Research Track

History and Philosophy of the Research Track

Since 1983, the Department of Psychiatry has offered the Research Track for psychiatry residents interested in academic careers based in basic science and clinical mental health research. The Research Track is specifically designed to prepare psychiatry residents for research careers while ensuring clinical excellence. Instead of postponing research training until a fellowship, the resident in the Research Track spends progressively more time in research activities over the course of the program, while continuing clinical training. Thus, this program integrates clinical training with programmed research experience within the context of an expanded residency program, in essence a true “translational” training opportunity.

Cores of the research experience are the formulation of specific research and educational goals and a formalized relationship with a research mentor. The expected clinical knowledge base, accumulated clinical skills and clinical requirements are the same as for the general residency program. Residents can enter either a 4-year program, designed for those with prior research experience, typically an MD/PhD degree, or a 5- year program, which extends the training and provides more research time. In either case, graduates of the program are exceptionally well positioned to transition smoothly into research-based academic positions, to compete effectively for research grants and to produce original research of the highest caliber.

Research time can begin as early as the second year of training (PGY-2).   The 4-year program permits 1 year of research time, largely distributed over the PGY-3 and PGY-4 years. The 5-year program permits 18 months of research time, mostly distributed over the PGY-3, PGY-4 and PGY-5 years.  Flexibility in the research and clinical times allows residents to design individualized schedules. Research time may be taken as a full-time block in specific months chosen by the resident, or more typically it is scheduled part-time throughout the year. What distinguished this program from a traditional fellowship is that it is an integrated experience. Part-time clinical training is interspersed with a part-time research effort, and it occurs throughout residency training. A significant advantage of the Research Track is the participation in research during the residency period. Typically, even the most well-trained, motivated psychiatry residents do not have any protected time for research until their fourth year of residency training. Counting the third and fourth years of medical school, this means an absence from significant research activities for up to five years. As presently designed, the Research Track reduces this period away from the research environment. Thus, while the Research Track is designed with a lower percentage of research time per year than is required for a typical post-residency training program, individuals entering a traditional fellowship at completion of their residency training have spent a significant amount of their time away from the laboratory.

Research Track residents select a seasoned research mentor. The mentor has primary responsibility for guiding them through the training process, in addition to annual reviews of their work and research plans by the Research Track Executive Committee. Research projects may be basic or clinical, and involve any aspect of psychiatry. Research Track residents may work with anyone with an ongoing, active research program on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry or the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI) at the University of Michigan. Under special circumstances, a resident may work with a mentor who is outside the Department of Psychiatry and MBNI.

 

Research Settings

Research training opportunities in both clinical and basic science related to mental health abound within the Department of Psychiatry and MBNI. Throughout the history of the Research Track, trainees have been nearly evenly divided between those electing clinical research training and those opting for training in basic science, with several residents successfully integrating training in both domains.

The Department of Psychiatry, is a large department (ninety faculty members) with strong financial support. It is currently funded through the academic budget of the University of Michigan. Its major teaching mission is to educate medical students and residents in psychiatry; psychology interns and postdoctoral trainees. In addition, students in a number of other disciplines also receive clinical experience in the Department. The Department of Psychiatry has enjoyed excellent growth in multiple areas of biological psychiatry research and clinical practice under Dr. Greden's leadership. Well integrated research teams focus on affective disorders, anxiety and panic disorders, schizophrenia, child psychiatry, alcohol and drug abuse, and outcomes/health service research, all of which are well funded. Across-diagnosis programs in imaging and genetics are particular strengths of the Department.

The Mental Health Research Institute (now Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute) was founded in 1955 as a basic science research component of the Department of Psychiatry. There are twenty faculty investigators whose research explores neurobiology, clinical biological psychiatry, molecular biology, brain imaging, and sensory and cognitive psychology.

Educational Program

The Research Track is a residency in psychiatry (with the additional option of training in child psychiatry) combined with approximately three years of half time (50% effort) research training. The program strives to be an integrated training sequence of both clinical and research training, and importantly, exposes Research Track residents to research early in their training rather than postponing it to a post residency fellowship. For trainees with substantial research experience, this is an opportunity to continue their research, learn new techniques and skills, and perhaps refocus their research career on a psychiatric problem. At the conclusion of training, the trainee is well positioned to begin an academic career. Trainees typically enroll in the Research Track with an interest in and modest previous exposure to research training. In these cases, the Research Track provides in-depth exposure to research relevant to psychiatry, and has as a goal the nurturing of selected interested individuals and providing the encouragement, structure and resources necessary to begin an academic, research-focused career.

Candidates for the Research Track are selected based on competitive application to the program. Some residents have selected the University of Michigan for their residency in psychiatry exclusively because of this innovative program. Applicants may apply at any time, with appointments typically beginning on July 1 to coincide with the calendar of residency training programs.

The primary research training associated with the Research Track is a mentored relationship with a senior investigator. Approximately half of all past and current Research Track residents have elected to pursue clinical research training, while the other half have focused on more laboratory-based work with a strong clinical relevance. Several trainees have designed projects that have involved both clinical research and relevant laboratory studies. No formal effort is made to pair trainees with mentors: this is left to individuals to determine for themselves. Nonetheless, the Director of the Research Track, members of the Executive Committee and senior faculty members in the department are all available for consultation and guidance, and actively point the prospective applicant toward potential mentors.

