant from the National Institute of Aging (NIA) for her project “Improving Age-Related Risk Assessment and Documentation for Diverse Older Adults with Cancer.” The 5-year grant will confer up to $700,000 for Dr. Schiaffino to investigate the prevalence of age-related risk assessment and documentation, with the long-term goal of informing and redesigning existing processes of care delivery to improve cancer care delivery for diverse older adults.

An assistant professor at the School of Public Health at San Diego State University, Dr. Schiaffino has been a CARG member since 2019 and is currently a Member of the CARinG Junior Investigator Board and the Analytics Core. As she related in a recent presentation to CARG members in February 2022, her journey with CARG began when she first met Dr. Alison Moore in 2017, who inspired her to connect her cancer care work with aging research, as well as introducing her to Dr. Arti Hurria later that year.

Dr. Schiaffino was one of the last mentees Dr. Hurria took under her wing, before Dr. Hurria tragically passed away in 2018. Drs. William Dale and Supriya Mohile simultaneously reached out to Dr. Schiaffino, and both offered to serve as her mentors. Amid all the uncertainty, “it was a tremendous moment for me as a mentee and one I will never forget,” Dr. Schiaffino says. Since then, “William and I continued to work together since our research and geography aligned but Supriya has continued to play a significant role in my growth as an incredible woman, scientist, mentor and so much more I hope to emulate one day.”

Among many sources of support, her partnership with Dr. Dale, support from CARG mentors, and feedback from the CARG network at large have been instrumental in her research trajectory. This has been especially true with her application for the NIA K01 grant. Through her interactions with CARG, Dr. Schiaffino became focused on cancer treatments for diverse older adults, and sought to pursue this through a NIH K01 grant. But she knew very well the obstacles that she would face. “As a non-clinician there are challenges you face with your research – including staying true to your work and area given the competing challenges,” Dr. Schiaffino says. “As a disparities researcher, it becomes an even bigger challenge.” Her first submission in October 2019 garnered a strong impact score but was not funded.

With Dr. Dale’s help, and especially a presentation to the CARinG Health Services Core in June 2021, the detailed feedback she received helped her refine her second K01 application, which was resubmitted and finally granted the K01 award in Spring 2022. Reflecting on the journey, Dr. Schiaffino is extremely grateful for the guidance she received from her mentors and from CARG.

As mentorship has been key to the success of her K01 application, it’s no surprise that Dr. Schiaffino herself serves as a mentor to many students through SDSU’s Faculty-Student Mentoring Program. “Find the right mentorship team,” she reminds us, “They are your knowledge base, your cheerleaders, and will help you get past a hard time. You can do what you love and get a K! Think very hard about the training you will need and find the right people, [and] ask for a lot of feedback.”


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