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Last Updated: 04/05/13

NCI Supports Mentoring Program in Psychoneuroimmunology Research

Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences

Every year for the past decade, the PsychoNeuroImmunology Research Society (PNIRS) invites 25 of the most promising pre-and post-doctoral research scientists to participate in the society’s annual conference. Under an R13 training grant, funded primarily by NCI*, each PNIRS Trainee-Scholar receives $1,000 to cover airfare and hotel costs for the 3-day meeting.

The funds enable the younger scientists to participate in a PNIRS Educational Short Course, as well as a mentoring colloquium with senior faculty. These scientists also attend two workshops with junior faculty and NIH program staff, who provide advice on career building, grant writing, and funding op­portunities in the growing research field of behavioral and neuroimmune interactions and their translational relevance for disease prevention and treatment.

“The program has been in place since 1999, and over the years, PNIRS has had more than 200 trainees at the annual conferences,” recalled Andrew Miller, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and director of psychiatric on­cology at the Winship Cancer Institute. “The scholar-trainee program is very competitive. In 2009, we had about 80 individuals applying for 25 slots.”

The Educational Short Course provides a didactic framework on an emerging topic in psychoneuroim­munology research. “Each speaker is encouraged to provide some basic foundation for their areas of investigation, and typically the first talk is an in­troduction to this whole research field,” Dr. Miller explained. During the 2009 conference he moderated a short course on his special interest of inflammation and its links to behavioral patterns in a variety of diseases including cancer.

After the short course, the 25 trainees participate in a Senior Faculty-Trainee Colloquium. “We have the trainees break up into several small groups of five trainees each,” Dr. Miller said. “There are two senior faculty for each group. The trainees and faculty are carefully selected for each group, so the trainees will have faculty who are experts in the trainees’ fields of interest.”

Each trainee has three minutes in which they infor­mally present their research projects to the faculty and peers. “After the trainees do their brief presentations everyone can ask questions,” Dr. Miller noted. “The faculty makes various suggestions about how the research projects could be improved, what things might be missing, what are the strengths. It gives the students the opportunity to really focus their ideas, make presentations, and meet their peers in the same field as well as senior faculty investigators.”

The PNIRS Trainee-Scholar program has demonstrated real benefits for the participants’ scientific careers. Dr. Miller noted a PubMed survey of former trainees from the 2004 PNIRS conference that found they had published more than 60 publications in peer-reviewed journals since participating in the program.

“We also invite former trainee-scholars and other junior faculty members attending subsequent PNIRS meetings to a junior faculty workshop,” he added. “It really fosters the networking and helps the trainees get to know peers who’ve made that transition from post-doc or graduate school into a post-doc, junior faculty status.”

* Grant Number: 1R13CA139766-01