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NORC Postdoctoral T32 Obesity Program Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the citizenship requirements to be on the T32?

    Fellows* must be a US citizen or permanent resident.

    *In this document, we use “fellows,” “postdocs,” “postdoctoral fellows,” “trainees,” and “mentorees” interchangeably.

  2. What is the maximum number of years after completion of a PhD that someone can be considered for postdoc status?

    NIDDK guidelines require all fellows to be within 5 years of completion of a PhD. Some exceptions may be made if an individual was completing a medical residency or had other extenuating circumstances, but these must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and approval sought from the NIDDK program officials prior to an offer being made. Advanced postdoctoral scientists (i.e., more than 5 years since PhD completion) working in NIDDK-relevant research areas should consider applying for the NIDDK Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01).

  3. What is the total number of years a person can receive NRSA postdoctoral funding from the NIH?

    National Research Service Award funding, which includes both T32 support and F32 support (but not other sources, for example, support from an R01) can only be used to support postdoctoral fellows for a maximum of 3 years.

  4. Is the T32 open to all areas of nutrition research?

    The T32 is obesity specific. A trainee’s research during the program must have a connection to obesity.

  5. How does the T32 differ from an individual postdoc in an individual investigator’s lab?

    The T32 is a program. This is in contrast to individual postdocs where the fellow’s duties are assigned and overseen solely by the mentor. The T32 has benefits, procedures, and obligations that apply to all trainees and all mentors in the program.

    Because this is a program, trainees spend roughly 80-85% of their time working with their mentors on obesity-related projects that they and their mentors have developed. The remaining 15-20% of the time is spent on programmatic activities. These programmatic activities include attending the weekly NORC seminar and attending NORC workshops hosted throughout the year. The program also includes career development events covering topics such as responsible conduct of research, job interview skills, how to review a paper, how to write grant proposals, and other training activities. All trainees are also expected to attend the NORC annual retreat.

    One benefit of a program is the availability of additional mentoring or training that an individual mentor may not be able to provide. A program can also provide input or assistance should a problem arise between the mentor and the trainee. Trainees who have any concerns they cannot resolve with their mentor are encouraged to go to T32 leadership (Dr. Allison, Program Director; Dr. Garvey, Program Associate Director; Dr. Fernandez, Education Associate Director). For concerns outside the scope of the T32 leadership, trainees are encouraged to go to the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE).

    The second benefit of a program is access to the expertise of the entire NORC. The NORC is available to all trainees, and the program directors will connect trainees with the investigators and resources they need to be successful.

  6. Who can be a mentor for the T32?

    All trainees are assigned a primary mentor from a list of NIH-approved primary mentors. Current primary mentors are listed on the UAB NORC website. Additional mentors can be added, but only after approval by NIH. The choice of the composition of the mentoring team is a joint decision of the mentoree, the mentor(s), and the program director (Dr. Allison).

    A primary mentor:

    • Must be an active, participating member of the NORC,
    • Must be working on obesity-related work, and
    • Must be established (i.e., typically have at least one major federal grant as a PI and Associate Professor or higher).

    Trainees can have one or more co-mentors, but it is not required. This is a joint decision among the trainee, the mentor or mentors, and Dr. Allison. Trainees usually have one and sometimes two co-mentors. More than three is not typical. Co-mentors do not require approval by NIH.

  7. What resources are provided to trainees?
    • Each trainee is provided a computer, phone, and email access. Each trainee has dedicated desk space and a place to work. Trainees are not guaranteed a private office. Postdocs often have a desk in a shared office, and we have found that this works well. This encourages camaraderie and bonding and creates an environment where trainees help and learn from each other. This also promotes peer mentoring among trainees.
    • Each trainee receives enough money for at least two trips a year and is required to take those two trips. One trip should be to a national (occasionally international) meeting to present their work (in almost all cases their work done while at UAB). The other trip should be for a continuing education course. The mentor and the program director must approve travel.
    • Each trainee is provided software and books as needed.
    • The OPE also has resources for which trainees can apply. NORC mentorees have been highly successful getting the OPE Career Development/Career Enhancement Award, which provides money for travel and training and prestige for the fellow’s CV.
  8. Are T32 trainees expected to take coursework, and is tuition covered by NORC?

