The Skeletal Disorders Training Program supports stipends for up to three predoctoral and three postdoctoral trainees each year. Appointments are renewable for up to two years, extendable to three years.

Pre-doctoral trainees are integrated into the graduate research training programs managed by the Division of Biology and Biochemical Sciences (DBBS) or the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME).

Graduate students admitted to this training program will complete their PhD thesis work in the lab of one of the program preceptors, and must fulfill graduate coursework and qualifying exam requirements set forth by these programs.

Other DBBS or BME institutional training grants provide the first two years of support for graduate trainees during their coursework requirements, laboratory rotations, teaching assistant requirements, and qualifying exams.

Once a thesis laboratory/mentor has been chosen at the end of these two years this SDTP will provide support for years three to four of graduate training for those students admitted to this program.

This training program is structured around four training domains:

  1. Mentored research training
  2. Core curriculum coursework
  3. Enrichment activities
  4. Career development

Trainee progress is guided and monitored by direct interaction with the mentor, meetings with thesis and trainee advisory committees, and formal yearly evaluation by the Executive Committee.

Mentored research training

Development and successful completion of an original research project under mentor supervision represents the mainstay of this training program. The research project to be pursued by each laboratory-based trainee is agreed upon with a mentor at the time of application to the program.

The methods and approaches used by each mentor in directing laboratory activities vary and the program encourages diverse approaches. Nonetheless, it is expected that mentor and trainee frequently interact face-to-face and via lab meetings, which will foster exposure to work of other lab members.

Although there is no prescribed number of publications required for reappointment and successful completion of training, submission of at least one full length manuscript by the end of the second year of training is expected.

A student can be enrolled in any DBBS or BME program with which SDTP mentors are affiliated. Of note, trainees pursuing a combined MD/PhD degree affiliated with either DBBS or BME programs enter this program following their preclinical coursework, when thesis work begins. Once a research project has been successfully developed and one manuscript is submitted, the trainee is expected to prepare and submit an F-type or K-type award application, as appropriate to the level of training and career trajectories, individualized by trainee.

Core curriculum coursework

The following lecture series, conferences and courses are designed to provide an in-depth education on topics that are fundamental to the formation of a skeletal biology investigator.

Most of these events are held in the main conference room of the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MRC), an easily accessible venue for all SDTP and MRC trainees.

While their main focus is on biology and pathophysiology, some lectures are clinically-oriented, and one case discussion conference is also included. The goal is to provide a comprehensive didactical program that is meaningful to both basic and clinically-oriented trainees, encourages basic-clinical research interactions, and creates a culture that promotes the translational aspects of skeletal research. Each predoctoral trainee will also comply with the coursework and qualifying examinations mandated by the DBBS or the BME.

Skeletal Biology and Pathophysiology Mini-Course

This lecture series is organized on a two-year cycle with five-six lectures per year (typically in August and September), and it is designed to complement courses available through the DBBS graduate training program, focusing on mineral homeostasis, bone, cartilage and tendon biology, bone biomechanics and biomineralization.

Most of the speakers are SDTP mentors; occasionally, external speakers with expertise in specific topics are invited.

This mini-course is mandatory for all SDTP trainees.

MRC Educational Seminars

Organized by the MRC, this series of four-five lectures, typically held in June and July, is meant to provide in-depth information on the methodological tools and resources relevant to musculoskeletal researchers, with emphasis on those available in MRC Core facilities.

Lectures focus on applicative considerations, advantages, limitations and potential pitfalls, and provide guidance to appropriate utilization and data interpretation.

Speakers include MRC Core Directors and other experts in specific technologies.

This series is mandatory to all SDTP trainees.

Metabolic Bone Disease Case Conference (CME Certified – JME04)

This weekly meeting represents a key component of our clinically-oriented training.

The conference is attended by an interdisciplinary group of clinicians, pathologists, radiologists and geneticists, as well as adult and pediatric endocrine fellows, residents and medical students during elective rotations, and Washington University-affiliated practitioners with interested in osteoporosis and metabolic bone diseases. The conference is also attended by basic scientists interested in mechanisms of skeletal disease and translational medicine.

Typically, 2-3 patients are presented by faculty or fellows. In most circumstances, trans-iliac bone biopsies are presented, reviewed and discussed. Cases are chosen for discussion because of their educational ramifications, and range from rare or poorly characterized skeletal disorders, to challenging presentations of more common conditions of skeletal fragility.

