Over the past 14 years we have developed a model for teaching grant writing and other research survival skills to postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty scholars and for improving clinical research mentoring (8
). Our course on writing grant applications utilizes a peer-review process modeled after a NIMH study section. By teaching grant-writing skills in a supportive peer environment, providing peer review of proposals, and sharpening expectations of mentors, it is possible to reduce the time between the end of the fellowship and the receipt of the first extramural grant.
In addition to issues in grant writing and research communication skills, this core seminar addresses other topics in professional socialization: research ethics, including potential conflicts between research and clinical priorities; procedures for obtaining human subjects assurances; development of collaborative relationships in a multidisciplinary medical setting; strategies for finding jobs; preparing a curriculum vitae; and dissemination of scientific findings to the public and practitioners. It serves a “process” function, by allowing the program directors to hear about and resolve potential problems and to monitor the general training experience in a proactive way. This approach also addresses one potential danger in training programs at the postdoctoral and junior-faculty levels, namely, isolation. An apprenticeship model encourages a rather exclusive focus on specialty concerns that sometimes neglects the broader sharing of experiences and learning. Moreover, there is evidence that a supportive mentor-trainee relationship can be important in helping students cope with the stresses inherent in training (9
). Training in the responsible conduct of research is integrated into the research survival skills practicum.
Clearly, the skills required to be successful as a clinician-researcher cannot be easily reduced to a standard curriculum. A mentor is essential to this process. Studies in biomedical and behavioral research and mental health and psychiatry, specifically, have demonstrated that individuals who become successful independent investigators are more likely to have had an extended mentoring experience. This is especially true for women and minorities. A critical component of the JFS program is oversight and availability of the program director and other senior faculty to identify mentorship problems at an early stage and work with trainees and mentors to resolve them.
There is a range of mentor-like roles that, at various points in time, are developmentally critical. The junior faculty observes a mentor as a role model conducting a research project, managing a lab meeting, negotiating with an institutional review board. Importantly, this type of learning also extends to observing how the mentor balances multiple roles at work and between work and home. Providing advice and guidance on individual goals and strategies and career pathways to achieve these goals is a core mentorship function. Oftentimes this will require getting quite specific help to delineate their personal objectives. Teaching specific research skills and techniques as well as the formal “rules of the game” in writing grants and getting published is also a key component of mentorship. The mentor is a critical facilitator of professional socialization, advancing the mentee's understanding of academic pathways and culture—both locally and nationally. Linking the mentee to a broader national network of investigators is an important task for the mentor. The mentor must also transmit explicitly and implicitly the essential values of science and the ethical conduct of research. Facing the pressures of academic imperatives, the values of young investigators can become distorted. The mentor must help the mentee reflect on his or her motives and values, often through direct discussion of how the mentor has been able to establish an ethical framework. Especially in the face of inevitable disappointment, the mentor will need to provide direct emotional support and nurturance. The mentor will also need to be an advocate for the mentee (e.g., sponsoring his or her academic advancement, helping the mentee to protect his or her time, linking him or her to potential funding sources). It is unlikely that a single individual can fulfill all of these functions. Ultimately, most successful scientists put together a pastiche of mentors and role models that fills their specific needs.
Assignment of Mentors
Mentor assignment is determined partly on the basis of the scholar's stated preference, appropriateness of fit in scientific interests and expertise, mentoring skills, and interpersonal chemistry. Interpersonal chemistry is most often, in our experience, what determines whether things work out. More specifically, many trainees need a very structured approach and high availability; some senior faculty travel a lot, are like moving targets, and may not tolerate the handholding that is sometimes needed. In our JFS program, during the 5-year period covered by this report on 22 scholars, we have had to change mentors on one occasion.
Pilot Research Awards
Junior faculty scholars receive pilot research support from various research centers in the department and from the JFS-funded pilot study program. For example, three scholars received support from the Mental Health Intervention Research Center (P30 MH30915), four scholars received support from the Intervention Research Center for Late-Life Mood Disorders (P30 MH52247), one scholar each received support from the Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders (P30 MH45156) and from the Treatment Effectiveness Studies in Women (WISE) Center (R24 MH53817). The award of pilot research support is competitive and follows peer review by the Seed Money Research Committee of the department of psychiatry.
JFS resources have allowed us to appoint a master'slevel statistician working under the supervision of faculty statisticians to assist the junior faculty scholars by providing statistical support.