The BBS Program common curriculum includes courses that are essential for trainees to gain a full appreciation of a wide range of behavioral research approaches and obtain a sound biomedical grounding (described below).
In addition, trainees engage in supervised research with a program preceptor and complete other, elective courses and program activities tailored to their particular needs.
The BBS Program draws on the curriculum of the Biomedical, Psychology, and Public Health PhD Programs (see below) but its Common Core includes specific coursework, research training, and career development activities.
Behavioral Neuroscience Methods
The goal of the Behavioral Neuroscience Methods course is to provide trainees with the range of approaches and methods and strategies used to study behavior and its neural determinants, including that involving human or animal subjects as well as population-based analyses. This is an advanced course that relies on lectures by faculty to frame research topics combined with student presentations of key historical and current publications. This course is directed by a BBS preceptor and includes a number of other BBS preceptors as lecturers.
Each of the PhD Programs associated with the BBS Program require coursework in Biostatistics, which provides skills in applying statistical theory and principles to research in medicine, biology, public health, and related fields. BBS trainees pursue initial coursework through their PhD Program but have advanced coursework in all three Programs available to them. >/p>
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the ability to analyze and interpret large datasets is an essential skill for those carrying out complex behavioral research, which has led to the inclusion of Bioinformatics in the BBS Program. This provides foundational methodological tools for analyzing molecular and population genetics. In addition, the clinical informatics component provides tools for understanding factors that influence disease, its prognosis, and responsiveness to treatment.
While a normal didactic component of the Public Health PhD Program, Epidemiology is considered essential for all BBS trainees, since it provides a means for them to better understand public health relevance of behavioral research. It provides the basis to study the distribution and determinants of disease and injury in human populations, including assessment of risk and causative factors. Given the varied research interests of trainees in Biomedical, Psychology, and Public Health Programs, three choices of epidemiology are offered; these focus on comprehensive public health, pharmacoepidemiology related to health outcomes, and epidemiology of neuropsychiatric illness.
All BBS trainees take the scientific writing course, led by a BBS preceptor, as a requirement for their PhD Programs. This course, taught the summer between the first and second year focuses on manuscript and proposal writing.
Research Training Activities:
MOBB, Meeting of Behavioral and Biomedical Scientists
The MOBB has become the focal point of the BBS Program. This a monthly lunch meeting attended by BBS preceptors and trainees, as well as a large number of other interested students and postdoctoral fellows. It is a highly interactive journal club; typically two or three high impact papers involving behavioral research are discussed. In addition, at the MOBB, there are periodic, brief presentations by preceptors or aspiring preceptors that highlight research interests, approaches, and resources of labs and programs. The MOBB has evolved to a trainee-led event. Trainees supported by the T32, with the guidance of a BBS preceptor, organize the schedule, solicit faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students as presenters, and obtain feedback to ensure continuing relevance and quality. In addition to providing a venue to increase awareness and understanding of cutting-edge behavioral research, the MOBB provides three other benefits. First, it is an excellent pipeline for future trainees and preceptors; participation provides strong evidence of interest and commitment. Second, it provides an excellent sounding board for BBS participants to evaluate potential changes in the Program. Third, it helps develop leadership skills of the BBS trainees.
The BBS Seminar Program is comprised of two components. First, seminars that focus on behavioral research are scheduled by the Biomedical, Psychology, and Public Health Programs, as well as by Chestnut Ridge Center for Behavioral Health and the WVCTSI; these involve presentations by both WVU and outside faculty. BBS preceptors are on the organizing committees for each of these seminar programs, ensuring selection of speakers of interest to the T32 participants; in addition, for Chestnut Ridge Center (i.e., Grand Rounds), a BBS trainee also is on the selection committee. BBS Program participants are made aware of these seminars through the website and by email. Second, BBS preceptors and trainees are invited to nominate speakers for an annual BBS Keynote seminar. The most recent was Anantha Shekhar, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and CTSA Director, Indiana University School of Medicine. He discussed his translational research on anxiety disorders. The use of existing Program seminar series leverages the resources of the BBS Program and ensures that its preceptors and trainees interact with the Biomedical, Psychology, and Public Health Programs. The BBS Keynote seminar provides an opportunity to bring in a particularly relevant researcher and increases the profile of the BBS Program.