The resident works approximately half time on the research component of the training program over a period of slightly longer than three years. The arrangement has been approved by the nation’s Residency Review Committee (RRC). Research time typically begins with two months in the second year of training (PGY-2), followed by incremental research time increases over the following years:

Didactic Instruction

Beyond the mentored research experience, there are several other organized didactic experiences offered as part of the Research Track curriculum.

1. Research Track Core Series: The Research Track Core Series is a weekly session designed specifically for research-oriented residents. Attendance is required of Research Track trainees. This Series consists of formal didactic lectures that focus on research topics, including research design and methodology, statistics, ethical conduct of research and scientific topics selected by the residents.

Additional sessions revolve around selected faculty members; rather than give a formal lecture on their research, however, they are asked to focus on one of two specific areas. One group of faculty speakers is asked to discuss how their career developed, what it is like to be an academic psychiatrist, obstacles faced in the conduct of their research and career, and additional activities that are part of an academic career (what is it like to edit a journal, write a book, be a chairman of the department or other administrator, etc.).

A second group of faculty is invited to address more specific research issues, but are instructed not to give a standard data-filled talk, but are rather encouraged to select a problem and share the thought process that went into defining the question, posing the hypothesis, how the problem was addressed, and obstacles and detours along the way.

A third set of sessions is reserved for a more traditional journal club, led each session by one of the Research Track residents; residents are particularly encouraged to use their own papers for these sessions. A final set of these sessions revolve around the practical aspects of an academic, research-focused career, and include hands-on material such as how to prepare for and give an effective talk. This aspect of the Series culminates at the end of each academic year, when each Research Track resident presents a formal talk about their research progress for the year. In addition to the regular participants in the Series, the research mentors, interested faculty and other residents attend these presentations.

2. Annual Research Track Resident Retreat: Research Track residents attend an annual two day, one night retreat. Each retreat is organized around thematic sessions, each led by a different faculty member and featuring an invited speaker from outside the University of Michigan. The goals of the retreat are to provide an intense, focused educational experience, which otherwise would not be possible in a one hour didactic lecture format, and to promote camaraderie between Research Track residents and successful academic faculty. For example, a recent retreat was based on a National Institute of Mental Health study section format. Research Track residents are given two grant proposals to review prior to the retreat. The first session is a roundtable discussion on aspects of grant review. In the next session, residents present the grants they reviewed for consideration for mock funding. Led by a faculty member with experience participating on study sections, this provides invaluable experience and insight for Research Track residents as they transition into positions that require extramural funding. Following this session, faculty reviews of the same grant are distributed for comparison and discussion.

3. Department of Psychiatry Educational Activities: Research Track residents are expected to attend Department of Psychiatry educational activities. At least once during the course of training, residents are expected to participate in Psychiatry Grand Rounds, at which they present their work.

4. University of Michigan Postdoctoral Research Training Course: As noted above, about half of Research Track residents pursue clinical research training, but the other half typically have a strong interest in basic science training as it relates to psychiatry. While some Research Track residents have entered the track with a Ph.D. and strong laboratory skills, for others, after four years of medical school, they may not have the laboratory skills or the knowledge needed to permit them to make the most of their combined residency-research training. Accordingly, there is an elective option for those Research Track residents with a strong interest in basic science training. This option is an annual basic science training laboratory course, designed specifically for physicians. This is a unique course offered at the University of Michigan. It is taught over twelve weeks requiring ten hours per day, five days a week. Each week has a separate focus and different type of laboratory experience. The main goal of the course is to teach physicians how to think about scientific problems and, to a degree, solve them. For the M.D. with a strong interest in science, it is an excellent way to enhance their training to be a clinician-investigator. The course focuses on biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology. It is taught by ten of the most successful (and well-funded) faculty in the University of Michigan Medical School (several of whom are from MBNI). Each department in the Medical School is permitted to nominate one participant per year (in order to keep the class size small). Over the past five years, the Department of Psychiatry has sponsored four Research Track residents and fellows in this course, and it has been enthusiastically endorsed by participants from the Department.

Selection of Participants for the Research Track

Entry into the Research Track is limited to individuals that are also (or will be) a resident in psychiatry (or a child psychiatry fellow), and accordingly must have an M.D. or D.O. degree. Applications are considered at any time of the year, but applications are typically received in the winter or early spring, reviewed during the spring, with appointments effective 7/1, to coincide with the residency academic year. Historically, the number of Research Track residents has been limited to two per training year. Acceptance to the track is based on approval of a project proposal and the faculty mentor by the Research Track Executive Committee.

Application materials include:

  1. the proposed research project, with specific objectives and description of the means by which they will be reached;
  2. identification of a mentor or several mentors, with letters of support from the proposed mentor;
  3. additional documentation that support for the project (although not the trainee’s stipend) is available;
  4. a career development plan that integrates the research plan, but also provides information of the larger plan for becoming a clinician-investigator;
  5. any additional plans that are accordingly proposed during the training period, such as professional visits to other academic settings.

Once accepted into the Research Track, residents are reviewed annually.

 

Contact

For more information about the Research Track and other research training opportunities in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, contact the Director of this program:

Michael Jibson, M.D., Ph.D.
mdjibson@med.umich.edu