Most Tri-Institutional Molecular Mycology and Pathogenesis Training Program (Tri-I MMPTP) applicants are recent recipients of doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences, physicians who have completed residency training, or current postdoctoral researchers with exceptional potential. The program’s postdoctoral fellows are trained to develop independent research programs utilizing non-pathogenic fungi as model systems or investigating the fungal pathogenicity and host defenses of human or plant pathogenic fungi. In addition, there is expertise in fungal systematics, phylogenetics, evolution, and genomics. Many research projects will bridge one or more of these areas. Additionally, trainees are able to move from one laboratory to another, combining these conceptual domains. We have discovered the value and synergy of ideas that result from facilitating interaction and meeting to discuss research progress and to share perspectives and methods. A proven concept underlying our practice of multidisciplinary interaction is that clinical and basic researchers, and plant and animal mycologists, together discover new approaches that are mutually beneficial. As a result, our trainees become broadly knowledgeable and versatile and more attractive to prospective employers. Based on the evidence, Tri-Institutional MMPTP graduates are prepared to become successful scientists and are also capable of applying for grants, establishing independent research programs, and assuming positions of leadership in academia, government, and industry.
Unique Features of the Program
The following is a brief list of some unique features of the Tri-Institutional MMPTP:
- Participation of scientists from three major universities–Duke, UNC-CH, and NCSU–within the Research Triangle Park area
- Exceptional diversity and quality of numerous mycological researchers and training faculty
- Myriad course offerings, including Microbial Pathogenesis (Duke), Genetic Analysis of Cell Function in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Candida albicans, and Cryptococcus neoformans (Duke), Molecular Pathogenic Mycology (Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA), and Fungal Genetics and Physiology (NCSU)
- Prevalence of mycoses and associated clinical resources at Duke University Hospital, including the Duke Cancer Institute, Center for AIDS Research, and expansive Solid Organ and Bone Marrow Transplantation Units
- Extensive Duke fungal culture collection (>5,000 isolates of pathogenic yeasts and molds)
- State-of-the art institutional facilities, including centers for sequencing, microarrays, genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics, biomedical statistics, and other services at all three participating institutions
- Optional Master’s degree programs in Clinical Research for MD trainees in clinical mycology
- Collaborative intellectual environment that supports regular, focused extracurricular meetings, including fungal researchers at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), GlaxoSmithKline, and other biomedical industries in the Research Triangle Park area
Fungal Research Tracks
With guidance from their mentor(s) and other Tri-Institutional MMPTP faculty, trainees will devote themselves full-time to one or more original research projects in addition to any requisite courses or other activities required to accomplish their goals. (Physicians in the program may devote the equivalent of one afternoon per week to clinical service to maintain their proficiency.) As trainees complete the program and make the transition to independent scientists, their training is expected to result in the completion of one or more original research projects leading to the publication of several papers and presentations at national or international meetings. At the conclusion of the training period, trainees are expected to apply for individual grant support and faculty status.
There are two types of postdoctoral research training programs. Depending upon their previous doctoral education, trainees are assigned to either Track I or II. Track I is designed for the trainee with one of the following degree(s) in biomedical or plant science: PhD, MD and PhD, DSc, or an equivalent doctorate earned through rigorous courses and an original research dissertation. Track II is designed for trainees with the MD degree (or DO, PharmD, DDS, DVM, or other clinical doctorate). Track II is subdivided into basic and clinical research plans, Track IIB and Track IIC, respectively. Follow the links below for a synopsis of each training option.
Mentors and Research Advisory Committees
The most critical priority for every trainee entering the program is to select a primary research mentor(s) and an individual Research Advisory Committee (RAC). The process of selecting a mentor is flexible. While most trainees enter the program with the clear intention of working with a particular mentor, others may rotate through several laboratories before making a decision. After the mentor and trainee are paired, with guidance from the Tri-Institutional MMPTP Executive Committee, they will select an RAC of three to five faculty members. (Each RAC includes senior and junior faculty members, and ideally, representatives from different research areas. Faculty members who are not part of the Tri-Institutional MMPTP may also serve on RACs.) The primary purpose of the RAC is to provide the trainee with the additional expertise and advice necessary to guarantee his or her success. In addition, the RAC provides counsel and assistance in writing grants and assistance in securing a permanent position.
After selecting a mentor and RAC and establishing a project(s), the trainee will begin the research. Required courses and other activities should be accomplished at the earliest convenient time. The mentor will provide weekly, and sometimes daily, feedback and guidance. The trainee, his or her mentor, and RAC will convene to review progress and address problems every six months. At least two weeks prior to these meetings, the trainee will submit to the RAC members a written report, which may include a manuscript in preparation. The meeting itself will typically last 60-90 minutes, allowing the trainee to present an oral summary of the project followed by questions and discussion. Once yearly, the mentor will submit a report to the Executive Committee, which will conduct an annual review of each trainee.
In both Track I and II, the paramount activity of each postdoctoral trainee is the mentored research project. However, the Tri-Institutional MMPTP has designed several activities to complement the research experience. During the three years that most trainees are supported by the program, concurrent with the research, they will accomplish the following complementary goals and activities:
- Each trainee is required to take the Duke University Graduate School course in Responsible Conduct of Research at the earliest opportunity. This short course is offered in both the fall and spring semesters. The course covers a variety of topics, including data integrity and reporting, authorship, animal and human subjects (IACUC, IRB, HIPAA), conflicts of interest, mentoring and laboratory supervision, harassment, diversity, misconduct in research, and other topics.
- Most trainees will take the half-day, two-week, course in Medical Mycology that is taught in the late spring. This informal course provides an overview of fungal diseases, their epidemiology and clinical impact. The content highlights clinical controversies, areas of uncertainty, research needs, and diagnostic priorities and imperatives. In the laboratory portion, students learn to examine a variety of yeasts and molds in culture and to recognize pathogenic fungi in tissue.
- Trainees will apply in March of their first year for acceptance to the Molecular Pathogenic Mycology Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA, which is given annually in mid-August. This 17-day course provides concepts and practice in the manipulation, molecular tools, genetics, immunology, and genomics of medical fungi.
- Trainees attend monthly seminars hosted by the Duke University Mycology Research Unit (DUMRU) to provide exposure to a rich variety of fungal research. These seminars alternate between presentations by eminent outside speakers and research progress talks by postdoctoral fellows. After the second year, each trainee is expected to present his or her research. In addition, trainees may attend other relevant and ongoing seminar series at Duke, UNC-CH and NCSU. Trainees also participate in relevant journal clubs and research progress seminars within the mentor’s department.
- To prepare trainees for future careers as scientists in academia, industry, or government, they must be adept at communicating their research both orally and in writing. Therefore, at a convenient time, trainees take the Duke University four-session mini-course on Scientific Writing.
- To become successful independent scientists, the trainees must also learn mentoring skills. To provide experience as a mentor, after completing the first year, each trainee will interview, select, train, and supervise a full-time undergraduate student in the summer. In addition, most trainees will be involved in the mentor’s laboratory with ad hoc research training of undergraduate, graduate, or medical students (Duke medical students devote their third year to supervised independent research.)
- In the last half of the training period, trainees will be offered the opportunity to acquire teaching experience by giving lectures in selected courses in the undergraduate, medical or graduate schools at Duke, UNC-CH, or NCSU.