Training Program
in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

Program Overview

The program is designed to support trainees as they transition to their independent careers whether in academia or some other setting that capitalizes on their research training. While trainees devote most of their time to research activities in an established research group, they also participate in activities that are designed to improve other skills that should facilitate their advancement (see below).

Development of Research Skills

The primary focus of all trainees supported by this program is research training that is performed under the tutelage of a mentor or mentors. The research project, developed collaboratively between the trainee and her/his mentor (s), should address an issue of relevance to intellectual and developmental disabilities. The project can be basic science or translational research as long as it is hypothesis-driven. The research project should provide a learning vehicle for the trainee and complement the other career development activities that are undertaken during the training experience. Trainees and their mentor are strongly encouraged to design projects could provide a pathway to an independent research career for the trainee.

Mentor/Co-Mentor

The training program requires that trainees choose a mentor. Please view our full list of mentors here. Please note that mentors must have suitable independent funding (at least PI of an NIH R01 or R01 equivalent) and evidence that this funding will last through the duration of the training period. This is done to ensure that trainees will have access to adequate support during their training period. If the proposed mentor is not currently an approved mentor for the training program, the individual will need to provide their NIH biosketch, other support page, and training records (please contact Kristen Pidgeon at pidgeonk@email.chop.edu for information). It is understood that some prospective mentors may not have extensive training records. In this case, a plan should be described that will ensure that trainees will have regular access to experienced mentors.

Trainees are also required to identify an individual who can provide additional help as they progress through the program. This additional mentor can either serve as a co-advisor or be someone who will commit to meet with the trainee on at least an annual basis to discuss progress with research, progress toward achieving longer term career objectives, and plans for the coming year. If, for example, a trainee writes a grant, it is expected that this person would read the proposal and provide feedback. The co-mentor should review the individual development plan completed as part of the annual re-appointment process with the trainee. This co-mentor should come from the list of mentors, but if this is not appropriate, other individuals can serve in this capacity. Please be sure to identify the individual who has agreed to serve in this capacity.

Exposure to Clinical Themes/Clinical Practicum

The training program maintains a strong relationship with an on-site clinical environment that involves the diagnosis and management of patients who have intellectual or related developmental disabilities. Such clinical exposure nourishes and focuses the research instincts of an investigator. After completion of HIPPA and clinical research training, trainees attend one of many interdisciplinary clinics: Cerebral Palsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Down Syndrome, Epilepsy, Inborn Errors of Metabolism, Muscular Dystrophy Association Neuromuscular clinic, or Neurogenetics. Trainees can also spend time with the Regional Autism Center, the focal point for caring for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, at CHOP. During the clinical practicum, trainees sample approaches to assessment and treatment of the spectrum of disorders that cause intellectual and related developmental disabilities. The clinical faculty stress patient privacy in these interactions. Whenever possible, trainees directly observe patient management. They are required to attend the clinical conferences that usually follow patient management sessions.

Trainees are required to participate in four hours of relevant activities. These activities can be identified by working with mentors and the Program Director upon appointment.

Development of Scientific Writing and Presentation Skills

Neuroscience Grants Club (development of scientific writing skills)
Individuals working on any type of grant (postdoctoral fellowships, K awards, R grants, private foundation grants) submit their specific aims or full applications for review by senior faculty, junior investigators, and fellow trainees. At the meeting, Drs. Robinson, Marsh, Eisch, or Barr lead the discussion. The program has shown to improve the grant success rate, provide understanding of a variety of diverse topics as well as exposure to a breadth of techniques that are used to study IDD. This meeting takes place on the second Thursday of each month at 3:30pm.

Neuroscience Chalk Talks (practicing presentation skills)
All trainees present once a year and attend all sessions. The rest of the presentations are given by other neuroscience trainees (graduate students or non-NDD T32 postdoctoral fellows), junior faculty, or new recruits to the NDD CHOP/Penn community. The diverse, brief, yet high-quality presentations and the refreshments provided (pizza, soda, water) lend an informal, collegial atmosphere that encourages questions and interactions. This session takes place on the fourth Thursday of each month from September through May at 4:00pm.

