Background and Overview/Postdoctoral Training

Introduction

MIT provides a superb intellectual environment for the comparative veterinary scientist embarking on a career in biomedical research. MIT is recognized internationally for its excellence in both undergraduate and graduate biomedical science education. Capitalizing on these resources, DCM began training veterinarians in comparative medicine in 1982 and has been a recipient of an NIH training grant for the past 28 years. We recognized the urgent need to provide the biomedical research community properly trained veterinarians, particularly those who can effectively work in research and academia. To date, of 54 postdoctoral fellows trained by DCM, all but five are employed in academic or research and development units. DCM provides postdoctoral training for veterinary scientists for careers in biomedical research. This will be accomplished in part by providing 1) a strong emphasis in the development of research skills needed for veterinary scientists pursuing a research career, 2) a core curriculum of graduate courses in biomedical sciences, and 3) an intellectual and simulating setting for research in the biomedical sciences. Postdoctoral trainees will hold DVM/VMD degrees and some may have additional advanced degrees as well. The program consists of three years of in-depth research training with an option to pursue an advanced degree.

Monika Burns
Former Postdoctoral Fellow, Monika Burns is involved in pipetting technique.

Participants in the training program include professional and technical personnel within the Division of Comparative Medicine and the Department of Biological Engineering. Two other academic units - the Harvard Medical School and Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine are involved. MIT faculty contribute to the core course work; training in research is provided by established investigators at MIT and other designated research laboratories at Harvard and Tufts. Research training emphasizes formulation of a significant research project, its design and implementation, critical reviews of pertinent scientific literature, data analysis and statistical evaluation, formal presentation of data at national and international meetings and publications of research in peer reviewed journals.

NIH also funds DCM to employ summer veterinary fellows; the summer fellows program introduces motivated, bright veterinary students to the field of biomedical research. These students spend a summer in the same research environment in which DCM postdoctoral fellows conduct their research.

Since 1982 54 veterinarians have completed the training program and have gone on to establish themselves in positions of prominence throughout the laboratory animal community. Seventeen other scientists have completed postdoctoral studies in the Division as well (see former and current postdoctoral fellows). DCM postdoctoral veterinarians have authored or co-authored more than 150 scientific papers and chapters during their tenure at DCM and have contributed extensively to the scientific programs of the national meetings of a number of professional societies. Performance in the ACLAM board examination has also been exceptional.

Objective

The objective of the program is to train postdoctoral veterinarians in the conduct of biomedical research in a comparative medicine context. The program is comprised of a minimum of 3 years of integrated practical and didactic training in research and medicine that promote a multidisciplinary approach to questions in biomedical science. The training is structured to expand upon the unique comparative knowledge, skills, and perspectives that a veterinarian brings to biomedical research. Postdoctoral fellows have the option of pursuing an advanced degree through MIT's Department of Biological Engineering or the interdepartmental Microbiology Graduate PhD Program or Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. An optional six months of clinical training, funded outside the T32 training grant, are also available and strongly recommended.

Format

The basic format of the program is 3 consecutive, three-month rotations followed by research in one of the Division’s many areas of inquiry. The combined duration of research and rotations is three years. The Transgenics, Pathology and Diagnostic Laboratory, and Molecular Biology rotations are required and typically completed at the start of the fellowship. The Committee on Animal Care (CAC) rotation is a part time, 6-month experience that is concurrent with other rotations in the first 18 months. Two additional 3-month rotations, MIT Clinics and Surgery are strongly encouraged. Research interests and available projects are then matched through conversations with the Director and a mentor group. The mentor group is comprised of several members of the Division’s senior staff. Extramural faculty may be engaged in this research depending on existing collaborations and the requirements of the project.

MENTOR MEETINGS:

Mentor sessions are formal opportunities to meet with a mentor group, comprised of the Director and other staff members. Meetings are held twice yearly and augment less formal conversations. Fellows should organize and schedule meetings and come prepared to discuss their progress, research interests and associated issues. A written outline facilitates the process.

TRANSGENICS ROTATION:

The rotation coordinator will direct the activities of the fellow. The objective is to provide an overview of the transgenic animal resources program. The fellow will share responsibility for the maintenance of donor and recipient mice in the transgenic breeding facility, will help coordinate hormone injections, breeding, and surgical implantations, and will become familiar with the spectrum of embryonic manipulation in transgenic research.

PATHOLOGY AND DIAGNOSTIC LABORATORY ROTATION:

The rotation coordinator will direct the activities of the fellow. The objective is to provide an overview of the pathology and diagnostic laboratories and activities. The fellow will share responsibility for necropsies, tissue processing, histopathologic evaluation, serologic and immunocytological assays, hematology, parasitology, and microbiology. The fellow on pathology rotation is available by cell phone for the purpose of assisting the pathologist.

MOLECULAR BIOLOGY ROTATION:

The rotation coordinator will direct the activities of the fellow(s); the rotation will be placed in the Molecular Biology Laboratory of DCM. The objective is to provide an overview, hands-on experience, and basic principles of molecular techniques which are routinely used in our research projects. The fellow will perform experiments, analyze the obtained data, and discuss the results with the rotation coordinator.

CAC ROTATION:

The rotation coordinator will direct the activities of the fellow. The objective is to familiarize fellows with Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) procedures and activities. Fellows will attend scheduled meetings, perform site visits, evaluate protocols, and complete a project.

OPTIONAL ROTATIONS:

There are two optional rotations, which are predominantly clinical in nature and funded by the Institute. These are MIT Clinics and Surgery rotations. They are each three months in duration.

SUPERVISED RESEARCH:

The Division sponsors research in several general areas: molecular pathogenesis, infectious gastroenterology, and carcinogenesis. Faculty members funded in these areas are James Fox, Susan Erdman, Zhongming Ge, Mark Whary, Sureshkumar Muthupalani and Jonathan Runstadler. They interact with a number of intramural and extramural collaborators. Research interests and available projects are matched through conversations with the Director and a mentor group. Research responsibilities include protocol development, experimental design; materials preparation and procurement; manipulation and care of experimental animals; data collection, management, and analysis; manuscript preparation; and public presentation.

FORMAL COURSEWORK:

Fellows are required to satisfactorily complete four semester-long courses in disciplines related to research. A course in molecular biology is required and must be completed within the first year of the program. A course in technical or scientific writing is encouraged. Other subjects have included immunology, toxicology, and statistics. Courses must be approved in advance by the Director. In addition to these courses, fellows must complete a course in ethics which is held annually during the Independent Activities Period (IAP) and is offered by Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

DEGREE OPTION:

Fellows may choose to enter degree programs with which the Division is affiliated. Advanced degrees are offered through the Microbiology Graduate PhD Program, (http://microbiology.mit.edu/grad.html) and Biological Engineering Graduate Studies in Applied Biosciences; (http://web.mit.edu/be/education/appbiosci.htm). Advanced degrees are also offered through Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Formal application, followed by successful completion of a qualifying exam, thesis preparation and defense are required. The degree options must be discussed in advance with the Director.