The Endocrine Fellowship program at the University of Virginia includes a mandatory research component that focuses on the performance of a basic or clinical research project under the guidance of a clinical or basic science faculty mentor. The goals of our research training curriculum are (a) to provide all fellows with a solid understanding of the breadth and depth of endocrine research that drives the development of new and improved clinical treatments and (b) to prepare the interested fellow for a career in academic medicine that combines clinical activity and research. Importantly, a firm grounding in the fundamentals of endocrine research will be useful to the future clinician, educator, and investigator alike. To complement and enhance the research experience and to further the fellows’ career development, we have established a mentoring program and have added other research-related activities (see below).
Mentoring of Fellows
Each fellow is assigned two faculty advisors upon entry into the program, with at least one of these advisors being a clinician and at least one being a researcher (MD, MD/PhD, or PhD). The incoming fellow will meet with her/his two advisors within the first two weeks of fellowship training. The advisors will begin to help fellows choose a research mentor and a research area that fits their interests. Thereafter, the advisors will meet with the fellows as needed, but at least twice a year throughout the fellowship. These two faculty advisors will, together with the fellow's research mentor, provide ongoing training guidance, discuss/formulate goals and future plans, and be a resource for problem solving as needed. In addition to the faculty advisors and the research mentor, the program director (Dr. McCartney) also serves as a career advisor to all of the fellows. Thus, the fellow has rich mentorship throughout her/his fellowship training.
A major portion of the fellow’s time in the second and third years of training is dedicated to an endocrine- or metabolism-related research project (clinical or basic) under the guidance of her/his research mentor. The fellows are expected to choose a research mentor and research area by October of their first year. Many of our fellows have not trained at The University of Virginia for either medical school or their residencies. With that in mind, at the outset of the first year of fellowship, we provide all fellows with exposure to potential research mentors. Specifically, the faculty mentors will present a brief outline of their ongoing research (clinical or basic) to the fellows in the setting of Fellows’ Introduction to Research (FIRE) meetings. These FIRE meetings will be held in July and August of the first year. If a particular research area/mentor sparks the interest of a fellow, she/he will schedule a meeting with the respective faculty member to discuss possible research projects in more detail. Once the fellow has chosen the research mentor, and thus the research area, the fellow is strongly encouraged (a) to attend the research mentor’s group meetings whenever possible and (b) to start sketching out a specific research project. This allows the fellow to prepare for the submission of individual fellowship applications at the beginning of the second year of training.
Occasional fellows choose to complete a two-year, more clinically oriented fellowship. Such fellows still engage in an academic research project, albeit on a smaller scale, with the ultimate aim being presentation at a research conference.
Research Fellowship Applications
The fellows’ research in the second year of training is typically supported by institutional training grants from the NIH. Fellows are expected to submit applications for individual grant support (most commonly an NIH F32 NRSA application) at the beginning of year two. The process of designing a research plan and submitting an individual fellowship application constitutes an important learning experience for fellows. It is also an important step for those fellows planning to pursue an academic career that includes future submission of larger grant applications. To facilitate timely and successful fellowship grant applications, fellows are given some time to work on their research project during their first year, and clinical activities are markedly reduced beginning in May of their first year. This will provide fellows with ample time to collect preliminary data, formulate research plans, and construct a grant application. The fellow's research mentor will be intimately involved with this process. To support the grant writing process, the fellows present the “Specific Aims” of their research plan in a “Research in Progress” (RIP) discussion session in May or June of their first year. These RIP sessions are attended by faculty and fellows from the division in addition to others from the University community with interests in endocrine and metabolic research. We have found that this forum provides the fellow with valuable feedback from a group of experienced researchers.
Failure to secure individual funding will neither alter the training curriculum or research experience for a fellow; and in the absence of individual grant funding, the fellow's support will continue to come from institutional training grants and the division.
Fellows completing a two-year, more clinically oriented fellowship are not expected to submit applications for individual grant support at the beginning of year two.
Other Research-Related Activities
- Research in Progress (RIP) seminars: RIP sessions are held weekly and are given and attended by faculty, fellows, and graduate students pursuing research in endocrinology and metabolism. Recent and currently ongoing research is presented in an informal setting in which discussions are highly encouraged. This forum is a great opportunity for the fellows to learn about ongoing research at the University of Virginia and to practice presenting their own research. Each fellow is expected to present progress in her/his research project once a year, typically as part of the RIP seminar series.
- Research-Related Fellow Lectures: The fellowship didactic lecture series includes lectures on fellowship and early career grant applications, writing and presenting abstracts, writing research papers, and presenting research talks.
- Journal Clubs: Journal clubs for the fellows are held once a month and are organized by the fellows. For each meeting, assigned fellows choose articles of interest, including clinical and basic science manuscripts, and present them to their peers. Faculty members with expertise in the selected topic are asked by the presenting fellow to guide them during their preparation, and the faculty members routinely participate in the journal club discussions.