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Obligations of the Training Program

The Research Experience.

Apprenticeship with The Mentoring Team. As described above, it is the mentoring team's responsibility to provide the trainee with an active engaged research experience. Specifically, mentorees will be incorporated into the ongoing research programs of their mentors which are described in sections 3.b.3 through 3.b.5. This apprenticeship mode allows early trainees to begin getting their feet wet with research immediately. As they progress through the program, trainees are expected to be given more and more independence, to generate their own ideas, and to begin pursuing projects and publishing papers that stem from those ideas in collaboration with the members of their mentoring team and, as appropriate, other trainees and investigators. Trainees are expected to spend a minimum of 40 hours per week at UAB engaging in their work. Their obligations for classroom activities, journal clubs, meetings, and workshops must first be met and remaining work time is expected to be spent working on their research projects. It is expected that the number of hours working on the research projects after the first year in the program will exceed 20 hours per week and should not be much less than 20 hours per week even in the first year.

Ensuring Clinical and Translational Exposure. Increasingly and appropriately there is recognition in biomedical research that steps need to be taken to ensure that investigators receive training in translational research and that we must facilitate translational and clinical research. With this in mind, we want all of our trainees to have some exposure to clinical and/or translational research. We will accomplish this in several ways. First, many of the mentoring teams will have people on them who do clinical and translational research. Members of mentoring teams will be regularly reminded that they should give each mentoree some exposure to clinical or translational research. This exposure can be as extensive as spearheading a project in clinical or translational research or can involve more of a light sampling such as having a minor role as a member of an investigative team for a project, or even joining discussions in a regular lab meeting or discussion group run by one of the program mentors that involves clinical or translational research. Second, our NORC seminar series is required of all trainees on this program (see section 3.c.4). As can be seen from the detailed listing of seminars in Appendix E, we regularly include sessions from top clinical and translational investigators around the world. Thus, even mentorees who are primarily focusing on basic science will still have some exposure to clinical and translational science. Third, our dispersion requirements for the curriculum (see section 3.c.4) will require that all investigators have some exposure to the ideas of clinical and translational research in their didactic training. Finally, Dr. Ard will take responsibility for checking in with the mentoring teams periodically and will be involved in the six month reviews for each mentoree. In the event that a mentoring team is struggling to provide a mentoree with exposure to clinical and translational research, Dr. Ard, who specializes in such research, will take responsibility for constructing a plan to provide the mentoree with such exposure.

Didactic Curricula Training. Trainees participating in the proposed program will come from different departments across the University. Therefore, the first year of doctoral education will be different according to the student’s individual program.   To provide a baseline of knowledge pertinent to obesity and HLB DISEASE, the educational training will be based on three categories of courses: Required Non-Recurring, Required-Recurring, and Tailored-Dispersion Requirements (as shown the figure on next page). The Required Non-Recurring courses will be taken by each trainee during their first year in the T32 program (2nd year of doctoral program). The Required-Recurring course will consist of a seminar, sponsored by the NORC, during the Fall and Spring semesters while the student is funded by the T32. This seminar will expose students to the latest work of nationally and internationally recognized leaders in the field of nutrition and obesity every week. The seminar is available to students for one credit per semester through the course NTR 790 (see section 3.c.7 for more details on seminar). A minimum of two Tailored-Dispersion Requirements courses outside of the student’s disciplinary domain will be required during the first and second year of the training program (second and third year of doctoral studies). These Tailored-Dispersion Requirements courses have been designed such that all trainees are exposed to the behavioral/social, quantitative and biological/medical areas to obesity and cardiovascular-related research. A description of the optional courses follows.


SOC 788 Social Medicine (Socio-environmental factors in etiology of disease; social movements and health policy; medical ethics and broad ethical issues; place of social science in medical care)

PSY 720 Human Neuropsychology (Structure and function of human brain; human behavior; cognitive functions and personality functions; brain-behavior relationships following neurological impairment)


BST 611/612. Statistical Analysis I & II.(An introduction to basic analysis methods, elementary concepts, statistical models and applications of probability, commonly used sampling distributions, parametric and non-parametric one and two sample tests, confidence intervals, applications of analysis of two-way contingency table data, linear regression, simple analysis of variance and simple and multiple regression).

EPI610 Principles of Epidemiologic Research. (Introduction of the theoretical basis underlying key aspects of the design, analysis, interpretation and statistical material to conduct epidemiologic studies).


NTR 750 Body Composition and Energy Metabolism (Methods of measurement of body composition and energy expenditure and their relationship to health and disease.)

EPI612 Nutritional Epidemiology (Nutritional epidemiology will cover core concepts in human nutrition including nutrient classification, nutrient sources, nutritional deficiencies, nutritional excesses, recommended daily allowances, basic anthropometry, dietary assessment methods in free-living populations, validation of dietary assessment methods, identification of biomarkers of dietary intake, study designs used in nutritional epidemiology, issues in the analysis and presentation of dietary data, diet-disease associations, gene-diet associations and special topics in nutrition (e.g., folic acid and neural tube defects, fatty acids and the metabolic syndrome, diet and obesity, vitamin A and immune function, vitamins and mother-to-child transmission of HIV, etc.)

GGS792 Epigenetics. (This course will address the basic principles of epigenetics and its involvement in many different biological/pathological processes. Topics include imprinting, X-inactivation, epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation, and cancer epigenetics.)

