Michael J. Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and the executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, will highlight neuroscience doctorate training at Virginia Tech at this year’s Society for Neuroscience annual conference on Nov. 12 in San Diego.

“A stellar experience as a graduate student in neuroscience must first include a dedicated and accomplished neuroscientist as a mentor. But, it must also include a nurturing environment, a community of scholars who have additional breadth in other fields and the opportunity to be integrated into a larger learning community,” Friedlander said. “It is important that the mentors also have had rich training experiences and are committed to the education and career success of their students beyond their simply helping the mentor’s lab be productive and get the next grant.”

With more than 30,000 attendees expected from more than 80 countries, the conference is the world's largest source of emerging ideas and tools on brain science and health, according to the Society for Neuroscience.

Friedlander will join a panel of neuroscience leaders in a workshop to discuss, “Diverse Career Trajectories in Neuroscience: Helping Trainees Chart a Course for Success.”

Additional panelists will include Walter Koroshetz, the director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health; and Edda Thiels, who directs the National Science Foundation’s program on Integrative Organismal Systems.

The workshop will focus on how to best prepare the next generation of neuroscience trainees with the skills and expertise necessary for diverse career opportunities.

It’s a follow-up discussion to an October 2014 workshop on developing the next generation of scientists to advance neuroscience. Panelists from that workshop published a paper in the journal Neuron, summarizing that conversation on how to best train and retain a talented work force to ensure the continued growth in the field of neuroscience.

In the upcoming workshop, Friedlander and his colleagues will build upon these ideas with a focus on how to prepare mentors to provide the necessary support doctoral students and other trainees in the field of neuroscience.

Friedlander will share his experience with Virginia Tech’s Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health (TBMH) doctoral program, which emphasizes the concept of translational science across multiple levels of inquiry. The program brings together an interdisciplinary curriculum of life, behavioral, physical, engineering, and computational sciences designed to balance breadth and depth as it prepares the next generation of scientific leaders to make and translate discoveries into preventions, diagnostics, treatments, cures, and healthier behaviors.

“TBMH has won national recognition as one of the nation’s most innovative graduate programs from the Association of American Medical Colleges is a wonderful example of contributing to the VT-shaped student,” said Friedlander.

While students study a variety of areas including cancer, cardiovascular science and infectious disease, the TBMH neuroscience Ph.D. is the largest component of the program. 

The TBMH neuroscience program represents a very broad base from across the university including over 140 faculty from six Virginia Tech colleges in addition to leading neuroscientists from other partner institutions including the Children’s National Medical Center, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Washington University, and Wake Forest University.  

Students have opportunities to learn about some of the most important challenges in modern neuroscience. 

For example, the 2016 entering class members, who are currently enrolled in the program’s introductory gateway class, are studying the molecular biology, genetics, physiology, behavior, translational advances in therapy, clinical care and health system aspects of Down syndrome , Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In each case, in addition to studying the underlying background, basic mechanisms and recent scientific advances, the students also meet with patients whose cases are presented by physicians from Carilion Clinic including neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and pediatricians.

“This is a unique Ph.D. program,” said Friedlander, “where neuroscience is presented from molecules to patients, including companion animal patients from the College of Veterinary Medicine as well as human patients, through translation to treatments and heath care policy.” 

In addition, Friedlander will discuss how Virginia Tech’s BEST program — an educational guide funded  by the National Institutes of Health and aimed at Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training — contributes to the preparation of doctoral students planning careers in neuroscience, as well as other areas of biomedical and health sciences.

Students and fellows in the BEST program have had the opportunity to complete internships at a major pharmaceutical company, and to network with leaders from industry, government, and health systems, according to Friedlander.

He also noted that students have developed individual career development plans and participate in national workshops to broaden their experiences and knowledge base for career advancement.

"The TBMH Ph.D. program not only prepares thought leaders and future academic leaders in neuroscience but, coupled with the BEST program, provides a base for jobs and diverse real world careers," he said.


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