Critical Analysis of Techniques in IDD Research Workshop

At these 1 hour sessions, a trainee leads a scientific paper-based discussion on a technique relevant to neurodevelopmental disabilities. The trainee works with her/his mentor (or one of the other mentors in the program). Topics will include: neuropsychology testing, clinical NDD trials, behavioral phenotyping, imaging (structural/functional), genetic approaches, electrophysiology, microarray, in vivo calcium imaging, use of antibodies, ChIP, and stem cells as model systems. Trainees are allowed to choose one of these topics or some other technique. They will use a paper as a case study for the hour. The presentation will start with a short summary of background, then the trainee will lead a discussion of potential problems with the paper (biases, flaws, strengths, etc.). The mentors help guide the discussion of the issues. Drs. Robinson, Marsh, and Eisch attend these sessions. This workshop will be open to the same group of trainees/junior faculty that attend the Neuroscience Grants Club. This session takes place on the third Thursday of each month from September through May at 4:00pm.

Seminar Attendance

There are several different seminar series that are offered here at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, including the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) Seminar Series. Trainees are expected to attend the IDDRC seminar series and other seminar series at CHOP/Penn as appropriate. Trainees will also be asked to suggest potential speakers each year.

Schedule for 2017-2018 IDDRC Seminar Series

Schedule for the 2017-2018 MINS Seminar Series

Required Coursework

As part of the application process, trainees should identify courses that may be most helpful in filling gaps in knowledge. It is assumed that most trainees will not take more than one class per year (including the two required courses). A trainee can request exemption from either required course if they have completed comparable courses earlier in their training.

Advanced Topics in Behavioral Genetics (NGG 578):
offered through the University of Pennsylvania in the spring of even years. This course is team taught by experts in each area covered: psychology, neurology, genetics, animal modeling, and cognitive neuroscience. The scope is from genes, to brain, to behavior to treatment. The first half of this course focuses on the use of genetic techniques to study the molecular and cellular bases of behavior. Reverse genetic approaches utilizing gene knockout and transgenic technology and forward genetic approaches using mutagenesis and quantitative genetic techniques are discussed, as well as application of these studies to different model organisms. Genetic approaches to behavior and complex disease in humans are illustrated with a lecture on neurodegenerative disorders. The second half of this course includes clinical descriptions of autism and closely-related disorders, such as Fragile X syndrome, for which there are now well-developed model systems.

Biological Data Analysis (BIOM 611):
offered through the University of Pennsylvania in the spring semester. This introductory course provides an overview of fundamental concepts in biostatistics. The course emphasizes (1) the understanding of statistics through computational approaches rather than mathematical derivations and formulae and (2) the selection, application and interpretation of basic statistical methods appropriate to data arising from the basic biological sciences. The first half of the course explores fundamental statistical concepts (random variables, probability distributions, sources of variation, experimental design, hypothesis testing and confidence intervals). Both parametric and non-parametric (permutation and rank-based) approaches to inference are discussed. During the first half of the course, the software package Rstudio (or “R”) is used to illustrate how to manipulate, explore, and graph data, conduct simple tests, create confidence intervals and choose a sample size for a simple, two-group comparisons. Approaches to developing reproducible code are illustrated. During the second half of the course, analysis of variance, regression modeling and categorical data analysis are explored.

Other Coursework

Depending on a trainee's background, individuals may take other graduate courses. Please refer to the University of Pennsylvania Biomedical Graduate Studies website for potential courses (www.med.upenn.edu/bgs/).

Individuals interested in basic research might consider the following classes, but should feel free to identify other courses that may be better suited for their needs:

  • Electrical Language of Cells (NGG 572 Core II)
  • Systems and Integrative Neuroscience (NGG 573 Core III)
  • Cell Biology (BIOM 600 NGG Core I)
  • Neurotransmitter Signaling & Neuropsychopharmacology (NGG 510 [PHRM 510; PSYCH 750])
  • Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (NGG 575)
  • Neural Development, Regeneration and Repair (NGG 597)

Resident-In-Scholar

Each year we invite one seminar speaker to spend an extra day here on campus. The trainees supported by this training grant serve as hosts for this speaker during this day (individual meetings, lunch, and dinner).

Development of Research Career Skills

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia through the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and the University of Pennsylvania through the Office of Biomedical Postdoctoral Program (BPP) sponsor a number of activities that are intended for trainees to develop the other skills that will be needed for career development. Trainees will have access to both sets of programs.

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

All trainees are required by NIH (NOT-OD-10-019) to participate in responsible conduct of research training. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia requires that all trainees participate in the online Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) training program and complete two, four-hour, face-to-face RCR workshop sessions. These programs are to be completed at least once and at a frequency of no less than once every four years. The Office of Responsible Research Training at CHOP monitors (documents) the completion of this training via sign-in sheets for face-to-face sessions and direct tracking for the online CITI program.

Additional research-specific training is completed prior to initiation of the research project.