Mike Nader, PhD
Professor of Physiology, Pharmacology and Radiology
Wake Forest University School of Medicine
What is your current research? Please briefly describe your area of research and/or practice:
My research program is interested in the neuropharmacology of cocaine abuse using nonhuman primate models of cocaine self-administration and drug discrimination, as well as non-invasive imaging using positron emission tomography (PET). Most of the projects involve models of intravenous cocaine self- administration in rhesus and cynomolgus monkeys. When combined with PET imaging of dopamine (DA) D2/D3 receptors we’ve found an inverse relationship between receptor availability and cocaine self-administration. Importantly, environmental, social and pharmacological variables can impact D2/D3 receptor availability and impact vulnerability. Regarding social variables, we have the only lab in the world utilizing socially housed monkeys (males and f emales) in int ravenous cocaine self - administration studies. Female macaques have a 28-day menstrual cycle and PET measures of D2/D3 receptors are significantly different in luteal vs. follicular phases. Recently, we found that dominant female monkeys, while having measures compared to subordinates (an effect similar to that observed in males), were more vulnerable to cocaine reinforcement – an effect opposite to that observed in males.
We also interact with a medicinal chemist in order to (1) better understand the neuropharmacology of cocaine abuse and (2) identify potential new treatment agents. In one example, we’ve been testing dopamine D3-selective compounds developed by our colleague Dr. Amy Hauck Newman and found that the behavioral effects of compounds considered as partial agonists are modified when monkeys have a cocaine history. For example, D3-selective full agonists will elicit yawning in many species, including monkeys, yet D3-receptor partial agonists will not. However, if the monkey has a substantial cocaine history, D3- receptor partial agonists look just like a full agonist, suggesting neuropharmacological changes in D3 receptor function as a consequence of cocaine exposure. Such information will be valuable in developing treatments for cocaine addiction.
Other areas of research include drug discrimination, and we examine selectivity of novel compounds in separate groups of monkeys discriminating cocaine, methamphetamine or nicotine. We’ve also moved into the field of cognition and have been examining the consequences of chronic cocaine self-administration on cognitive performance and on how potential treatment agents (that decrease cocaine self- administraton and cocaine discrimination) impact cognitive performance. The more behaviors we can study in combination with potential treatments, the more thorough our understanding of the potential clinical efficacy of this treatment strategy.
About how many hours per week do you spend in alternative involvement in professional organizations, administrative duties, teaching, clinical requirements or similar?
My laboratory has 4 graduate students and a post-doc, so I would say that my role as a teacher is full time (I also consider myself a student – I learn much from them). In terms of actual lecture time in courses, that varies each semester, but probably amounts to only a few hours a month. My administrative responsibilities – university committees, as well as professional societies - are about 2 hrs per day
Are you involved with any activities or hobbies unrelated to your work and if so, how do you find the time to participate in these activities?
I love running. The year of my 50th birthday (2009) I trained for and ran in my first marathon. I ran in another one in 2010. It varies as to what time of day I train. Half the days, it’s in the morning before work, the other half it’s at the end of the day. On the evening runs, my wife will drive me home and drop me off about 4-5 miles from the house. I’ll get there in time for dinner! I also enjoy P90X, which I try to do a couple times a week.
How do you choose to prioritize work and non-work activities?
If it involves family, it’s an easy decision – that’s #1. If it’s running or P90X, I’ll do it when there’s time. I find yard work on the weekends very relaxing and make sure I’m outside doing something every weekend.
How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
I’ve been very lucky. My wife knows the business and understands the time constraints. One thing that has worked is following the philosophy that the family should eat dinner together every night. There have been exceptions, but for the most part, we have rigorously followed that rule.
What percentage of your time is allocated to work vs. home life?
I spend about 50 hrs per week at work, but also work from home every day, crack of dawn early morning hours, 7 days a week, before anyone else is awake. I am a morning person.
How have you achieved a balance between work and personal priorities?
