The proposed Comparative Virology Research Training Program (T32 Program) will leverage the expertise of 19 faculty members from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center to provide comparative research training for pre-doctoral students in human, animal, and plant viruses. With this comparative orientation, the program is ideally positioned to develop biomedical researchers who are equipped to lend expertise regarding infectious viral diseases and to apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to basic and applied biomedical research, animal and plant health, biodefense readiness, and emerging diseases. The long-range goal of this T32 Program is to develop a cadre of junior scientists and researchers who are well grounded in a fundamental knowledge of viral pathogenesis and laboratory research experience.
The specific aims of the program are to: 1) Provide a stellar training environment where pre-doctoral trainees receive an outstanding education in viral infections and disease that prepares them to succeed in a range of anticipated careers, from academia to government to the private sector; 2) Support ongoing training efforts in human, animal, and plant viruses and bioinformatics, coalescing around comparative research experiences in different viral-host systems; and 3) Foster communication and collaboration among trainees and faculty through core courses and program activities designed to exploit the intimate training and research environment provided at the Nebraska Center for Virology and the strong training record of faculty mentors. Students who have 1) been accepted into the UNL School of Biological Sciences PhD program based on excellent undergraduate academic records and GRE scores and 2) expressed interest in the T32 Program will be targeted as potential trainees. These potential trainees will be supported during Years 1-2 of their graduate program with institutional funds before applying to the T32 Program at the end of Year 2. Students will be selected as T32 trainees based on their mentor's recommendation, their academic/research performance in the first two years, and their potential to be successful researchers before being admitted into the T32 Program at the onset of Year 3. NIH funds support Years 3-4 of a trainee's five-year program, with mentor laboratory funding covering Year 5. In addition to specialized coursework and research experiences in mentor laboratories, trainees will receive training in bioinformatics; instruction in research ethics and grantsmanship; guidance regarding career paths beyond academia, including access to industry and international internships; teaching experience; and participate in an annual symposium. The expected outcome is that this program will support a projected 12 trainees who will graduate with a strong background in research design, methodology, and analysis and thus be well equipped to pursue a range of career opportunities in academia, government, and industry that enable them to confront current and emerging viral infectious diseases.
Emerging and re-emerging viral infectious diseases such as influenza and Ebola highlight a national need for basic research on causative agents to better understand how viral infections cause disease. There is currently an insufficient number of trained researchers to meet this need, which is especially concerning because many of these diseases are of critical significance to human health and national security. The proposed Comparative Virology Research Training Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will help meet this need by training pre-doctoral students to perform high-quality research in viral pathogenesis and equipping them to be productive throughout their careers.
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