The Research Career Development Institute for Psychiatry (CDI) was designed to provide skills and support for successful research careers in academic psychiatry. Through a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and Stanford University, we have conducted a series of annual research career development institutes with a broad-based group of promising junior physicians whose interests span the spectrum of clinical and intervention research. The program entails a multiday career development institute workshop, follow-up booster sessions, and annual assessment of the long-term value in research and career success.
The CDI is designed to improve and augment participants’ repertoire of academic research “survival skills,” providing continuing support in their transition to independent investigation, fostering shared learning experiences with other investigators at similar developmental stages, and establishing a network of junior investigators and senior mentors across the United States. The CDI emphasizes NIH career development (K series) award as a key vehicle for successful progression to independent clinical investigator, which is consistent with the recommendation of NIH Director’s Panel on Clinical Research (5
). A K award validates for the candidate, professional colleagues, and the funding agency that the recipient has made a significant commitment to life as a clinical researcher. In pragmatic terms, the current funding structure for initial K awards from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (i.e., 100% salary support up to a maximum of $90,000 and an annual research budget of $50,000 for 5 years) makes K awards more “secure” than an R01, in which levels of salary support are typically lower and an initial award is likely to be of shorter duration. Further, by requiring at least a 75% time commitment per year, the K award allows junior investigators to have the necessary protected time to develop their own research programs.
We annually recruit a new cohort of approximately 20 participants. Applicants to the program should have an M.D. and/or Ph.D. degree, be in the final year of a residency or advanced postdoctoral position, or be at the junior faculty level for fewer than 5 years. Participants are chosen based on their academic accomplishments and commitment to a research career in psychiatry, as reflected in peer-reviewed publications, applications for research funding, personal statements, and endorsements from a mentor. Diversity on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender, scientific interests across the spectrum of clinical and intervention research, geographic location, and institutional affiliation are also considered. Although the primary focus is on psychiatrists, with an emphasis on women and minorities, we also recruit promising psychologists.
We post announcements in the communication media of major psychiatric organizations (e.g., APA), subspecialty organizations relevant to research training (e.g., T32 research training program directors, directors of neuroscience and intervention and services research centers, NIMH program staff, ACNP membership), and minority organizations (e.g., Association of Black Psychiatrists). Most applicants have heard about the CDI from colleagues and past participants.
The CDI faculty and staff, who participate in the 4-day workshop, booster sessions, and long-distance mentoring, consist of experts in various fields of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and Stanford University and reflect the diversity for which we are aiming in the composition of participants. Faculty members are selected based on their recognition as outstanding mental health scientists in psychiatric subspecialties, neuroscience, and relevant disciplines; track record of successful mentoring; and being excellent role models.
The program commences with a 4-day workshop (agenda available from the authors on request), which alternates each year between the Northeast (University of Pittsburgh) and the West Coast (Stanford University), with key faculty from both departments participating. The didactic curriculum focuses on the skill sets necessary for interdisciplinary research, emphasizing current priorities related to translational research. Training in research ethics and responsible conduct of research is integrated into all aspects of the program. In addition to the core didactics, time is devoted to oral platform presentations with feedback from faculty, in which participants each give a 10–15 minute summary of their current research to small groups of faculty and fellow participants. The program also includes a mock grant review session, for which four to five participants submit a grant proposal ahead of time for review. The fourth day is devoted to research methodology and content lectures on cutting-edge research questions in translational research. Topics vary year to year and have included mediator/moderator analysis and clinical significance.
Before the workshop, we identify potential mentors for each participant from among the CDI faculty. We base the pairings on the participant’s input, career stage, research interests, and short- and long-term career goals. One-on-one consultations are then held throughout the 4-day workshop to focus on developing goals, reviewing the participant’s existing mentoring network, and identifying other potential long-distance expertise. Between the two host universities, approximately 200 full-time research faculty, from junior to senior to emeritus representing all psychiatric specialties, provide a very large pool of psychiatric researchers available to train, teach, coach, and mentor, and any of them potentially could become long-distance mentors.
To help maintain long-term mentoring relationships, we provide all CDI participants and faculty access to a web site that serves as the central communication vehicle to provide up-to-date administrative information, downloadable CDI course documents, and seminars on career development. The web site provides a secure virtual meeting place for live presentations, lectures, and discussions. The proceedings are posted in three formats: videotaped presentation, slides, and text transcription. In addition, over 25 CDI faculty members have been interviewed for 30 minutes each, from which we glean 2–3 minute snippets of wisdom on their key recommendations for developing and sustaining an academic research career.
We sustain the momentum of the initial CDI workshop with booster sessions attended by CDI alumni, key CDI faculty from the University of Pittsburgh and Stanford University, and NIMH program staff. Booster sessions are held annually in conjunction with ACNP meetings, with agreement of the ACNP Council. The ACNP meeting was chosen for the venue because the small size of the meeting directed specifically toward translational research facilitates networking and one-to-one consultation with a diverse group of mental health researchers, key CDI faculty, and NIMH staff. Although ACNP does not focus specifically on psychosocial, epidemiological, or health services research, all aspects of mental health research are represented by the ACNP membership and among the presentations. Given the interdisciplinary and translational nature of current mental health research, the meeting ensures that CDI participants are exposed to the most recent work in the basic neurosciences, which is important even for those whose research focus is on other areas of mental health research. In addition, that year’s CDI graduates are invited to attend the ACNP program as traveling fellows and to attend the ACNP meeting as well as special activities designed just for them. The goals of the annual booster session are to provide additional consultation and assistance to CDI participants in writing career development award applications (or other types of competitive applications), to give CDI participants an opportunity to deliver oral progress reports of their research and career development activities, to strengthen the networks of “distance” mentoring and peer support, and to participate in discussions of career development strategies. In addition, we hold informal sessions with CDI alumni at the New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit (NCDEU), APA, and other professional meetings to maintain face-to-face interactions and reinforce the mentoring relationships with CDI faculty.
The goals of the evaluation plan are both process- and outcome-oriented. Process evaluation, the results of which are reported here, occurs at the conclusion of each CDI workshop, when participants complete a self-report questionnaire assessing their satisfaction and recommendations for revisions to the didactic content, structure, and strategies of the workshop and provide open feedback in a group discussion.
Our outcome evaluation is designed to determine whether CDI alumni successfully launch and maintain their research careers in psychiatry. Prior to participation in the CDI and annually thereafter, we collect information about participants’ backgrounds and experiences through a self-report questionnaire and curriculum vitae to assess current academic appointments in university departments of psychiatry, portion of time devoted to research and career development, applications for research funding, research awards, number and venue of peer-reviewed publications, and honors, awards, and other recognition for research achievement. At the end of the project’s funding period (2010), we will have amassed up to 6 years’ worth of follow-up data, beginning with the participants of the 2004 CDI. Therefore, these results are not presented here.
We completed a qualitative analysis aimed at identifying important themes or recommendations from CDI participants to facilitate our understanding of aspects of the program that may be most useful or in need of modification. This information is employed to continually renew, update, and improve the overall curriculum and processes.