Neuropsychology and Cognition in Aging Training Program

Cognitive Neuroscience Division
Taub Institute and Sergievsky Center

The program has been designed to take advantage of the multitude of resources available at the Taub Institute and Sergievsky Center. There are three interrelated components to the program: research, course work/seminars and clinical exposure. Our primary goal is to produce trainees who have developed the skills to do neuropsychological/cognitive research in aging. Thus by the end of their training they will have completed a research project that will serve as the preliminary studies for a K-level or other grant proposal. This proposal will be required for successful completion of the program and will help the trainee move on to the next stage of his or her research career.

Preceptor. Each trainee will have a designated preceptor from the Cognitive Neuroscience Division's faculty. Selection of the preceptor will be guided by the trainee's research interest. Most often we expect that the prospective preceptor will be identified during the application process. The choice of a preceptor is not irrevocable and can be changed as a function of how the trainee's research plans develop. In addition, trainees will be encouraged to avail themselves of the expertise of the entire faculty. This collaboration across areas of expertise has been a powerful feature of the existing research program at Sergievsky Center and will be strongly encouraged.

The key role of the preceptor is to work together with the trainee to develop a research plan and then to supervise and facilitate its implementation. The preceptor will also serve as the primary guide for research training. As described below, required formal courses have been kept to a minimum. The preceptor and trainee will determine what additional formal course work will benefit the trainee, primarily as a function of the research program that is developed.

Research Activities

Research training is the primary emphasis of the program. All decisions about the course of the research training will be made jointly by the trainee and preceptor. Each trainee will devote a minimum of 75% time to research. While few trainees will be expected to have fully developed research projects prepared at the time of entry into the program, the experience has been designed so that the trainee is immersed in research activities from the start. The trainee will gain this initial experience in two ways:

1. Assisting in ongoing projects. There is a wide range of ongoing research in which the trainee can participate. This may begin by observing or assisting in ongoing protocols. The eventual goal is to develop research ideas that may complement the ongoing research or develop naturally from the trainees experience with that project.

2. Working with existing data sets. Our data base center has accumulated large sets of carefully collected data from prospectively followed cohorts of normal elders as well as patients with AD, PD, HD, and HIV. Often, a preliminary research concept can be tested or developed partially through analyses of our existing data sets. These analyses then provide the basis for subsequent studies. This approach allows the trainee to "jump start" the research process by piloting an idea and, often, by authoring original publications.

3. Independent Research. Trainees will be expected to develop and begin implementing their independent research projects within six months of starting the program. This project can be an adjunct that adds a new dimension to a larger ongoing research project, or can be free standing. In either case, the preceptor will work with the trainee to properly implement the project, and guide it through its developmental stages. The preceptor takes responsibility for ensuring that the project is feasible within the time constraints and scope of the training program, and has outstanding scientific merit. The regular interactions in the training program seminars will aid in getting multiple inputs into project development. In addition, the trainee can call on other faculty members for assistance in specific aspects of project design, ranging from sampling issues and power analysis to specific questions involving clinical neurology and genetics. Training in research-related skills will be acquired through interaction with the faculty and formal course work as required.
Trainees will be encouraged to present their data at appropriate conferences as well as to submit their findings for publication in a timely manner. As a guideline, we will generally expect trainees to complete a minimum of two publication-ready manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals over a two year period. One of these papers, targeted for preparation approximately 18 months into training should begin to make some definitive statements about the outcome of the trainee's independent project. In addition to the two publications, the final product required of all trainees by the end of their training period is a completed grant proposal, ready for submission, which builds on the findings of the independent research project. This final exercise will serve as the springboard for the next stage in the trainee's research career.

Course work/seminars

Formal Courses. The formal program of course work will be developed by the trainee in collaboration with the preceptor. Rather than a fixed set of required courses, we have opted to allow the trainee to tailor course work to needs of the research project. In total, trainees will have the opportunity to take up to two formal courses per semester (in addition to the ethics course described below), although in many cases they might opt to acquire requisite skills in a less formal manner.

Informal training. The program faculty includes strong expertise in the multitude of skills required for our targeted areas of research. The entire faculty is strongly committed to assisting primary preceptors in working with trainees. Thus, trainees will be encouraged to consult with the program faculty on areas of emerging interest of need. This consultation can take the form of more extended informal training as required. The Cognitive Neuroscience Division's investigators have a strong record of interdisciplinary collaboration. The ability to avail oneself of colleagues' expertise and enter into collaborative research relationships is a key skill required for successful research and will be emphasized.

