The METP is a combined pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training program that began in 1988 and is now in its 34th year of NIDDK funding. The METP was directed by Dr. Daryl Granner from 1988-2004 and has been directed by Dr. Richard O’Brien since 2004.
The METP has a highly successful record in achieving its stated goal, namely the training of individuals for careers in molecular endocrinology-related research:
Of the 146 pre-doctoral trainees that have been supported by the METP over the duration of the program, 22 are still in pre-doctoral training. Of the remaining 124 individuals, 96 graduated with a Ph.D., 15 graduated with a Master’s degree, 10 left with no degree and 3 received supplemental support from the NIDDK Medical Student Research Training (MSRT) program during their training as M.D.s. Of those who graduated with a Ph.D. degree, 35/96 are pursuing careers that primarily involve bench research and 10/96 are in careers involving research administration. Some of our predoctoral trainees make significant contributions in other science-related fields, such science writing (5/96), or as faculty in University science departments with a primary focus on teaching rather than research (10/96), or as high school science teachers (5/96) or M.D.s in clinical medicine (7/96) and 12 have moved onto post-doctoral training. 7/96 of these individuals now have careers in business and for 5/96 individuals their whereabouts are unknown.
The career outcomes data are remarkably similar for the 72 postdoctoral trainees that have been supported by the METP over the duration of the program. 32/72 are pursuing careers that primarily involve bench research and 12/72 are in careers involving research administration. Some of our postdoctoral trainees make significant contributions in other science-related fields, such science writing (3/72) or as faculty in University science departments with a primary focus on teaching rather than research (3/72), or as high school science teachers (1/72) or M.D.s in clinical medicine (3/72) and another 11/72 are still in training. 3/72 of these individuals now have careers in business and for 4/72 individuals their whereabouts are unknown.
The METP has also been highly successful in attracting and supporting the training of women and individuals from diverse backgrounds.
The METP is composed of twenty nine faculty members from five basic science departments. Of this group, twenty-four are tenured faculty with stable, well-funded programs and extensive training experience and five are new investigators. The preceptor group constitutes an unusually diverse and talented group of individuals whose work covers the spectrum of molecular endocrinology. These preceptors conduct research in the general areas of: 1) signal transduction, 2) metabolic regulation and 3) islet cell development and function.
The METP funds eight pre-doctoral and four post-doctoral trainees each year. All METP trainees are nominated by a preceptor and then appointed upon the recommendation of the METP Steering Committee. Pre-doctoral trainees join the METP after one year in either the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP) or Quantitative & Chemical Biology Program (QCB). Post-doctoral trainees have a Ph.D. degree. METP support is initially provided for one year but a second year of support is usually forthcoming contingent upon satisfactory progress. Rigorous in-depth research training is the focus of both the pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training programs. However, the METP has specific requirements for all trainees as described below.
Through the combined efforts of the IGP, QCB and METP pre-doctoral trainees receive a broad didactic education. Through the efforts of The Office of Biomedical Research Education & Training (BRET; https://medschool.vanderbilt.edu/bret/), pre-doctoral trainees receive formal training in animal safety, biosafety, the proper use of radioisotopes, and in appropriate procedures for dealing with toxic and dangerous materials. They also have access to a formal career-counseling program. The BRET Office initiates training of graduate students in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) and in Methods for Enhancing Reproducibility (MER) and this education continues under the direction of the METP throughout the course of their graduate education as described below.
The specific requirements on the part of pre-doctoral METP trainees are:
1. That they take the Molecular Endocrinology course (MPB 8327) in the Fall.
2. That they take the Tutorials in Physiology course (MPB 8324) in the Fall/Spring if they are in the Molecular Physiology & Biophysics Graduate Program, or an equivalent course administered by their own Graduate Program. These courses provide training in grant writing as required by NIH regulations.
3. That they attend and present their research to other METP trainees and preceptors at the annual METP Day retreat and, where appropriate, the Diabetes Research Day retreat.
4. That, where appropriate, they regularly attend the NIDDK-funded Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center seminar series and meet with the visiting scientists. Those trainees not performing diabetes/obesity research are strongly encouraged to attend alternate molecular endocrinology-related seminars.
5. That their thesis committee be composed of one METP preceptor in addition to their research mentor. For trainees who are in the laboratory of a junior faculty member, the additional METP member on their thesis committee must be the METP Director.
6. That they participate every four years in the Introduction to RCR Symposium arranged by the BRET Office. This RCR training supplements the training received in the laboratory and at thesis committee meetings.
7. That they discuss in depth with their thesis committees the potential for the preparation and submission of successful applications for an individual fellowship or independent research project grant.
