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NORC Predoctoral T32 Obesity Program Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the citizenship requirements to be on the T32?

    Fellows must be a US citizen or permanent resident.

  2. What is the total number of years a person can receive NRSA predoctoral funding from the NIH?

    NRSA funding, which includes both T32 support and F31 support (but not other sources, for example, support from an R01), can only be used to support predoctoral fellows for a maximum of 5 years.

  3. What is the length of appointment for NORC predoctoral fellows?

    It is expected that upon joining our training program, the predoctoral fellow will have completed their first year of PhD graduate studies. We expect that most students would be able to complete their PhD within 4 years of joining our T32. As such, it is our custom to fund these students for 4 years in our training program.

    Although the NORC T32 is committed to 4 years, appointment letters are provided 1 year at a time, according to the rules of the students’ departments. It is expected that the progress of the predoctoral students be evaluated continuously through meetings with the students’ mentoring team and evaluated every year by the leadership of the NORC T32.

  4. Is the T32 open to all areas of nutrition research?

    The T32 is obesity specific with an emphasis on some aspect of heart and vascular, lung, and blood diseases. A trainee’s research during the program must have a connection to obesity and the emphasis of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

  5. How does the T32 differ from predoctoral training in an individual investigator’s lab?

    The T32 is a program. This is in contrast to individual predocs where the fellow’s duties are assigned and overseen solely by the mentor. The T32 has benefits, procedures, and obligations that apply to all trainees and all mentors.

    Because this is a program, trainees spend roughly 80-85% of their (non-course) time working with their mentors on obesity-related projects that they and their mentors have developed and that are associated with their dissertation research. The remaining 15-20% of the time is spent on programmatic activities. These programmatic activities include attending the weekly NORC seminar and attending NORC workshops hosted throughout the year. Trainees also attend career development events covering topics such as responsible conduct of research, job interview skills, how to review a paper, how to write grant proposals, and other training activities. All trainees are also expected to attend the NORC annual retreat.

    One benefit of a program is the availability of additional mentoring or training that an individual mentor may not be able to provide. A program can also provide input or assistance should a problem arise between the mentor and the trainee. If a conflict does arise between a trainee and a mentor, it will be Dr. Fernández’s responsibility to meet with the mentor(s) and the trainee, first individually and then together, if appropriate. Typically, things can be resolved at that level with a bit of advice to each party. If Dr. Fernández is the mentor with whom there is a conflict, Drs. Locher (Associate Director for Professional and Career Development) and Rogers (Docent for Clinical Science) will act as moderators. In the event that the trainee is not satisfied with how the program directors (Fernández, Locher, Rogers) manage the situation, the matter can be raised through a formal process that is available through the Graduate School.

    The second benefit of a program is access to the expertise of the entire NORC. The NORC is available to all trainees, and the program directors will connect trainees with the investigators and resources they need to be successful.

  6. What is the mentoring team that is required of the T32?

    Mentoring teams will include at least three individuals. In rare cases, an additional mentor may be included, but in most cases three will suffice and more may be cumbersome. One of the three mentors will be designated the primary mentor and, as the name implies, take primary responsibility for mentoring the trainee. The primary mentor must be one of the Primary Mentors identified on our program website. The remaining two co-mentors can be selected from the Primary Mentor list, the Affiliated Mentor list, or the Collaborating Mentor list. The mentor lists for all categories are available at this website: http://www.norc.uab.edu/opportunities/pre-doc. Other UAB faculty not on the mentor list may be considered for the mentoring team on a case-by-case basis.

    One member of the mentoring team must have expertise in the quantitative domain (e.g., statistics, computer science, physics), one must have expertise in the behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology), and one must have expertise in the biomedical realm (e.g., medicine, physiology, genetics). It is up to the applicant and primary mentor to make the case that the mentoring team represents these domains.

  7. What are the roles and functioning of the team?

    The mentoring team collectively serves three overarching purposes for the mentoree. The first is to provide a conduit for and supervision in the hands-on research experience that forms a fundamental and essential component of the research training. That is, mentorees are expected to work shoulder to shoulder with leading active investigators and learn their scientific skills as much by doing as by sitting in classrooms. This is not to diminish the role of the didactic education, but we believe that there is no substitute for being immersed in an active research program. It is the mentors’ responsibility to provide that active research program in which the mentorees can work toward developing their skills as independent investigators and build their curricula vitae. Second, the mentoring team provides an interdisciplinary hub and microcosm of the overall interdisciplinary training program. As described above, the team is constructed specifically to have investigators from different disciplinary domains who collectively can expose the trainees to approaches to obesity research from many perspectives and help them partake of, appreciate, and integrate those diverse approaches. Third and finally, the mentoring team is there to monitor the individual trainee’s progress on a day-to-day basis and ensure that he or she is effectively partaking of the overall training program activities. Whereas the directors of the program take responsibility for ensuring that the overall program is implemented, the formal offerings are available, and follow-up with individual trainees occurs at least every 6 months, it is the mentors who provide the true mentoring in the classic sense of being a sounding board and a guidepost for our rising scholars.

