Susannah Bartlow headshot on a blue background

HUB Highlight: Susannah Bartlow

The MNCCTN HUB team is highlighting our team members and the fantastic work they do. The MNCCTN HUB is the central team that works in the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, while MNCCTN is the overall, wider network made up of five health care Partners and 23 clinical sites that conduct research throughout Greater Minnesota. This month's HUB Highlight is MNCCTN's Community Outreach & Engagement (COE) Manager, Susannah Bartlow, PhD. Susannah began working with MNCCTN in April 2021 as the first COE professional and has built MNCCTN's COE program from the ground up. Hear from Susannah about her career path in nonprofit and community work that led her to research, what she enjoys about working in research, how MNCCTN is unique, and what qualities are a good fit for a career in research.

HUB Highlight graphic on Susannah Bartlow, COE Manager, who started in April 2021, and would describe MNCCTN as thoughtful, dedicated, and fun

What was your career path before coming to MNCCTN?

I grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Bryn Mawr College with an English degree. I worked in an arts nonprofit for a few years and went to grad school in 2001. I was in an English Ph.D. program and studied feminist literature–I was really interested in how Black and white women in my mother’s generation worked together, using poetry and art to build relationships and address racism in the feminist movement. From 2008-2015, I worked on college campuses at a Women’s Center and a Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, which involved a combination of policy work, teaching, event planning, and support services for college students. I also learned more about doing social science research during that time period.  From 2015-2021, I did a combination of social services, project management, and community organizing–mostly with families and young adults dealing with housing, food, and transportation issues. Since around 2008, I’ve also worked outside of my day jobs on community outreach and education projects related to racial justice. That experience has a big influence on my career too.

It’s such a winding road!  But the biggest thread has always been that I love collaborating to solve social problems, and I enjoy making connections between research and people. My grad school professors called it praxis; in this field, people talk about bi-directional communication. But my favorite work has always been about making connections between research and practice. That’s what drew me to this job with MNCCTN!

What is unique about MNCCTN?

Our setup is unique–there aren’t too many multi-site trial networks that span health care systems in the way that we do, and it’s fun and interesting to be part of an innovative structure like ours. When I go to conferences, people are impressed that we’re really trying to extend the geographic reach of trials. I also have profound respect for our MNCCTN Partners. It’s rare for such a large, focused, and dedicated group of people who work in demanding jobs across so many organizations to unite around a shared goal the way that we do.

What 3 words best describe the MNCCTN HUB team?

Thoughtful, dedicated, fun

What do you enjoy most about working in research? What is most challenging?

I have a personal connection to cancer survivorship and research–my mom and my best friend are both breast cancer survivors. I like that I can use my skills in community work to contribute to something that is for the greater good and also personally meaningful to me. The biggest challenge is how big the field is, and how new it is to me–sometimes I don’t know where to begin!

What are the most important qualities and skills for a job in research?

Curiosity!  And patience/persistence–you have to be willing to work toward the long-term, and not expect to see results or specific actions too quickly.  We can always measure progress over time, but the big payoffs both in research and in community outreach often show up after years, not months, so being persistent to see that all the way through is important.

What is one thing you think people should know about working in research and outreach?

If you had told me in 2008 that I would be using my Women’s Studies/English PhD to work in cancer research I would have been amazed! But a lot of people I talk to in the field come from so many different backgrounds. For as precise as the research itself needs to be, there are so many different entry points, and as a field people are really welcoming and open to different skill sets.