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NIDCD New Research Training Programs for AuD Audiologists

NIDCD New Research Training Programs for AuD Audiologists

June 28, 2016 Interviews

Academy Associate Editor Sumit Dhar, PhD, spoke with Drs. Rivera-Rentas and Donahue about the new NIDCD fellowship and career development mechanisms.

Academy:
Thank you Drs. Alberto Rivera-Rentas (AR-R) and Amy Donahue (AD) for agreeing to discuss these exciting new fellowship and career development mechanisms with us. Let’s start with taking a second to orient our readers with the mission of the National Institute for Deafness and other Communicative Disorders (NIDCD), especially in the context of these new mechanisms and training in general. Briefly, what is the mission of the NIDCD, how does training and career development fit into it, and specifically how do these programs support your overall mission?

AR-R/AD:
Let us give you a little bit of the background that triggered these initiatives. NIDCD’s mission is to support research and research training in the areas of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. The goal of our research training programs is to increase the number, quality, and diversity of well-prepared and skilled investigators with knowledge and expertise in all areas supported by the Institute. This includes AuD audiologists interested in pursuing research careers. For this reason, in December 2014, we convened a group of research training experts in audiology to gather recommendations to enhance the training of audiologists in biomedical research. The resulting new F32 and K01 programs were specifically designed to create a logical pathway for AuD audiologists to engage in biomedical research and pursue careers as clinical investigators.

Academy:      
Thank you for the general background and helping us understand how the new programs fit into the universe of NIH funding support. Isn’t the usual PhD dissertation support fellowship mechanism an F31? Why the need for a special F32? I am guessing this might have something to do with the fact that the applicants have a clinical doctorate (AuD) already.

AR-R/AD:
Yes, the F31 research dissertation fellowship is a predoctoral program that supports the completion of a PhD in biomedical sciences. Since AuD holders already have a health-related doctorate, they are considered postdoctoral and the only program available to them was the conventional F32 postdoctoral fellowship program. However, the typical F32 applicant has already completed a research degree (i.e., PhD) and has more research experience and publications than a typical AuD applicant without a research doctorate. Thus, we needed to create a program at the postdoctoral level to allow AuD applicants to complete a research dissertation project and a PhD in biomedical sciences.

Academy:       
Along those lines, what about those pursuing an AuD and a PhD simultaneously? Can they apply for support under this mechanism? Or, is a different mechanism more appropriate?

AR-R/AD:
NIDCD participates in the NRSA F30 predoctoral dual-degree programs that supports individuals in academically integrated structurally combined institutional AuD/PhD programs. The F30 program requires the dual entry and completion of both degrees simultaneously. However, most institutional academic AuD/PhD programs are not structured in this manner. So, those applicants that are not in the combined institutional programs can complete the degrees separately by finishing the AuD first, and then apply for the NIDCD-specific F32 to complete the PhD.

Academy:       
This is great news. It sounds like a full range of options are now available for those pursuing research during or just after their AuD education. Could you tell us a little bit more about a possible longitudinal trajectory for funding when someone first finishes an AuD and then pursues a PhD? What options would they have for support if they chose to undertake postdoctoral training after the PhD?

AR-R/AD:
It is generally expected that an applicant pursues a postdoctoral research training experience after he or she completes his/her AuD and PhD. The postdoctoral experience will enhance and strengthen the scientific and technical expertise of the applicants as they move toward becoming an independent biomedical research investigator. Because individuals cannot have more than three years NRSA postdoctoral support (i.e., the F32), we created the NIDCD-specific mentored career development award for post-doctorate AuD/PhD audiologists (K01) program to support that first post-doctoral research experience. So, for example, when an AuD decides he or she wants a research career, he or she would apply to the AuD-specific F32 for PhD dissertation work and then apply for the AuD/PhD-specific K01 for their post-doctorate.   

Academy:       
Is the NIDCD targeting specific types of research and training for this mechanism? That is, will those pursuing applied (possibly on human subjects and clinical populations) as well as basic research (e.g., animal models, cellular and molecular biology) be equally competitive?

AR-R/AD:
We support basic, clinical and translational research projects that fit our strategic plan, our research areas, and clearly will contribute to our mission.

Academy:       
This is after all a training grant. Do you have any thoughts on how a training plan for one of these applications may be unique or different compared to other F32 applications?

AR-R/AD:      
The main difference between the NIH-wide conventional fellowship programs and the AuD-specific F32 is how the applicant and the mentor(s) customize the research training plan and the research project to fit the unique background and academic record of an AuD audiologist.

Academy:
In my experience you have always encouraged scientists and trainees to consult with program officers once the specific aims, and perhaps the basic training plan, has been mapped out. Of course to be of help this consultation needs to happen well in advance of the deadline. Would you suggest the same for those interested in this mechanism?

AR-R/AD:
Yes! It really saves time and headaches if the applicants communicate with Dr. Rivera-Rentas ahead of time. The best way is to send him an e-mail including their biosketch in NIH format, a brief description of the project including the aims (1 page), the population that will be studied (as applicable), and the name of the mentor(s). Also, applicants need to include a statement on how the proposed project fits our strategic plan, our research areas, and will contribute to our mission. Responses to the applicants’ e-mail are typically received within a week.

Academy:
Let’s finish with some practical questions:

  1. Can we assume that this mechanism will remain available for the near future?
    Yes, we truly hope that AuD audiologists interested in pursuing biomedical research will take advantage of these programs. Our aim is to increase the number of AuD/PhD audiologists in the NIDCD research portfolio.
     
  2. Will there be the usual quick turn-around time for this mechanism like other training grants, so applicants do not miss a deadline?
    Yes, NIDCD uses an expedite review process for fellowships.
     
  3. Will one of the regular study sections at NIDCD review these applications or will there be a special group assembled?
    At NIDCD, fellowships are reviewed by three special emphasis panels based on our research areas (hearing and balance; voice, speech and language; and chemical senses) and the applications to the new F32 program will be integrated within these panels.

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