  8. What is a Primary Mentor?

    Primary mentors are scientists who have an active record of independent scholarship in obesity and are considered established investigators. Our criteria for "established" in this program are being at or above the level of associate professor, having a strong record of scholarship and/or having obtained a major nonmentored NIH or NSF grant as a PI for obesity-related research, and having scientific connectivity with other primary mentors.

  9. What are Collaborating Mentors?

    Collaborating mentors are well-established scientists with strong records of competitive grant funding whose research is closely related to the topic of the T32 (usually obesity) but for whom obesity is not their primary focus. Across all categories, both clinical and basic scientists are represented.

  10. What are Affiliated Mentors?

    Affiliated mentors comprise individuals whose work is squarely in the realm of obesity-related research but who do not have a recent track record of NIH or similar competitive funding or do not have an established record of successfully mentoring fellows.

  11. Can I, a faculty member at UAB, have a student of mine be a NORC trainee if I am not listed as a Primary Mentor?

    If your student meets all of the eligibility criteria outlined on the website, you may apply for him or her by partnering with one of the Primary Mentors named on the website. Then, the primary mentor would help with the submission. The submitted application will have to make the case that the project is good science and vital to the field of obesity and that the mentoring to be received will be outstanding.

  12. How can I get added to the list of mentors?

    First, you will need to be a member of the NORC. If you are not already a member, you are very welcome to apply for membership in the NORC. To do so, please send Jeff Allison a full CV and a 1-paragraph statement of interest. Once you are a NORC member, you can be added to the appropriate mentorship category. Primary mentors must be approved by both the NORC and the NIH.

  13. If my PhD student will not be in his or her second year, is he or she still eligible to apply?

    He or she may still apply, but all other things being equal, their application may receive a lower priority than that of a student entering his or her second year.

  14. What is my role as a mentor?

    The trainee-mentor relationship is expected to be close and to involve substantial interaction. Trainees are expected to learn by doing, side-by-side with their mentors, which facilitates mentoring in networking, managing real-life career decisions, balancing work and personal life, and identifying and working through ethical dilemmas.

    1. What is my role as a mentor to those I am mentoring?
      1. With your fellow (trainee), create an Individual Training Plan, which encompasses the requirements of the training program and the trainee's individual career goals.
      2. Provide ongoing mentorship in responsible conduct of scientific research.
      3. Provide fellows (trainees) opportunities to publish and ensure that they succeed in pursuing these opportunities.
      4. Provide fellows (trainees) opportunities to participate in grant preparation as training.
      5. Provide an active research program and resources in support of the fellows’ (trainees’) projects.
      6. Provide encouragement and opportunity to move toward independence (especially via grant writing).
      7. Assist in career objectives at conclusion of training.
      8. Provide networking opportunities.
    2. What is my role as a mentor specific to the NORC?
      1. Agree to mentor fellows (trainees) in accordance with the requirements of the specific training program.
      2. Participate with NORC leadership in ongoing evaluation of fellows’ (trainees’) meeting of goals.
      3. Complete required paperwork necessary for ongoing renewal of training grants.
  15. Does the mentor have any other commitments he or she must make toward the training of the selected student?
    1. The primary mentor or a combination of the mentors must agree to pay all applicable tuition and fees not covered by the training grant, unless the primary mentor has made an arrangement with his or her department or school to cover these expenses. Generally, this means all tuition and fees not related to health insurance above the 60% funding level of the training program. Fees related to health insurance are covered at 100% by the T32 program.
    2. Additionally, each school or college at UAB requires a minimum level of compensation for predoctoral trainees. If the selected student's particular school requires a level of support greater than the portion supplied by the NIH, the mentor (or others, e.g., the mentor’s chair or dean) will be required to supplement the stipend to that level with nonfederal funding.
    3. Mentors are encouraged to provide adequate space and equipment for their trainees, in pursuit of their research. If a laptop computer is needed, the trainee and mentor should make that request directly to Jeff Allison .
  16. What resources are provided to trainees?
    1. Each trainee will receive enough money for one trip per year to a national (occasionally international) meeting to present his or her research while working with the training program. Additional conferences can be requested on a case-by-case basis.
    2. Each trainee may request funds for specific software and books needed for research. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  17. Are T32 trainees expected to take coursework, and is tuition covered by NORC?

    Trainees participating in the program come from different departments across the university. Therefore, the first year of doctoral education differs according to the student’s individual program. To provide a baseline of knowledge pertinent to obesity and heart and vascular, lung, and blood diseases, the educational training is based on three categories of courses: Required Non-Recurring, Required-Recurring, and Tailored-Dispersion Requirements (as shown in the Curriculum Development figure).