WIP meetings were established at the request of BBS trainees to provide a forum for discussing their research, even at its most preliminary stages, with other BBS trainees. The format that has been adopted is monthly meetings of the BBS trainees (i.e., both those currently appointed to the T32 and those still in a PhD Program but who have completed their two-year T32 appointment) and any lab members they choose to invite (e.g., fellow PhD students or postdoctoral fellows). One of the more junior BBS preceptors provides guidance for the WIP meetings, but encourages and emphasizes student leadership.
The goal of the Clinical Immersion experience is to increase trainee’s awareness and appreciation of the relevance of their behavioral research to human health, physiology, and disease and its treatment. This builds on the well organized Anxiety, Dementia, and Thought Disorders Clinics at Chestnut Ridge Center, which houses the in-patient and out-patient units for Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry. Trainees, based on their research interests, participate in one of the Clinics under the direction of a Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry resident. This involves attending clinical staff meeting, attending rounds, and discussing treatment plans. The Clinical Immersion is scheduled individually for each trainee during one month of each year of T32 support, with an average time commitment of 20 hours each month (i.e., approximately 40 hour time commitment during the two-year T32 support). Interested trainees can extend their Clinical Immersion with approval of their preceptor and the Steering Committee. At the end of each one-month Clinical Exposure, trainees present a Grand Rounds in Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry related to their clinical experience. The Clinical Immersion not only provides a means for trainees to better understand the health and disease relevance of their research, but it also enhances the ability of trainees, typically PhD students, to interact in a clinical setting. This will prove to be an important skill with the increasing focus on team science and translational research.
BBS Scholarship Program
This Program was conceived, developed, and implemented by BBS trainees. It provides a means for BBS trainees to develop the scientific and leadership skills required for peer review of grant applications and to involve participation in the BBS Program by students and fellows not directly appointed to the T32. $7,000 per year is allocated to this Scholarship Program. Twice yearly, students and postdoctoral fellows affiliated with the Biomedical, Psychology, and Public Health PhD Programs prepare short applications requesting funding (up to $1,000, but typically less) to enhance their ongoing research or research training. BBS trainees function as an NIH-style study section, write critiques, and score the applications. This information is advanced to the BBS Steering Committee to make funding decisions. There are two main benefits to this program. First, it exposes BBS trainees to the peer-review process in a real-world setting – their decisions have consequences for their colleagues. Second, it provides a benefit to and incentive for student participation in the BBS Program, beyond the small number that can be appointed to the T32.
Career Development Workshops:
To further develop the career skills of BBS trainees, a series of workshops are conducted by special mentors. These are one to three days in duration and occur at least biannually so that each trainee has the opportunity to participate.
Excellence in Teaching
Mark Pasternostro, a master educator, conducts two-day workshops annually to help students more effectively prepare and present lecture material.
Entrepreneurism and Technology Transfer
Mark Gurney and Frank Menniti, who hold adjunct appointments as professors at WVU, have each founded biotechnology companies and been successful in the NIH SBIR process. They conduct one-day workshops biannually on entrepreneurism, technology transfer, and commercialization.
Jacquelyn Campbell, Yasmin Hurd, and Irwin Lucki, External Advisory Committee members conduct a one-day workshop on issues relevant to scientific and career development; this coincides with their biannual visits to WVU. Topics include publishing in top journals, grantsmanship, time management, conflict resolution, mentoring, collaboration, and issues related to research ethics and responsible conduct of research. Other important topics include career opportunities in academics, industry, government labs, or research institute environments, with respect to performance expectations, salaries, research independence, and negotiating a position. In addition, BBS trainees are provided full access to career guidance activities sponsored by the student-led Graduate Student Organization and by the WVU Office of Student Life.
Ann Chester, who leads a statewide, NIH SEPA-funded research training program that involves extensive community engagement, conducts one-day workshops biannually. These focus on engaging community groups in research activities and on community-based participatory research.
The BBS Training Program is supported by NIGMS grant T32 GM081741.