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. 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 Program Plan 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 accomplish this in several ways. First, many of the mentoring teams have people on them who do clinical and translational research. Members of mentoring teams are 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, attendance at our NORC seminar series is required of all trainees (see section 3.c.7). As can be seen from the detailed listing of seminars at http://www.norc.uab.edu/courses/seminars, 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 necessitate that all investigators have some exposure to the ideas of clinical and translational research in their didactic training. Finally, Dr. Rogers takes responsibility for checking in with the mentoring teams periodically and is 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. Rogers, who specializes in such research, takes responsibility for constructing a plan to provide the mentoree with such exposure.
Didactic Curricula Training.
Trainees participating in the proposed program come from different departments across the university. Therefore, the first year of doctoral education is different according to the student’s individual program. To provide a baseline of knowledge pertinent to obesity and HLB disease, the educational training is based on three categories of courses: Required Non-Recurring, Required-Recurring, and Tailored-Dispersion Requirements (as shown in the Curriculum Development figure). Students take the Required Non-Recurring courses within the first two years in the T32 program (second or third year of doctoral program). The Required- Recurring course consists of a seminar, sponsored by the NORC, during the fall and spring semesters while the student is funded by the T32, and the course “Obesity in the 21st Century,” which covers the role of obesity in health, with a strong emphasis on HLB disease. The seminar exposes 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 788. We have added a new course to the required curriculum, Energetics: Scientific Foundations of Obesity and Other Health Aspects.” This course focuses more on ecological, evolutionary, metabolic, and public health as opposed to clinical aspects of obesity. A minimum of two Tailored-Dispersion Requirements courses outside of the student’s disciplinary domain is required during the 1st and 2nd year of the training program (2nd and 3rd year of doctoral studies), such that all trainees are exposed to the behavioral/social, quantitative, and biological/medical areas of obesity- and cardiovascular-related research. A description of the optional courses follows.
Career Development Workshops. Many aspects of a scientific career 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 usually co-sponsored with the School of Public Health, via Dr. Allison’s Associate Dean role. NORC mentorees, e.g., post-doctoral and pre-doctoral trainees, help plan the sessions as well as participate in them. Both UAB-based and national speakers are brought in to help conduct these workshops. are largely funded by the NORC and will continue to be. All mentorees will be required to attend these workshops as long as they do not conflict with scheduled classes. Mentorees 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 journal club tailored specifically for this program, which we call the “Walking” journal club, because its location, topic, and/or host rotate around the campus. The journal club is offered on the third Friday of each month (excluding summer), in a breakfast setting that starts at 7:30 a.m. Dr. Fernández serves as the organizer of this journal club in which assigned mentors lead the discussion of a journal article of their choice, providing an opportunity to expose mentorees to a diversity of topics that relate to HLB disease. Participation is required of all mentorees.
Seminars. As described in section 3.c.4, all mentorees are expected to attend the weekly NORC seminar series. This takes place from the beginning of September through the end of April in each academic year, with special seminars throughout the 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, mice, rats, monkeys, and humans. We have had lectures on topics ranging from molecular genetics, mathematical models, and clinical trials to public policy and developmental aspects. Our seminars are videotaped and placed on our website (http://www.norc.uab.edu/courses/seminars) for free viewing by anybody at any time. 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, and diabetes, and mentorees may participate in these at their respective mentors’ discretion.
Other Academic Activities. Many other activities, seminars, journal clubs, grant writing clubs, and soon are 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 may be as informal as participating in a journal club presentation in collaboration with their mentors. Thereafter, they will be expected to make one formal presentation per year, and UAB provides many such opportunities. Each year, all students have the opportunity to present their findings at “Graduate Student Research Day” and may also win awards. The annual retreat of the DNS, School of Public Health research day, Dr. Oparil’s hypertension program retreat, the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging annual meeting, the Department of Medicine Research Trainee Symposium, and the Comprehensive 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 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 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), though, 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 need not be done annually, but only once during their graduate training.
Written Materials. A series of materials is distributed to both mentors and mentorees regarding appropriate practices for mentoring in research and success. These materials 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 reinforce a successful training experience conducive to developing successful and responsible scientists. These materials are also important in training young collaborating mentors to become effective and successful mentors.