Enrichment activities

Journal clubs, research seminars and annual meetings represent the venues where trainees are exposed to the latest research advances and present their research findings.

The following venues are designed to enrich and broaden a trainee’s fund of knowledge, interact with faculty and peers in informal and more formal settings, and hone reporting and presentations skills.

Trainees choose among three journal/data clubs focused on different aspects of skeletal biology and diseases. Weekly attendance to at least one journal club and presentation of one paper and one research seminar yearly is required. In addition, trainees are encouraged to attend one national meeting every year.

Louis V. Avioli Musculoskeletal Research Seminars

Named for the founder of our Division, Dr. Louis V. Avioli, this high profile lecture series is attended by all STDP and MRC faculty mentors and their trainees, and it is ongoing from September through to May.

These seminars provide a key didactic opportunity for all trainees as they are exposed to the latest developments in skeletal and related research and can interact with prominent investigators. They also offer a venue for exchange of information among WU faculty members and with guest speakers. Speakers include faculty or trainees, as well as visiting professors with internationally recognized expertise in skeletal disorders.

Biomedical Engineering Seminar Series

These weekly seminars are organized by the BME Department and are held on the Danforth Campus. They cover a broad range of topics many of which are of direct relevance to musculoskeletal biomechanics. Speakers include BME faculty, postdoctoral trainees, and external scientists.

Pre-doctoral trainees enrolled in the BME graduate program are highly encouraged to attend these seminars, when the topic is appropriate for their training plan.

Mechanisms of Cancer Biology Research Forum

These bi-weekly research seminars include two 30-min presentations by trainees, as well as presentations from WU faculty and external speakers, and are appropriate for trainees who work on projects related to bone-cancer interactions.

Experimental Skeletal Biology Journal/Data Club

Supervised by Steven Teitelbaum, MD, the forum focuses on the molecular and cellular biology of bone. Both faculty and trainees present on a rotation basis. Trainee’s presentations alternate between discussion of a published article and presentation of their own research project. Feedback is provided during the discussion and via email.

Musculoskeletal Mechanobiology Journal Club

Supervised by Simon Tang, PhD, this journal club meets every other week, and discusses articles pertaining to the biological response and adaptation to mechanical signals in skeletal tissues. Both faculty and trainees present on a rotation basis.

Career development

This component of the program is designed to provide SDTP trainees with learning opportunities relevant to the development of a successful career in research. The DBBS offers a variety of venues throughout the year for students and post-doctoral trainees, in the forms of courses, seminars and workshops, on topics that include leadership skills, grantsmanship, scientific publishing and research ethics.

Grant Writing Skills

Acquiring good grant writing skills is a key component for a successful independent investigator. Towards the end of their training period trainees are required to prepare an F-type (pre- and post-doctoral trainees) or a K-type (post-doctoral trainees) application, under their mentor’s guidance. Trainees are encouraged to submit their F-type proposal to the SDTP Mock Study Section, which are assembled specifically for SDTP and MRC fellowship applications. Review panels are assembled and chaired by Audrey McAlinden, PhD, SDTP Steering Committee member. Complete fellowship proposals and Sponsor Statement are typically submitted at least 2 weeks before the review panel meeting, which will occur about 4 weeks before the deadline. Trainees preparing K-type awards are encouraged to attend Mock Study Sections, offered by the Clinical Research Training Center, held twice a year.

These workshops are designed to simulate an actual NIH study section, with the difference that the proceedings are open to the public. Trainees attend the SDTP Mock Study Section as observers when their own grant is reviewed and participate as reviewers for some other proposals. In this way, all SDTP trainees will be exposed to both grant writing and reviewing.

Scientific Writing Skills

The Office of Faculty Affairs through its Academic Publishing Service develops and conducts a variety of seminars, workshops and classes (school-wide and departmental) about scientific publishing.

These venues address how to begin the writing process and how to assemble various components of an article, as well as recent developments in the journal publishing industry and how they affect authors. Students are informed about selecting an appropriate journal for submission, navigating the peer-review process, and most importantly, author responsibility. Discussants include faculty involved in journal editing and speakers employed by publishers.

All trainees are directed to attend these seminars and workshops, as they become available during the year.

Career and Professional Development

The DBBS and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs have developed a variety of seminars and workshops to guide graduate students and post-doctoral trainees in their professional development as independent scientists.