8. That they attend the monthly trainee-run METP Data Club.
Most post-doctoral trainees supported by the METP have already received a broad didactic education in molecular endocrinology prior to joining the program. However, post-doctoral trainees are encouraged to participate in the second year Molecular Endocrinology course (MPB 8327) if they are coming from a different field. Through the efforts of the BRET Office, post-doctoral trainees receive formal training in animal safety, biosafety, the proper use of radioisotopes, and in appropriate procedures for dealing with toxic and dangerous materials. They also have access to a formal career-counseling program. Post-doctoral fellows should already be familiar with the various topics associated with RCR and MER, however, their RCR and MER education continues at Vanderbilt under the direction of the BRET Office and the METP throughout the course of their post-doctoral training as described below.
The requirements on the part of post-doctoral METP trainees are:
1. That they take workshops in grant writing, which are offered by the BRET Office, as required by NIH regulations.
2. That they attend and present their research to other METP trainees and preceptors at the annual METP Day retreat and, where appropriate, the Diabetes Research Day retreat.
3. That, where appropriate, they regularly attend the NIDDK-funded Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center seminar series and meet with the visiting scientists. Those trainees not performing diabetes/obesity research are strongly encouraged to attend alternate molecular endocrinology-related seminars.
4. That they form a post-doctoral trainee mentoring committee, composed of their preceptor, the METP Director and one other METP preceptor, to obtain additional feedback and guidance in their research. This committee meets every 6 months. These meetings provide additional training in RCR and MER.
5. That they participate every four years in the Introduction to RCR Symposium arranged by the BRET Office and, in addition, when requested, assist Dr. O’Brien facilitate small groups group discussions at the symposium. This RCR training supplements the training received in the laboratory and at post-doctoral trainee mentoring committee meetings.
6. That they discuss in depth with their post-doctoral mentoring committee the potential for the preparation and submission of successful applications for an individual fellowship or independent research project grant during the first year so as to further develop skills in grant writing and to attempt to obtain individual funding.
7. That they complete a minimum of 2 years research training to satisfy NIH payback service requirements.
8. That they complete biosafety, animal safety, environmental safety and radiation safety training, as appropriate. Links to training modules can be found on the BRET Office website.
9. That they attend the monthly trainee-run METP Data Club.
A key feature of the METP, and indeed Vanderbilt as a whole, is the fact that faculty preceptors are extremely interactive such that scientific collaborations are common, often involving graduate students and post-doctoral trainees. Several weekly data clubs exist, involving multiple METP preceptors and trainees, which foster interactions between trainees and preceptors and provide trainees with a valuable opportunity to present, and obtain feedback on, their research data. These data clubs include the Beta Cell Interest Group and the Metabolism Interest Group.
The training experience available to METP trainees is markedly enriched by the presence of the NIDDK-funded Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center. This not only funds an excellent seminar series but also numerous core facilities that provide molecular biology reagents, assays (hormones & metabolites), imaging facilities, isolated islets, and assistance with the development of knock-out and/or transgenic mice. Many trainees benefit from assistance by the NIDDK-funded Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center (MMPC), a unique resource that supports cutting edge metabolic research in mice.
Pre- and post-doctoral trainees who are interested in coupling basic science research with clinical problems have the option to enroll in the ASPIRE Path in Molecular Medicine. This innovative program provides a personalized approach that aims to train a new generation of Ph.D. biomedical researchers with the skills necessary for understanding and developing breakthroughs in clinical research fields.
Post-doctoral trainees considering a career in patient-oriented research also have the option to enroll in the Master in Clinical Science Investigation Program at Vanderbilt.
The METP receives multiple applications seeking support each year but to further increase the pre-doctoral applicant pool we established the Vanderbilt Summer Diabetes Research Program (VSDRP). The VSDRP is one of the programs integrated into the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy, an umbrella program that arranges on-campus housing and represents an efficient mechanism for provide training in RCR as well as radiation, chemical and biosafety. The VSSA also organizes multiple enrichment sessions relating to graduate school applications and careers in the biosciences. Finally, through the Summer Science Symposium, at which trainees present their research, and the various social events it organizes, the VSSA also provides trainees with the opportunity to meet and discuss their science with individuals in other summer research programs.
The VSDRP is funded entirely by the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center and provides a 9 week summer diabetes research experience for undergraduates following their junior or sophomore years. We anticipate that VSDRP trainees will subsequently apply to the Vanderbilt IGP or QCB programs and then join the METP. To foster a connection between VSDRP trainees and the METP they are assigned a METP trainee to act as a mentor during their 9 week stay at Vanderbilt.
The METP is charged by the NIH to promote the recruitment and training of individuals from underrepresented minorities and disabled students. While the METP has been very successful recruiting and training underrepresented minority students, identifying disabled individuals with an interest in molecular endocrinology has proven more challenging. However, with the decision of the Federal Government to recognize diabetes as a disability, the METP has initiated efforts to recruit individuals with type 1 diabetes, given that such individuals should have an explicit and personal interest in the METP. To achieve this goal we are interacting with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and the College Diabetes Network to actively recruit trainees with type 1 diabetes to the VSDRP.