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NIMH TRAINING PROGRAM IN PSYCHIATRIC AND STATISTICAL GENETICS

OVERVIEW

The post-doctoral training program is intended to give young researchers the skills to become independent scientists or to provide established researchers with new areas of expertise to complement their existing skills. The primary areas of research training will be: i) quantitative/statistical genetics, ii) genetic epidemiology, iii), molecular genetics and iv) psychiatric genetics. We distinguish between primary mentors, who have primary responsibility for mentoring trainees and are established independent investigators as indicated by their independent research funding, and secondary mentors, who may be established or junior faculty in earlier stages of their research careers. Faculty and their main area of research and training are detailed in vipbgtrainingfaculty.pdf. Post-doctoral trainees will be admitted to the training program rather than to a specific area based on qualifications. They will then have an opportunity to choose and be advised on appropriate mentorship and research projects. They will be required to have more than one mentor (both of whom must be on this training grant).

CORE POSTDOCTORAL TRAINING

The primary focus of Post-doctoral training is the development of research skills. For the psychiatric and statistical genetics program there will be an emphasis on a broad exposure to psychiatric genetic methods together with detailed study in one or more areas that would lead to publications and grant proposals. All postdoctoral students occupy private offices at VIPBG. We have designed a 2 year training program for most postdoctoral trainees, although a third year may be required in some cases, given the highly specialized research skills that are needed and the diversity of academic disciplines from which our trainees are recruited. With a 2-year program, individuals must have submitted papers for publication and will be competing for academic and research positions, and submitting grants, after a single year of training. For those with limited or no experience in genetic epidemiology or psychiatric genetics at the start of their postdoctoral training, we anticipate that a 3-year program may be required.

The core of the post-doctoral training is supervised research under the mentorship of an experienced scientist. As post-doctoral trainees may have a variety of Ph.D. degrees (psychology, genetics, biology, mathematics), their directed research training may have to be supplemented by formal course work or directed reading. In consultation with their primary advisor, trainees will develop an individualized training program, tailored to their needs. The exceptionally rich academic environment and the wealth of funded research projects (see above) allows the trainees to pick a specific research project. Supervised training under the guidance of one or more preceptors will constitute the majority of the post-doctoral training (70-80%) and will prepare the trainee to develop the research skills and write the first-author publications that are needed to develop a reputation as an independent research scientist. In addition to the research activity and formal training, professional development of trainees is encouraged by activities outlined in the specialized curriculum. Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics

The primary emphasis in the program is on the application of quantitative methods to substantive psychiatric research questions. This includes detailed knowledge of the design and analysis of genetically informative studies of all types: twin, family, adoption and molecular genetic. There is also a tradition of simulation, which is used to test new models and methods to establish their credibility as analytic tools. Most students follow a quantitative/behavioral program, while others pursue issues in linkage and quantitative trait loci (QTL) methods and application. There is a trend towards more studies of the latter type both at VIPBG and nationally, and the training program is developing in the same direction. However, students are exposed to both areas and are expected to be adept in both. Training is through seminars, tutorials, selected readings, attendance at lectures in other departments. The program is specially designed for the student, in accordance with their interests and chosen specialties, by the preceptors, tutors, and the tutee themselves.

In addition to the exposure to the theory of statistical methods, there is strong emphasis on hands-on data analysis. Standard software packages used include SAS, Sudaan, Mx, LISREL/Prelis, GASP, Mendel, LINKAGE, Genehunter and Mapmaker/sibs; others are adopted as required. There is the possibility of a laboratory rotation in the VIPBG molecular genetics laboratory, to supplement the general introduction to the area provided by research seminars and courses in microbiology.

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CORE PREDOCTORAL TRAINING

The focus of the pre-doctoral training is obtaining a Ph.D. We anticipate accepting students that pursue degrees in Human Genetics, Psychology, Biostatistics or Integrative Life Sciences with a special emphasis on quantitative or psychiatric genetics. Given that the degrees will be obtained within the established programs in the Departments of Human Genetics, Psychology, Biostatistics or Integrative Life Sciences, graduate students entering this training program have to fulfill the requirements of their respective departments. Besides the core course work, elective courses, individualized teaching and directed reading will be determined in consultation with the Ph.D. advisor, who will be a VIPBG faculty member. In addition, graduate students will be encouraged to attend VIPBG and other seminars where appropriate. In each department, four to five years of full-time study are necessary to fulfill all the requirements. The majority of the course work will be taken during the first two years, to allow the students enough time to concentrate on their dissertation in the last two years. These latter years will be primarily spent at VIPBG, to provide ample interaction opportunity with the advisor, other VIPBG faculty and other pre- and post-doctoral trainees. In addition to the formal training, professional development of trainees is encouraged by activities outlined in the specialized curriculum.