    All trainees are required to take GRD 717, and the OPE covers the cost of this course. Beyond this, trainees are only required to take coursework if they decide with their mentor that it is needed. The goal of this T32 program is to train people to be independent obesity researchers throughout their career; therefore, the focus of the NORC T32 is on conducting research. Courses that are directly in line with research and career goals may be covered by the T32, but in general, the number of courses should be limited. Courses related to areas outside of research (e.g., teaching, curriculum development) will be addressed on a case-by-case basis by the program director.

    The T32 can cover 60% of the cost of any coursework. Mentors, with nonfederal funds, are supposed to cover the remaining 40%. Usually, such provisions are not pertinent as few fellows take courses beyond GRD 717. OPE pays for GRD 717 and will also pay for one additional course per year for each fellow.

  9. What is the length of appointment for NORC fellows?

    The NORC T32 commits at least 2 years of funding to each mentoree, and it is expected that mentorees will commit to staying in the program at least 2 years. Appointments proceed 1 year at a time. The letter of offer for all mentorees will state that the initial period of appointment is for 1 year and is renewable upon mutual agreement for a period of up to an additional 2 years. Approximately 6 months into the appointment, the director will have a conversation with the mentor and mentoree to ensure everything is going well and plans are in place to proceed to the second year.

    At the halfway point of the second year, the director will have another conversation with the mentor and mentoree to determine what will happen in the third year. Three outcomes are typical at this time point:

    • the mentoree has received and accepted a job offer and exits the T32,
    • the mentoree has received funding (either independently or through collaboration with the mentor) and will be staying at UAB but in another position or on funding other than the T32, or
    • the mentoree requests a third year on the T32.

    Funding for a third year will be considered if two expectations have been met:

    • performance during the 2 years is judged to have been strong by both the mentors and the program director and
    • there is reason to believe that a third year on fellowship will lead to the fellow achieving success as an independent investigator.

    For example, mentorees who had initial delays getting a clinical trial started but recently completed data collection and have multiple manuscripts in preparation or those who received a good score on an NIH K-award submission and need 1 additional year to resubmit might be examples of cases where a third year of funding will lead to success.

  10. What are the expectations of T32 mentorees?
    • Papers: As a general rule of thumb, trainees should aim for three papers submitted each year. These do not all have to be first-author, original-data papers. For example, one review paper; one first-author, original-data paper; and one middle-author, original-data paper would meet this goal.
    • Grants: Every postdoc is required to submit one grant application as a PI during his or her fellowship. The type of grant is negotiable between the program director, mentor, and mentoree. Fellows are connected to resources within the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences (CCTS) and OPE to learn grant writing skills. They are also expected to apprentice with mentors while the mentor is writing a grant.
    • NORC events: All trainees must attend the weekly NORC seminar and all NORC-sponsored workshops hosted throughout the year.

    In the first year of the program, mentorees should, at a minimum, follow the rules of NIH and UAB, interact appropriately with others, get along well with others, and show aptitude for research. This is a minimum standard of performance needed to move to the second year of the appointment and is assessed by the mentors and program director, including during the semi-annual evaluations.

    In the second year, mentorees are expected to show a higher level of performance. Performance in the second year is largely related to publishing papers based on work done at UAB and grant submissions, although other factors are also considered.

  11. How are trainees evaluated?

    Every fellow receives a formal evaluation every 6 months. All evaluations review publications, grant submissions, NORC event attendance and active participation, as well as collaboration and how well the fellow works with others.

    In one 6-month period, the whole team comes together: the fellow, the mentoring team, and the program directors. Each fellow is provided a summary sheet that addresses his or her publications, grants, camaraderie and appropriate interactions with others, etc. The fellow’s progress is reviewed as a group on the basis of this sheet. The alternating 6 months, the fellow and the mentor work on the evaluation. The fellow completes one form, and the mentor completes a corresponding form. The forms are sent to the program leadership, who review them, give feedback and advice as needed, and file the review.

  12. What are the NRSA payback requirements for the NORC T-32?

    The PHS 6031 Payback Agreement must be submitted for all postdoctoral trainees beginning
    their initial NRSA appointment. Fellows are required to “pay back” to the federal government their initial 12 months of NRSA postdoctoral support by engaging in health-related biomedical, behavioral and/or clinical research, research training, health-related teaching, or any combination of these activities. The second year of the T-32 appointment will pay back the first year of funding. For more information, see "Payback" under the National Research Service Award (NRSA).