From Step to Step: Highlighting FAER Grantee Dr. Railey White’s Research Journey

June 27, 2024

Dr. Railey White PhotoIn spring 2024, FAER was delighted to award its second-ever Transition to Independence Grant (TIG) to E. Railey White, MD, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania. The TIG aims to support the transition of investigators from mentored training-focused support to independent (non-mentored) research support and comprises $75,000 in funding over one year. To qualify for the TIG, applicants must be primary investigators who have completed work on a FAER Mentored Research Training Grant (MRTG) within the past two years and be in the process of revising and resubmitting an application for new independent research.

By virtue of the grant’s requirements, all TIG awardees are at minimum two-time FAER grant recipients. However, Dr. White’s history with FAER stretches back even further. Dr. White was awarded a Research Fellowship Grant (RFG) in spring 2019 and, later that same year, she joined the Foundation and the Early-Stage Anesthesiology Scholars (eSAS) for the FAER/eSAS: A Day for New Researchers at ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2019, presenting a scientific poster as part of the Resident Scholar Program (RSP). This was followed by her MRTG awarded in 2021, and finally her TIG awarded this spring.

It is exciting to see an investigator engage with and benefit from so many of the opportunities in FAER’s catalogue. FAER is proud of its role in supporting Dr. White along so many steps of her career, and has truly enjoyed watching her flourish as an anesthesiology researcher.

In the hopes of sharing the insights and experiences Dr. White has accumulated in her time with FAER and anesthesiology research, we reached out to her with a series of questions focused on her research journey. We are pleased to share her responses with you below.

Can you tell us a little about your time as a medical student, including what led you to pursue anesthesiology as a specialty, and more specifically, what led you to pursue anesthesia research?

“My first experiences with anesthesia actually predate my time as a medical student. I thought I’d “rule out” medicine by doing some volunteering and then could confidently continue pursuing a career in chemistry, which on its own explains the research part. However, I fell into an opportunity at a VA hospital as a volunteer anesthesia tech changing out sharps containers and restocking supplies. My plan backfired and after this exposure I fell in love with medicine. Or so I thought, but really, I fell in love with anesthesia and the specialty’s many areas of applied science. Combine my love of science with taking care of people? Perfect! It was always in the back of my mind throughout medical school, but a brief rotation as part of my surgery clerkship really cemented my interest in anesthesia. A classmate even told me I had a ‘stupid smile’ on my face during the whole rotation. He was right, and now here I am.”

How would you describe your first interaction with FAER through the Resident Scholar Program (RSP)?

“The RSP was my first introduction to FAER and eSAS through attendance at the FAER/eSAS: A Day for New Researchers at ANESTHESIOLOGY. This experience allowed me to meet medial students, other residents, and other ‘near peers’ in the world of anesthesia research. Not only was I able to present my research, and learn about other’s work, it was such a valuable opportunity to network with others on a similar career trajectory. We’re all working to establish our own research careers – and the milestones that accompany that – and balance that with other aspects of our lives. This networking is so valuable for career development, and I wish I’d been plugged into this network even earlier. But better late than never!”

You are one of the few FAER awardees who has gone through each “step” of FAER grant funding, from a Research Fellowship Grant (RFG) to a Mentored Research Training Grant (MRTG), and most recently to a Transition to Independence Grant (TIG). Can you tell us briefly about the focus of your research and how it has grown and/or changed from grant to grant?

“Haha, yes, I think I might be setting some kind of record with how much FAER has sponsored my career. I perhaps need to make FAER branded lab coats and other merch like I’m a professional athlete! All joking aside, I can’t overstate how thankful I am for each of these grants and what that investment means for the confidence in me and support for my career. Each grant has provided me the time and resources to develop as a scientist and the support to launch my research career at each phase, from a research fellowship after residency (the RFG), to working more to establish my own research program (the MRTG), to now continuing my research while I pursue independent funding (the TIG).

“Being awarded the RFG was such an exciting accomplishment. I spent two years as a research fellow supported via a combination of a T32 fellowship and the RFG while working per diem as an anesthesiologist. The RFG gave me even more protected time than the T32 and also provided the initial funding to really setup my own lab, which I knew was going to be hugely helpful in that initial launch.

“Unfortunately, my RFG experience was a little atypical to say the least. My award period came during 2020, which of course coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with limited and sometimes no access to the lab, it was also a very stressful time for anesthesiology, which had its own implications on everyone’s productivity. This external force led to some deviation from the project my RFG was funded for. I was funded to study the mechanism of negative inotropy of a propofol analogue. But now I was at home thinking of alternative ways to advance my research program since that project really hinged on me being in the lab and acquiring materials that were now difficult or impossible to acquire. I initially felt terrible about this, since it wasn’t the project I was funded for, but remarkably I still haven’t received a cease-and-desist letter from FAER.

“This same project was again the subject of my MRTG, and we continue to actively work on this in the lab. But other work has taken off and FAER seems to be ok with this (although some days I’m still waiting for that letter in the mail). It didn’t seem like it at the time, but FAER was funding me and not the specific details of my grant application. With the MRTG funding and support from my department at Penn, I continued to develop my research program. During this time, I transitioned from someone who wasn’t even totally sure what type of scientist to call myself to someone with a defined research program who is vying for extramural funding.

“Unfortunately, my first attempt at an R35 application was not funded. While looking back in the final year of my MRTG funding (a no cost extension), it’s incredible to see how much I’ve grown as a researcher during this time. My career has been many years in the making, but since I finished residency, I’ve seen a remarkable amount of growth in myself. Growth catalyzed by FAER’s support.

