The Immunology Training Program provides a comprehensive and focused exposure to the workings of the immune system, and the opportunity to engage in independent research activities with world-class investigators in the field of Immunology. We believe that the best training environment in Immunology is interdisciplinary, involving intellectual input from basic and clinical science faculty, and occurring at the intersection of immunology with infectious diseases, cancer, vascular biology, cell biology, and molecular biology. Immunology has always been a discipline that spans the range from fundamental biological processes to understanding and treatment of disease. Thus, the structure and activities of the ITP at UVA are designed to bridge the gap between basic and clinical science. This is achieved through recruitment of a diverse group of mentors, including a strong cohort of translational scientists who look to move work in animal models into patient settings. It is also achieved by including elements in the curriculum and in trainee-related activities that expose PhD-based graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to clinical problems through active engagement with clinical faculty. Conversely, we support an MD postdoctoral fellow, with the explicit intent to educate physician-scientists in cutting edge approaches to address questions in human immunology at a basic level. All of our trainees leave UVA with a respect for both fundamental and clinical research, and for the ways in which laboratory work can be translated into patient treatment and disease prevention.
The structure of the ITP allows us to overcome traditional departmental barriers by maintaining an active interest in trainee activities and through monitoring and oversight of trainee performance and progress. Our programmatic activities, including didactic courses, Research-in-Progress, journal clubs, seminars and symposia, and Research Advisory Committees, promote cooperative and collaborative trainee oversight by mentors, and encourage predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees to interact and learn from one another.
Predoctoral Training Program
The organization and support of graduate training at the UVA School of Medicine have solidified institutional support for an interdisciplinary approach, while at the same time enhancing the visibility of Immunology as a research discipline to attract outstanding applicants. The ITP supports predoctoral students who matriculate at UVA through either the biomedical sciences graduate program (BIMS) or the medical scientist training program (MSTP).
BIMS is the admissions portal for all PhD matriculants to the UVA School of Medicine, and supports them financially in their 1st year. Trainees complete laboratory research rotations and identify their research interests, and apply to the ITP after they have selected a faculty mentor and made a verifiable commitment to immunology research. They complete their thesis research under the guidance of this mentor, augmented by a Research Advisory Committee composed of additional faculty with expertise in the student’s chosen area.
Students entering the MSTP (MD-PhD dual degree) take a pre-clerkship curriculum for medical students in the first year and most of the second, although this has been accelerated to enable them to enter graduate school in mid-February, after having chosen a faculty mentor. MSTP students also perform 3 research rotations in the summers in the absence of concurrent coursework. MSTP students are exempted from the BIMS core course, enabling more time for research or advanced course modules. They typically apply to the ITP in Grad year 2, and complete their thesis work as outlined above for BIMS students.
Postdoctoral Training Program
PhD postdoctoral fellows are recruited through direct inquiries to individual faculty mentors. Physician-scientist postdoctoral fellows are identified during interviews for fellowships or residencies with our affiliated clinical divisions and departments. Interviewees are provided information about research interests of the faculty when they apply, and every effort is made to have prospective fellows meet with potential mentors during the interview.
The aim for postdoctoral fellows is to complete training for careers as independent scientists. Accordingly, postdocs are treated as junior colleagues, and interaction with more than one faculty member during the training period is highly encouraged. Postdoctoral fellows are encouraged to participate in all ITP activities, including coursework, either as teachers or to gain additional knowledge and understanding. The postdoctoral program is based on the idea that the excellent postdoctoral trainee requires two things: intellectual freedom and financial support needed to pursue an exciting research program.