Human Genetics The Department of Human and Molecular Genetics currently has 12 students enrolled in the graduate program. Students working toward the Ph.D. degree in Human Genetics pass through two stages of graduate study. The first stage consists primarily of course work recommended by the Department and the student's Graduate Committee; the second of original research leading to the doctoral dissertation. The course work of the doctoral program is intended to set the tone of a life-long research career by developing the student's knowledge of the field, and skills in writing, laboratory techniques, critical thinking, data interpretation, study design, literature research and review and integration of data from multiple disciplines. The focus then shifts to the student's development as an independent researcher with emphasis being placed upon the development and execution of an original research project leading to the doctoral dissertation. Each student is expected to complete the majority of his/her required course work within 3 semesters plus 1 summer session. The requirement is 36? credit hours (not to include research credit hours), 24 hours within the department and 12 hours outside it. This relatively light course load maximizes the available time for applied research, which is the main focus of the final years of the program.
Within the Human Genetics Ph.D. program there is a recognized Quantitative Track which is recommended for students with an interest in psychiatric or behavioral genetics. Students who elect to enter the quantitative/population genetics track are situated at VIPBG. The course of study requires taking two of three non-population/quantitative geneticscourses (clinical, biochemical-molecular, or cytogenetics). In addition, three advanced courses in population/quantitative genetics are required. Population/quantitative track students may waive the three credit hour Clinical Genetics Requirement, however all students must take the one credit hour Clinical Genetics Overview Course.

Psychology The Department of Psychology at VCU presently has over 150 graduate students enrolled. The Department offers five different tracks of graduate study: Clinical Psychology (APA accredited); Counseling Psychology (APA accredited); Developmental Psychology; Biopsychology; and Social Psychology. Of these programs, VIPBG faculty's previous experience has been primarily with the Clinical program, although we are willing to accept candidates from any of the tracks. The psychology program is empirically based and is centered on the theme that state-of-the-art etiological, explanatory, assessment, and treatment models for psychopathology should be broad enough to incorporate a wide range of biological, psychological, and sociological components, and therefore need to adopt a "biopsychosocial" perspective. This theme is consistent with both the clinical training in the Department of Psychology and the research and training at VIPBG. Psychology graduate students have a heavy course load (90+ credit hours), leaving less time than desired for directed research, especially during the first three years of the program. Clinical and counseling psychologists also have an internship requirement, although this could be partly satisfied by project-related clinical duties at VIPBG.

Biostatistics The Department of Biostatistics typically has 16 to 18 full-time students enrolled in its graduate program. The majority of these students are Ph.D. candidates. Course work requirements are less demanding (56+ hours for a doctorate) than for Psychology, though there are also consultancy requirements. Committed to excellence in biostatistical research and in its graduate program, the department also collaborates in biomedical research with other departments on the MCV campus. Its faculty are nationally recognized for their biostatistical work in the areas of clinical trials, pharmacology and toxicology. The department continues to emphasize scholarship and graduate education, and its graduates are in demand for jobs throughout the country in government, academia and the private sector.

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SPECIALIZED CURRICULUM

Post-doctoral fellows will participate in the specialized curriculum designed expressly for this training program.

