Research training in the PCCM fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC takes place primarily over the latter 18-30 months of the program though the mentor and project selection process begins in the first year. Fellows are expected to develop a targeted research project in collaboration with his/her mentor, complete a grant writing workshop and submit an NRSA grant application, present research findings both locally and at national scientific meetings, and generate at least one first author manuscript. Building on early success, research fellows progress to further publication and submission of a mentored career development award (NIH K-series or equivalent). Throughout the process, fellows learn how to prepare and submit relevant regulatory documents including Institutional Review Board (IRB), Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and/or Investigational New Drug/Device (IND) applications. All research fellows complete courses in basic laboratory techniques and academic survival skills, as well as required training geared toward responsible conduct of research.
The Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine also offers a NEW four-year fellowship program specifically structured for training tomorrow’s physician leaders in the skills of translational research. Our division is committed to this endeavor because we believe that such bench-to-bedside research is essential if the many advances in molecular and cell biology are to be successfully applied to the treatment of human diseases. To learn more about this opportunity, click here.
Research Support Structure
Research in the Division spans the continuum of basic, translational, and clinical research across all disciplines of pulmonary and critical care medicine. More than $15M in federal grant support is distributed across ten centers and institutes across the Division provides diverse scientific opportunities for trainees. PACCM has close collaborations with the Division of Hematology and Oncology and the Department of Critical Care Medicine, which support research programs in lung cancer biology and critical care decision making and health services research respectively.
Training Grant Structure
Research training is supported by three Institutional (T32) Training Grants (Pulmonary Biology and Medicine, Pulmonary Vascular Biology, and Sleep Medicine) which provide up to three years of salary support for selected fellows. Fellows submit individual NRSA (F32) grant applications in the fall of the third year of training. In addition, funding for one research fellow is available through the Veterans Administration.
Mentor selection is a key to successful research training. At the University of Pittsburgh, we support fellows throughout the selection process to ensure that the fellow enters into the best environment to support his/her career and development goals. The selection process begins with a three day retreat in February of the first year where fellows briefly present themselves and their interests to the faculty, receive career advice from successful faculty at various career stages, learn about available project opportunities from viable mentors, and socialize with faculty outside of the work environment. Following the retreat, fellows meet individually with the program directors to discuss interests and schedule interviews with prospective mentors to begin to narrow down the best fit of both project and personality. Once the selection process is complete, each fellow works with his/her mentor to define a project and a plan which then is summarized in a one page proposal submitted to the program directors for approval in September of the second year.
Research in Progress
The primary conference venue for research fellows is the weekly Research in Progress which features two 20-25 minute presentations, allowing 5-10 minutes for questions and discussion. Beginning in the fall of the second year, fellows present their research two times each year in this venue, improving presentation skills and eliciting helpful feedback and comments from more senior researchers.
The format of the conference evolves over the course of the research training such that early on the presentation focuses on background, hypotheses, and study design. Presentations subsequently evolve to contain increasing amounts of data as the fellow gains experience and progresses with data collection. Ultimately, the final presentation at the end of the research training takes the form of a polished presentation where the fellow presents his/her publication quality results in the context of the field and outlines plans for future evolution of the project. Through this process the fellow gains experience with scientific presentation and strategies to handle difficult questions from an expert audience.
National or International Meetings
Fellows are expected to submit abstracts and present his/her work in national or international scientific venues. Fellows will present oral symposia or posters at the International Meeting of the American Thoracic Society beginning in May of the second year. In addition, fellows are encouraged to present research at the annual Pittsburgh International Lung Conference and the annual Department of Medicine Research Day. Support for additional meetings may be available on an individual basis at the mentor’s discretion.
A series of interactive seminar topics specifically designed as career development activities for physician-scientists. Topics include: ‘Publish or perish’ (understanding the journal editorial process); NIH peer review; mock study section; effective presentation skills; negotiating regulatory issues; interviewing and negotiating. The objective of the series is to expose beginning physician-scientists to the essential skills of academic life in an informal interactive environment.
Fundamentals of Bench Research (CLRES 2700: 2.0 credit(s))
An intensive two-week training program designed to teach fellows-in-training and future physician-scientists the core principles of scientific investigation. The course is organized such that fellows learn the theory behind common as well as new and innovative research techniques. Lectures are supplemented with daily hands-on laboratory experiences whereby participants acquire basic laboratory technical skills.
Fellows participate in a formal grant writing workshop to prepare for a range of career development awards through the NIH, VA, and AHA. Fellows meet monthly with a group of peers and senior faculty to discuss aspects of grant-writing strategy and to critique individual components of their own and their peers’ grant (e.g. specific aims, significance etc.). Experienced R01-funded faculty, many of whom serve on NIH study sections, guide the workshop. Exposure of the fellows to each other’s projects in a supportive and nurturing environment produces rapid acquisition of grant-writing skills and contributes to the high success rates of our fellows with career development awards.
Recognizing that research training does not end with the submission of a career development award at the end of fellowship, the Division conducts individualized workshops to facilitate the successful transition to independent R-level funding. Organized to precede junior faculty’s first R01 submissions, the function of these workshops is to provide input on shaping the aims of the study, assess the strength of preliminary data, strategize about targeting study sections, and reviewing the biosketch to ensure competitiveness at the R01 level. The workshop traditionally occurs at the beginning of the third year of K-award funding, is scheduled for at least two hours, and is attended by senior faculty with extensive study section experience. The detailed feedback and constructive criticism increases the competitiveness of grants when reviewed by NIH study sections.
Additional Training Opportunities
Formal educational programs are available to T32-sponsored fellows. The Institute for Clinical Research Education (http://www.icre.pitt.edu/) offers Certificate, Master, or Doctoral training in clinical or translational research. Elective curricula may be tailored to individual needs. Master level training in Epidemiology or Public Health is available through the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and business education is available through the University of Pittsburgh or neighboring Carnegie Mellon University.
Rotations at the NIH, FDA, and Industry
A unique aspect of our translational training is the incorporation of a full-time four week elective rotation at the FDA, intramural NIH Clinical Center Regulatory and Pharmacy Development Program, or in industry. This intensive exposure allows the trainee to develop the elemental and regulatory tools for translational research that are commonly not available in the traditional university academic setting.
Review and Evaluation
Throughout the research years, formal review of progress occurs at six-month intervals to ensure that the appropriate goals are being met. Assessments are made of knowledge base, research skills, presentation skills, achievement of milestones (abstracts, papers, grant applications, etc.), and the strength and adequacy of the mentoring environment. Providing a pathway for fellows to be stimulated and achieve success, the semi-annual reviews are conducted by the Division Chief, Fellowship Research Committee, and Mentors. Additional career planning consultation and strategizing takes place in this venue as the fellow further refines his/her career preferences.