Cognitive Neuroscience Seminar. A central didactic feature of the program is a weekly seminar for the trainees and faculty. This meeting gives trainees a forum for discussion, assistance and task-relevant learning. At the core of this seminar are regular presentations by the trainees as they develop their research ideas, formalize their research projects and progress with data collection. These presentations help trainees develop their ideas and provide constructive criticism in a supportive environment. Interspersed with these presentations are faculty presentations about their ongoing research. These address emerging issues of study design or state of the art knowledge in relevant areas. There are also journal presentations by the trainees.

Other Training-related opportunities. In addition to the program seminar, there are several research meetings and rounds that will provide instruction and guidance to the trainees. These include:

1. Neuropsychology group supervision. At this weekly meeting, directed by Dr. Manley, a neuropsychological examiner presents a full formal neurological and neuropsychological examination of a patient seen through the Memory Disorders Center or Alzheimer's disease Research Center. Following detailed presentation of neuropsychological test performance, formulations and etiologies are entertained. This meeting, along with private supervision, is a primary source of clinical neuropsychology training.

2. Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) Clinical Core consensus conference. This weekly meeting is the formal mechanism for assigning diagnoses to patients evaluated through the Memory Disorders Center or ADRC. All data is presented by the examining physician and neuropsychologist and consensus on diagnosis is reached. Attending trainees can become familiar with clinical and research diagnostic issues.

3. Sergievsky Center Research Meeting. This weekly meeting has two components. First, all Sergievsky faculty present a very brief update on their weekly research activities. This is followed by a more formal 10-15 minute presentation. All Sergievsky research personnel, including research assistants, give these presentations in turn. These are intended to familiarize all personnel with all aspects of the ongoing research.

4. Sergievsky Center Seminar. This is a more formal weekly series of seminars, on topics relevant to neuroepidemiology. Presenters include local faculty and invited speakers.

5. Clinico-Pathological Case Conference. At this monthly meeting, the case history and pathologic findings of patients followed through the ADRC or prospective research projects are reviewed. This allows attendees to become familiar with the pathological features associated with specific clinical entities.

6. There are many other seminars and rounds throughout the Medical Center. Most relevant are Neurology and Psychiatry Grand Rounds

Clinical Activities

While this program is not designed to train clinical neuropsychologists, it is our strong belief that a degree of clinical exposure and experience is an important component of research training. We therefore propose that the average trainee devote approximately 5-10% time to clinical activities, particularly in the first year of training. For most trainees, clinical activity will consist of evaluating patients referred through the ADRC. As described above, a wide range of patients is evaluated in this setting, ranging from non-demented elders to patients with a variety of dementing disorders. Each trainee will be assigned a clinical advisor to supervise his or her clinical evaluations. Trainees who lack clinical testing experience will complete the standard set of training procedures.

Trainee Candidates

First consideration for the program will go to permanent residents of the United States who: 1) hold a Ph.D. in neuropsychology, cognitive or clinical psychology and have completed their clinical internship, or 2) hold an MD with Neurology or Psychiatry residency. Candidates from other areas of psychology who have no previous clinical background will also be considered, although our intent is to supplement clinical training only to the degree that it is relevant to research as opposed to providing full training in clinical neuropsychology. Candidates who hold doctorates in areas other than psychology, as well as other MD's, may be considered if their professional and scientific background is related to neuropsychology or cognition in aging.

A minimum 2-year commitment must be agreed upon before entrance into our Program. Trainees will pursue the training program on full-time basis, devoting at least 40 hours per week.

Considerations in acceptance are the candidate's motivation, long-range plans, special interests, and potential for overall success. The decision regarding acceptance into the program will require a majority vote among the steering committee. Decisions will be made on an ongoing basis, usually by the spring term preceding July 1.

Faculty

The program is directed by Dr. Stern (P.I.). He is joined by the faculty of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division. Each trainee will have a primary research preceptor. The research preceptor will work with the trainee on developing and implementing their research project. All faculty members may provide access to data sets that are relevant to preliminary development of a research project or that provide ancillary data to that collected in a project. Assignment of a primary research preceptor does not preclude interaction with other members of the faculty. In fact, trainees are encouraged to draw on the faculty's collective expertise. All faculty have a strong record of research collaboration which should be evident from inspection of the biographical sketches. Preceptors may change should research emphasis change.

To apply send application package to:

Yaakov Stern, PhD
Sergievsky Center
630 W 168th Street
New York, NY 10032

The application package consists of:

1. A letter of application, stating research interest and intended research preceptor.
2. Current curriculum vitae
3. 2 letters of reference. These may be sent directly to us by the referee.