The short answer is reduced the amount of time sleeping! I’ve been lucky to be able to be somewhat flexible in my schedule – I can get away for an hour or two with zero guilt to watch my kids compete in a multiplication contest or in a play at school. I made time to coach my kids in various sports when they were young. My wife and I have always realized that something as simple as walking the dogs together is a great way to talk and work out life’s problems. If I know there’s a family event that I want to be a part of, I’ll plan ahead and make sure all my deadlines are met – working early mornings, late nights, whatever it takes.
Are there any special organizational strategies you use to be efficient at work?
I have a dry-write board in my office where I list my priorities. It’s really 3 main items: manuscripts (the longest list), lectures and grant deadlines.
Have you found it helpful to assign specific workdays to specific work-related tasks, like manuscript-writing, grading papers, etc.?
No. I have multiple deadlines and I try to knock one item off at a time. I’m not really sure what factors determine what task I tackle – unless the deadline was yesterday!
How many hours per week do you spend writing papers for publication?
It varies depending on several things (teaching, committee work and grant deadlines). I love writing grants and manuscripts. The process of “writing” obviously begins with data mining, analysis and graphic representation – those things happen every day. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen was on a flight with my post- doc mentor Jim Barrett. He took out a yellow pad and started writing and when we landed, he had a manuscript done! (This was the 1980’s and most people did not have laptops). I’m not there yet, but I think about that all the time. Looking at the board right now, I can tell you that I’m the “log jam” on several papers, so how ever many hours I’m spending, it’s not enough – and that’s a good problem to have!
How do you protect time for writing papers?
I try to make sure there is always a manuscript under review. When that’s not the case, I re- prioritize and do all I can to make sure a manuscript is ready for submission. Importantly, I currently have and had in the past several outstanding people in my lab who are constantly writing papers. My strategy, which I’ve learned from my mentors, is to provide resources to smart people and give them some freedom to do their work. However, as my lab knows, a few mornings a month I let them all know that I will be working at home until lunch. Usually it is my wife who notices my stress level is elevated and she suggests that I need to stay home and work with no distractions!
Have you found it helpful to restrict the number of days per week you work (e.g., do not work on weekends?) or the number of hours you work per day?
No. I try to do some work every day. When I go on vacation, I typicallly am awake before anyone else, so I sip my coffee and write or read. If you enjoy what you are doing, it’s not painful to take some “work” with you. However while on vacation, I never put work before family.
How do you find time to exercise or sleep? How many hours of each do you average?
Exercise time is variable – I would love to work out an hour a day, but that doesn’t always happen. When I’m deep into training for a marathon, the long runs will be 3-4 hrs on a Saturday, but then Sunday is a day off. With regards to sleep, I average about 7 hrs/night. In the “old days”, I could occasionally pull an all-nighter, but it hurts too much now, so I concede that I’ve got to sleep every night.
What advice do you have for other researchers who are learning to balance both career and personal life goals?
Leave work at work, try to be flexible with your time and try to enjoy all that you do – both at work and away from the lab. You have to be prepared for tough times – perseverance at work is the most important quality for success (in my opinion). You also need to take a break and smell the roses or you will burn out. A balance between career and personal goals does not have to translate into 50-50. Sometimes work will dominant your life and sometimes the pendulum swings the other way.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from one of your mentors?
I’ve been very fortunate to have been mentored by several outstanding scientists and people. Each has made a significant impact on my life. Alice Young turned a spark of interest in research to an inferno because she has so much passion for science – it was contagious! Travis Thompson told me there is order in everything and that it’s our job to find it. I think about that every time someone brings me data that looks “strange”. Jim Barrett had so many different projects going on and he stayed so organized and on top of everything. He would prioritize things in a way that maximized productivity – if he had 4 things to work on and one was due tomorrow, he’d put that at the bottom and keep working until he got to it. Jim was the person whose philosophy was to always have a manuscript under review (a goal I try to meet). Bill Woolverton taught me everything I know about i.v. monkey self- administration. When I received my first grant award, his advice was “make sure every day that you make progress on that grant”. It’s so easy to be distracted, but that advice to this day keeps me on track. All four of my mentors made themselves available all the time – their office doors were always open and I try to do the same thing.
Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
I am of the philosophy that unless you win the lottery or inherit a ton of money, you will be working the majority of your life. Make sure you find something that interests you.