Courses

  1. Scientific Integrity All trainees are required to attend the one credit-hour course MIC 510, taught by Dr. Macrina at VCU during the first Fall semester. Enrollment is limited but preference is given to NIH trainees. Topics include ethical scientific conduct, scientific fraud and misconduct, authorship and peer review, use of humans and animals in biomedical research, ownership of data, intellectual property, conflict of interest, scientific record keeping, academic honor codes, and the ethics of genetic technology. Sessions consist of formal presentation by the instructor followed by the discussion of student-led case studies. Group size for case discussion is limited to 15 students, and a faculty facilitator is always present in these sessions. As appropriate, trainees may supplement this education with courses on ethics taught in the Department of Philosophy and with selected readings (e.g., from Dr. Macrina's book Scientific Integrity: An Introductory Text with Cases).
    Ethical issues in Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics The goal of this course is to introduce trainees to general issues in human subjects research and how these apply to research in psychiatric and behavioral genetics. Lectures, readings and discussions are used. In addition to VIPBG faculty, speakers will include a representative from the VCU Office for Research Subject Protection, the administrator from the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry, and a member of the VCU IRB panel on psychosocial research. Course topics include: (i) ethical principles in human subjects research, as described in the Belmont Report and Common Rule, including IRBs, obtaining informed consent, confidentiality, and special considerations for DNA collection and obtaining information about family members; (ii) ethical, legal and social implications of genetic research, including history of the eugenics movement, use of large-scale registry information, cloning and gene therapy, commercialization of products from genetic research; (iii) issues concerning genetic testing and genetic counseling, including privacy and confidentiality of the results, fetal testing, testing for complex disorders with incomplete knowledge of mode of inheritance; and (iv) ethical issues specific to genetic studies of psychiatric and behavioral phenotypes, such as need for increased concerns about confidentiality and protection from discrimination and stigma, ethical issues surrounding testing for susceptibility genes for psychiatric disorders, genetic counseling applied to psychiatric disorders.
    Finally, Dr. Neale is a member of the council of the Federation Of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which is based in Washington D.C. A recent focus of the council has been IRB and other issues in the ethical conduct of science. The proximity of VIPBG to the Capitol provides another opportunity for students and faculty alike to attend meetings concerning responsible scientific conduct.
  2. Responsible Conduct of Research All trainees must complete the University's seminar and on-line examination on the conduct of human research.
  3. Electives Each trainee will supplement with additional electives offered both in the proposed training departments and in the university.
    Biostatistics training A wide variety of statistical and mathematical courses are offered in the Departments of Biostatistics, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Psychology. The large number of these courses, and their variety in level and content, present an excellent opportunity tailor the education of the trainees at a very fine level. Both trainees with strong and weak mathematics and statistics backgrounds will be able to further their education in an appropriate fashion.
    Psychology/Psychiatry training The Psychology Department teaches a large array of courses pertinent to psychiatric and statistical genetics. Choice of these will depend on the individual requirements of the postdoctoral trainee, who may have a strong or weak background in psychology and psychiatry. In addition, the courses can be chosen to best suit the substantive areas of inquiry the trainee has selected.
  4. Grant Writing Training All trainees may opt to take Dr. Tom Eissenberg's course (PSY 594, 2 credits) in grant writing. This course is a comprehensive grant writing course complete with critical faculty review and revision process. While this is an existing course, students are encouraged to write their grant in their area of psychiatric or statistical genetics. This course provides the elements and requires a mock application to NIH or an equivalent organization. Although only the mockapplication is required, most submit their grants, and at least one or two are funded each year.

Seminars

  1. VIPBG SeminarsA weekly seminar takes place on Thursdays, and is attended by faculty, postdoctoral and predoctoral students along with interested faculty and students from other departments. Different seminars are organized each semester; they are presently designated as formal or informal. Formal seminars usually concern an established piece of work that is due to be presented at a conference or an article to be submitted for publication. Sometimes they take the form of a journal club, with specific foci such as QTL analyses. Informal seminars describe work in progress and elicit greater audience participation in the form of suggestions for new directions for research or additional hypotheses, assumptions or models that might be tested or applied in the dataset. There is emphasis on communicating the mathematical and statistical aspects as clearly as possible, because of the diverse backgrounds from which the audience hails. This clear communication also encourages appropriate application by others.
  2. Informal Postdoctoral Seminars These include courses on statistical topics such as regression models, generalized linear models and mixed models, linkage analysis and advanced Mx applications. There is usually about 50% hands-on component to these seminars, so that trainees learn not just what the statistical methods do, but how exactly to apply them. Trainees usually experience a series of supervised readings, both current or especially pertinent articles and books, such as Likelihood (Edwards), Structural Equation Modeling (Bollen, Loehlin), Methodology for Genetic Studies of Twins and Families (Neale & Cardon), Human Molecular Genetics (Strachan & Reed) or Statistics in Human Genetics (Sham).
  3. Departmental Seminars The Departments of Human Genetics, Psychiatry (Psychiatric Grand Rounds), Psychology, Biostatistics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Microbiology, and Pharmacology and Toxicology run weekly research seminars, which VIPBG pre- and postdoctoral trainees are encouraged to attend. The Center for Advanced Research Methods and Analysis (CARMA) at VCU holds monthly colloquia and intensive one to two-day workshops. Dr. Neale is on the CARMA advisory board.
  4. Seminar Presentation Active participation by the trainees at the various seminar series is strongly encouraged, both as member of the audience, and as a presenter. There is often no better way to learn a subject than to have to teach or communicate it to others in a semi-formal setting. Seminars also allow trainees to rehearse talks prior to presentation at national or international meetings, gaining valuable advice on presentation style and contact, and improving their chances of giving high quality presentations at conferences.

