The focus of pre-doctoral research education is to obtain a Ph.D. with a special emphasis on statistical genetics. Given that the degrees will be obtained within the established programs, graduate students entering this research education program have to fulfill the requirements of their respective departments. In each department, four to five years of full time study are necessary to fulfill all the requirements. The majority of departmental course work is taken during the first two years. Students concentrate on specialized course work and their dissertation in the last two or three years. These latter years are the ideal time for funding from this research education grant, as they provide ample interaction opportunity with the advisor, other statistical genetic faculty and other pre- and postdoctoral participants. Thus, candidates have to complete the core degree requirements and complete the respective qualifying exams before embarking on the R25 research education program. In addition to the statistical genetic focus and regular research education in each of the four participating departments, we have developed specialized curricula in statistical genetics for each pre- or postdoctoral program that can be found below the descriptions of departmental research education. Besides the core course work and elective courses, individual candidate research education plans and directed reading will be determined in consultation with the Ph.D. advisor and mentor.
Psychiatric Behavioral and Statistical Genetics – Our custom-designed PBSG PhD program is an ideal source of trainees for the NIMH training program, because the courses have been added and designed to precisely fit our integrated training needs. Students are required to earn a minimum of 54 hours of graduate-level credits (32 in core and elective courses, and 22 in directed or dissertation research). The core courses include among others: a two semester introduction to human genetics; an introduction to R programming for statistical genetics, a two semester introductory sequence on statistics for genetic studies, epidemiology and assessment of psychiatric & substance use disorders, concepts and principles of behavior genetics, advanced quantitative and statistical genetics (for both genetic epidemiological and gene association studies); grant writing; and scientific integrity. These courses are primarily taught by VIPBG faculty. We have standardized statistical courses around the R programming language as far as possible. Instruction in the use of specialized software, including: PLINK, PLINK/SEQ, Haploview, GCTA, minimac, mach, GotCloud, EPACTS, Merlin, QTDT, Rare-Metal, JAG, Jamp, Tates, Sgene, KGG, KGGSeq, pspp, PennCNV, xhmm, Eigenstrat, BayeScan, Rplinkseq is also available. This field is rapidly changing, so course and seminar content is frequently updated. Specialized tutorials to reinforce application of new materials presented at international workshops, which trainees are encouraged (and funded) to attend also supplement statistical genetics education. In addition to the core course work, elective courses, seminars, individualized teaching and directed reading are determined in consultation with the PhD advisor. Graduate students are also encouraged to attend VIPBG and other pertinent seminars and journal club meetings. In most cases, four to five years of full-time study are necessary to fulfill the requirements. The majority of the course work is taken during the first two years, to allow the students to focus on their dissertation thereafter. Our curriculum is designed to set the tone of a life-long research career by developing the student’s knowledge of the field, and skills in writing, laboratory techniques, critical thinking, study design, data analysis and interpretation, literature research and review and integration of data from multiple disciplines.
Human & Molecular Genetics – The Department of Human & Molecular Genetics currently has 20 graduate students enrolled. Students working toward the PhD degree pass through two stages of graduate study, course work and doctoral dissertation. Within the Human & Molecular Genetics PhD program there is a recognized ‘Quantitative Track’ which is recommended for students with an interest in psychiatric or behavioral genetics. Students who enter the quantitative genetics track are situated at VIPBG. The course of study requires taking three advanced courses in quantitative genetics and two of three non-quantitative genetics specialty courses (clinical, biochemical-molecular, or cytogenetics). The minimum requirement is 36? credit hours.
Biostatistics – The Department of Biostatistics typically has 16 to 18 full-time students enrolled in its graduate program. The majority of these students are PhD candidates. Course work requirements are less demanding (56+ hours for a doctorate) than for Psychology, though there are also consultancy requirements. The department collaborates in biomedical research with other departments at VCU. Its faculty are nationally recognized for their biostatistical work in the areas of clinical trials, pharmacology and toxicology.