3.c.5. Career Development Workshops. There are many aspects to a scientific career that are not covered in traditional graduate training. These include such things as balancing work and family life, presenting one's research in the media, going on a job interview, negotiating in academia, rising up in academic leadership, managing time to ensure productivity, and many other topics. In recognition of this, the NORC co-sponsors a series of workshops each year. These are co-sponsored with the Section on Statistical Genetics, also led by Dr. Allison. NORC mentorees, e.g. post-doctoral and pre-doctoral trainees, are involved in helping to plan the sessions as well as in participating in them. Both UAB-based and national speakers are brought in to help conduct these workshops. Examples of the workshops that we have had last year and are planning for this year are contained in Appendix F. These are largely funded by the NORC and we will continue to do so (see pledge in letter from Dr. Allison as NORC director included with this application). All mentorees will be required to attend these workshops as long as they do not conflict with scheduled classes. Mentorees usually report that they find these both valuable and enjoyable.

A ‘Walking’ Journal Club Tailored To This Program. We have many existing journal clubs in which our mentorees may participate. These include a hypertension journal club led by Dr. Suzanne Oparil, a statistical genetics journal club in the Section on Statistical Genetics, and a journal club on physiology and metabolism conducted in the DNS. Mentorees may choose to participate in any of those journal clubs at their discretion. However, to promote a sense of camaraderie among the mentorees and mentors in this program and also to enhance the interdisciplinarity, we have developed a new journal club tailored specifically for this program which we are calling the "Walking" journal club, because its location and host will rotate around the campus. The journal club will be offered once per month for 90 minutes. Dr. Fernández will serve as the organizer of this journal club. Monthly hosting will be rotated among the mentors. Thus, for example, the first journal club might be led by Dr. Bisakha Sen who would review an article on economic influences on obesity and offer mentorees the benefit of her expertise. The next month, the journal club might take place in the Kaul Genetics building and led by Dr. Robert Kesterson who might choose an article involving the use of transgenic technologies in obesity research. Importantly, this will be a journal club and not a seminar. Mentorees will participate in lively discussions of the articles considered. Participation will be required of all mentorees in this program.

Seminars. As described in section 3.C.4., all mentorees on this program are expected to attend the weekly NORC seminar series. This takes place from the beginning of September through the end of May in each academic year. A truly outstanding cast of internationally recognized speakers provides state of the art lectures on topics related to obesity and other aspects of nutrition from virtually every perspective. We have had speakers discuss research with yeast, c. elegens, drosophila, zebra fish, mouse, rat, monkey, and human. We have had lectures ranging from molecular genetics through mathematical models through clinical trials through public policy through developmental aspects. The list of our seminars in the last two years is included in Appendix E. Our seminars are videotaped and placed on our website ( for free viewing by anybody at anytime. In this manner, mentorees who need to miss a lecture or did not catch something in a lecture can go back at their convenience and review the lecture via video. There are many other seminars given throughout the University on closely related topics such as hypertension, CVD, epidemiology, diabetes, and mentorees may participate in these at their respective mentors’ discretion.

Other Academic Activities. There are many other activities, seminars, journal clubs, grant writing clubs, and so on available in which mentorees may participate at their discretion. In particular, the graduate school organizes regular workshops and seminars covering many aspects of scientific careers including grant writing and job interviewing, specifically geared toward graduate students.

Training in Scientific Presentations. All trainees are expected to make at least one presentation per year. In their first year of training this can be as informal as participating in a journal club presentation in collaboration with their mentor. Thereafter they will be expected to make one formal presentation per year. At UAB, there are many opportunities to do so. Each year all students have the opportunity to present their findings at "Graduate Student Research Day" and also have the opportunity to win awards in such programs. The annual retreat of the DNS, School of Public Health research day, Dr. Oparil's hypertension program retreat, the Aging Center's annual meeting, and the Cancer Center's annual meeting all provide additional venues for students to present posters or talks at UAB and to compete in awards programs. Finally, after their first year of training in the program each mentoree will be expected to attend a national scientific conference at least once per year and make a presentation. Examples of conferences at which they may present include, but are not limited to the American Heart Association, the Obesity Society, Experimental Biology, and the Society for Clinical Research.

Training in Grant Writing. As described above, mentorees will get some exposure to grant writing techniques through workshops held by the Graduate School and by our program in particular. Additionally, each mentoree is expected to have some involvement in grant writing during their time at UAB. Because of differences in career progression, talents, and interests, we do not demand that each mentoree submit a full NIH grant proposal. Many do (e.g., F31s or F32s) and we highly encourage that. However, working with one's mentor to help prepare a grant application on which the mentor is the PI is considered an acceptable apprenticeship at this level as is submitting a small grant specifically for graduate students to an academic society such as the Obesity Society or Sigma Xi. This does not need to be done annually, but only once during their graduate training.

Written Materials. A series of materials will be distributed to both mentors and mentorees regarding appropriate practices for mentoring in research and success. These materials, presented in Appendix D of this application, have been selected to educate both mentors and mentorees about effective strategies in developing a better relationship, to educate about appropriate and ethical conduct in science, to impart values about diversity of research and research populations, and to provide materials to reinforce a successful training experience conducive to the developing successful and responsible scientists. These materials are also important in training young collaborating mentors to become effective and successful mentors. Funding for these materials is pledged by the NORC in the event that insufficient funds are available through this T32 (see letter from Dr. Allison included in this application).