Examples of topics discussed in these seminars, which are held throughout the year; include, managing personnel and time; managing research work-flow; addressing and resolving conflict; improving communication and presentation skills, managing lab finances, and navigating through funding agencies.

Topics of workshops include how to collect and organize search material (CVs, support letters); how to network effectively; how to manage a job interview; and how to negotiate. Importantly, career opportunities for PhDs in industry and the private sector are also discussed.

Attendance to these seminars and workshops is highly encouraged.

Responsible conduct of research

Trainees participate in a number of activities where topics of relevance to the responsible conduct of research are reviewed and discussed. Such activities take different formats, including online courses, discussion groups, and workshops, with an emphasis on fostering the direct participation of mentors and mentees in interactive sessions. Activities organized and managed by the DBBS are mandatory for all their students, and activities managed by Bioethics Research Center (BRC) are required for all other STDP trainees. RCR training occurs at the beginning of each stage of training.

Responsible Conduct of Research Course (BRC)

The BRC supports a variety of educational programming, and their RCR training fulfills the NIH requirement.

BRC topics include: Animal Welfare, Collaborative Research, Conflicts of Interest, Contemporary Ethical Issues in Biomedical Research, Human Subjects Protections, Mentor/Mentee Responsibilities and Relationships, Peer Review, Research Misconduct, Reproducibility, Responsible Data Management, Responsible Authorship and Publication, Safe Research Environment, and Societal Impacts of Scientific Research.

Program for the Ethical and Responsible Conduct of Science and Scholarship (PERCSS)

PERCSS is an online mandatory course for all first-year students.

PERCSS Basic covers the following topics: Data Ownership, Acquisition, Sharing and Management; Mentor-Trainee Relationships; Research Integrity; Scientist, Society and Environment; Authorship and Publication; Collaborative Research; Conflict of Interest; Peer Review.

Ethics and Research Science (Bio 5011)

This course explores ethical issues research scientists confront daily and is taught by faculty of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and it is mandatory for second-year students enrolled in DBBS programs, but not for BME students. The format of Bio 5011 encourages active participation in discussion groups, which is essential to internalizing an understanding of ethical concepts and issues.

Topics include, but are not limited to: Research Misconduct and Conflicts of Interest; Data: Acquisition, Objectivity, Management and Presentation; Responsible Authorship, Peer Review and Confidentiality; Resource Sharing, Collaboration and Intellectual Property; Human and Animal Experimentation, and Safe Lab Practices; Student/Mentor Relationships and Responsibilities.

Compliance for completion of this course is monitored by DBBS program coordinators, and shared with the SDTP leadership.

Monitoring progress

In addition to the day-to-day interaction with the mentor, where immediate and constant feedback is provided, each trainee’s performance and progress are formally evaluated by the Executive Committee, based upon, 1) research training progress; 2) scientific accomplishments; 3) professional development.  Such reviews occur annually, and represent the basis for reappointment.

Specifically, at the end of each year of training, the trainee completes a T32 Trainee Progress Report (docx) addressing in detail all three components of the evaluation process. This includes a narrative where the trainee briefly summarizes the progress in the research project during the previous year, addressing concerns and challenges, as appropriate. Publications, presentations at internal and national meetings, grant awards, as well as attendance to professional development seminars and coursework are also listed.

In addition for post-doctoral trainees, a Trainee Evaluation by Mentor (docx) is also prepared by the mentor, separately, providing a numerical score of trainee performance and a brief narrative for feedback to the trainee. This report also summarizes the feedback from the Trainee Advisory Committee (docx). For graduate students, the Thesis Committee Report is used as an objective assessment of the student’s performance in research training. Within the first six months of appointment, all trainees prepare an Individual Development Plan (IDP), following NIH guidelines. The process involves discussions with the mentor and development of a research training strategy and long-term goals. The Steering Committee reviews all these documents and provides feedback and recommendations to the trainee and mentor. If progress is deemed appropriate, the trainee is reappointed for one year. If deficiencies are found, remedies are suggested and follow-up assessment required. If concerns are not corrected the PD may elect to revoke the appointment to the SDTP. In should be noted that the authority of the DBBS (or BME) thesis committees supersedes that of the T32 leadership in the evaluation of the pre-doctoral trainees, as it certifies granting of the PhD degree by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (or the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences).