The mission of the Pharmacological Sciences Training Program (PSTP) is to train outstanding scientists in the pharmacological sciences, enabling them to transition to any of the varied career opportunities in the U.S. biomedical research enterprise. A highly productive and well-funded faculty provide a diversity of research areas for trainees that builds on our traditional strengths in receptors and signal transduction, cancer and protein kinases, and neuropharmacology with emerging areas in chemical biology, nanotechnology, genomics and proteomics, stem cells, RNA biology, bioinformatics and systems biology. Students apply to the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP), an admissions portal/first year program for 14 degree-granting departments, an umbrella program that oversees recruitment and training of first-year graduate students in the biomedical sciences. The BBSP admits between on average 75-90 students per year, with an increase to 100 students slated for 2019. A significant portion (20-25%) of matriculating students are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. Students carry out three research rotations, take a required first year course and another course of their choosing, and, at the end of their first year, select a thesis mentor and a degree-granting PhD program for their thesis research. Students joining the PSTP choose from 46-core faculty for their dissertation research. A very strong Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) also brings in ~10 students per year, 0-2 of which join the PSTP per year. The PSTP is designed around a complementary set of training tools, including formal lecture-based courses, seminar courses focusing on scientific communication skills, an immersive grant-writing course, and original doctoral research. Our rationale is that by combining these training approaches, we prepare our trainees for future success. Introductory and advanced courses in pharmacology and physiology, and elective specialized courses are required during the first and second years. A rigorous and intensive grant-writing course develops skills for identifying an important, innovative and tractable research question and hypotheses and formulating a strong set of Specific Aims that test these hypotheses. Presentation courses and a student seminar series provide students with many opportunities to hone their research presentation skills and gain confidence in public speaking. Quantitative skills are developed through strong emphasis on biostatistics, biocomputation, and ligand- receptor binding theory and analysis. Rigor and reproducibility are emphasized across all training opportunities. Individual Development Plans are drafted for all students, and also are used to identify quantitative skills classes germane to the students? research projects. A robust advisory system oversees the thesis research years of students. Faculty rely on evidence-based mentoring practices to best help students achieve shared goals. Based on previous years, we anticipate that we will have 9-11 new, training grant-eligible students entering the PSTP program each year. Students will be appointed to the training grant for a maximum duration of two years, during their second and third year of graduate school. The average time-to-degree over the last five years for all PSTP students, including trainees from underrepresented groups, is 5.5 years, and these students had on average 4 publications, a little less than two of which were first-author publications. Twenty-three percent of current PSTP trainees are from underrepresented groups, and three of our current UR trainees were awarded the prestigious HHMI/Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. Our overall goal is to train a diverse cohort of future scientists by equipping them with critical-thinking, computational, and communication skills and providing exposure to myriad career opportunities needed to obtain a position in a scientific career of their choosing.

Public Health Relevance

Students who complete this predoctoral training program will have acquired basic knowledge of pharmacology and related fields, in-depth knowledge of an important area of biomedical research, skill in planning and executing a valuable, rigorous research project in the pharmacological sciences, and exceptional ability to analyze, interpret and communicate results. These skills provide a sound basis for scientific careers in academia, government, or industry.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Institutional National Research Service Award (T32)
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NIGMS Initial Review Group (TWD)
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Koduri, Sailaja
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Medicine
Chapel Hill
United States
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