“I’m currently awaiting word on a second R35 application. In writing the application for the TIG to bridge me this upcoming year, I looked back again at my first R35. The obvious growth in myself as a scientist is remarkable from the first application to the next. Receiving the TIG was such a life saver and will allow me to maintain the momentum I’ve gained over the last few years while I continue to apply for extramural funding. I wish I could say at this moment that I’d converted over to independent funding, but I’m on the precipice and, with the TIG, I have more time to stay in the game and make that happen.”

Building on the previous question, how would you say you have changed as a researcher from your time with RSP to your TIG?

“It’s been five years since I was an RSP awardee and looking back at some of my prior work feels like looking at old school projects because of how much I’ve evolved. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m a more developed scientist than I was when starting down this road. I know I’ll continue to learn and grow as a scientist during my career, and the many fantastic mentors I’ve had along the way will remain important to my further growth and success. But I can’t say it enough how much cultivating a research career takes time, and this is what the support from FAER has afforded me. The time to read and write and think and evolve hypotheses and the experiments needed to investigate them, and truly the time to grow into the physician-scientist I am today.”

How would you describe the value of the various FAER grants and programs you’ve participated in? Are there particular aspects you found most rewarding?

“Oh man, it’s almost hard to distinguish the different phases of FAER support that I’ve had because it’s been so continuous for a few years now. But I will say that the MRTG and its inclusion of FAER’s Annual MRTG Meeting is something I particularly value. Small niche conferences are so often the most valuable to their attendees. There are some obvious research divides (most notably “basic science” and “clinical research” to oversimplify), but through attending the MRTG Meeting, and even being part of the organization committee last year, I was able to get to know a lot of current and former awardees (for the MRTG, IMRA, and GEMSSTAR), along with FAER leadership and staff. It’s such a great networking opportunity and provides education on career development topics vital for success in this field.”

Can you tell us a little about how you felt on your TIG being funded? Are there any thoughts you’d like to share about the TIG, whether regarding your own award or for the funding mechanism itself?

“I think the one word answer here would have to be ‘relief’! I built so much momentum during my MRTG and the relief of being able to continue to push that momentum forward is difficult to put into words. I’m a stubborn person and would strive to overcome a funding gap and continue onward, but it’s not trivial to find the time to continue experiments and write new grants while working more clinically, as is the case for many investigators with funding gaps. I’m now waiting to hear back on my R35 submission and hoping that the TIG will have served exactly its purpose – to be a bridge to independent funding!”

In your own words, why you would recommend aspiring anesthesiologists to consider a career in research and academia?

“So many of us started down this road because we are inquisitive. Things in the OR strike you as odd or in need of improvement, and these may very well be some of the many gaps in the field that will continue to go on unless someone notices it and decides to investigate it. Anesthesia touches every organ system, every type of surgery, and of course has its own specialty-specific niches –  but the opportunities are vast and encompass a broad range of scientific investigation. Anesthesia has such great potential to impact the future of healthcare, and there’s a place for many different people with diverse interests to pursue this rewarding career path.”

What advice would you offer to those interested in pursuing anesthesia research and/or FAER grant funding?

“Find great mentors and be a good mentee because it will make such a difference to your success. I’ve been lucky to have Dr. Rod Eckenhoff as a mentor going on 10 years now, after I discovered his research while reading through the specialty’s literature and reached out to him. Along with the many other mentors I have had, I’ve had a lot of support in the many areas of expertise that it takes to be successful. No one is going to pluck you out of obscurity and set things up for you, so do your part to find the helpers It’s easy to look at the leaders in our field and become intimidated by how amazing and successful they are, but their journeys were many years in the making just like ours, and they have a lot of knowledge to share. We’re simply at a different point in the road. At times it can be a hard road, but it’s far more difficult if you go it alone.”

Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with our audience?

“The push to go and work as a full-time clinician is all too real, especially now. But research is, and will continue to be, a vital part of our field’s future. It’s sometimes hard to have the confidence to say you want to pursue something that may not be the ‘typical’ path. I had many supposed mentors in my very early training tell me that I was wrong/weird/whatever, but I had a vision and somehow was not dissuaded. Now some of the things that were ‘weird’ are the things that have contributed to my success. I wouldn’t say this career is for everyone or endorse that it’s easy, but it has been so very rewarding, and I can already see this continuing to be the case with time. I hope to see more people enter the specialty, and forge careers as physician-scientists, and that I can help pave the way as others have done for me.”

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about Dr. White and her anesthesiology research journey. To learn more about Dr. White’s research, we encourage you to read her project summaries linked below, as well as watch her brief, elevator-pitch style video highlight.

For those interested in pursuing the same types of FAER grant funding she has benefited from, applications for the Fall 2024 Grant Cycle are currently open through August 15, 2024. Available grants this cycle include:

Also available is the Transition to Independence Grant (TIG), with TIG applications accepted on a rolling basis. For questions about this cycle and available grants, please contact [email protected].

FAER is a related organization of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA). For over 35 years, FAER has been dedicated to developing the next generation of physician-investigators in anesthesiology. Charitable contributions and support to FAER help fuel the future of anesthesiology through scientific discovery. Funding priorities include: Research, Education, and Training. At the time of this article's publication, FAER has awarded more than $58 million in research grants and programs since 1986. To donate to FAER, visit

Curated by: BH

Last updated by: BH

Date of last update: June 27, 2024