Meetings

  1. Formal mentoring meetings All trainees must attend the weekly meetings with their primary mentor.
  2. Informal meetings with faculty Informal meetings will occur weekly or more often as necessary and will address specific research and educational issues with the candidate. We consider this to be a vital part of the mentoring process. The contiguity of space, with graduate and post-doctoral students embedded, has proven to enhance interactions among students and faculty from all disciplines.
  3. Formal weekly team project meetings Mentors have formal weekly or bi-weekly research meetings for their associated project that trainees are required to attend.
  4. Attendance and presentation at major scientific meetings (e.g. Behavior Genetics Association, International Society for Psychiatric Genetics, American Society for Human Genetics, American Psychological Society) and introduction to major researchers in their fields.
  5. Review and provision of feedback on first-author papers that trainees prepare for publication.

Additional Post-doctoral Specialized Curriculum

  1. Clinical Exposure Primary exposure to clinical psychiatry will be obtained through participation in walking and sitting rounds at MCV. The main focus will be in affective and psychotic disorders; the trainees will join the teams headed by Dr. Anand Pandurani (schizophrenia team) and Dr. Nazir Ghaemi (affective disorders team) to obtain first hand experience with both in- and out-patients. Exposure to chronic patients will be obtained through visits to the Central State Psychiatric Hospital, with which MCV has close ties. Trainees may also sit in on patient evaluation with preceptors Kendler and Hettema. However, this training will not include a significant portion of hours toward licensure for Psychology Ph.Ds. Apart from these experiences (about 4 hours per week?), more clinical exposure can be sought on their own time.
  2. Grant writing training Primary training will occur through active participation in all stages of the grant writing process with their preceptors and tutors. This implies involvement in all stages of the process of research grant development and submission, including discussion of research ideas, formulation of aims, literature review, grant writing, human subjects applications. Selected readings from the Grant Application Writer's Handbook (Reif-Lehrer) will be used to augment this experience. In addition, trainees will attend a formal one-day course taught at VCU, which explains the elements of writing successful proposals as well as all the administrative and signatory requirements of the university.
  3. Mock interview practice/research presentation Post-doctoral fellows may present their job talk as one of the seminars. This is an opportunity for fellows to get professional feedback on their research presentation for academic or non-academic positions.
  4. Teaching opportunities Post-docs will be provided with options to teach one course during their stay as appropriate in their respective area, and will also be asked to present research in progress.
  5. Involvement in consultations/ collaborations with other researchers.
  6. Assistance in the review of papers for journals Advisors will enlist trainees to provide ad-hoc reviews for journals.

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ADMISSIONS

Admissions Criteria All applicants must have American citizenship or immigrant alien status.

Application Materials All applicants must provide the following:

  • Official transcripts of all prior graduate work.
  • A statement of purpose for application to the program. The statement of purpose should cover the below issues in 2-5 pages:
    1. why the applicant wishes to have postdoctoral training at VIPBG
    2. background experience relevant to
    3. research interests and potential faculty mentors with whom the individual would want to work
    4. description of the applicant's career goals
  • Three current letters of recommendation
How to Apply Inquiries should be addressed to
Dr. Michael Neale, Director, NIMH Training Program
Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics
Box 980126
Richmond VA 23298-0126 USA
Email:
neale@vcu.edu

For additional information or questions, please contact Helen Whitlock (804-828-8150).

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FUNDING

Funding includes health insurance, and a stipend. Current NIH stipend levels can be found here. Graduate student stipends for the NIMH training program generally meet or exceed NIH levels.

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