Predoctoral and Postdoctoral trainees at the Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics benefit from a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary research environment that allows them to develop individualized training plans. Given the breadth of training options, creating a comprehensive list of every possible topic and skill a trainee could pursue is not feasible. Instead, we have created this webpage to provide a sample of the flavors of training opportunities available. For simplicity, the training opportunities have been broadly categorized as either phenotype-centered training or methods-centered training. In reality, all trainee plans include a combination of phenotype-centered and methods-centered items. The relative amount of phenotype versus methods-centered training will depend on each individual’s custom training plan.

Phenotype-centered training

Phenotype-centered training typically involves gaining expertise understanding a specific trait, disorder, or condition along with and sufficient working knowledge of how to apply one or more statistical methods to create and answer research questions.

VIPBG faculty research portfolios include work related to internalizing disorders (e.g., major depression, anxiety, phobias), psychotic disorders (e.g., schizophrenia), cognitive traits (e.g., intelligence), trauma-related disorders (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., Down Syndrome), substance use and disorders (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, cannabis), reproductive traits and disorders (e.g., preterm birth, maternal depression), physical health (e.g. body mass index) and other complex traits and behaviors (e.g., musicality, extraversion, neuroticism) and disorders (e.g., developmental disorders).

PTSD, Trauma

VIPBG has multiple faculty members who study the etiology of trauma-related disorders, e.g., PTSD. This group is interested in the role of potential genetic influences on PTSD and co-occurring conditions (e.g., substance misuse, depression), given trauma exposure, as well as the mechanisms by which PTSD and these co-occurring conditions may unfold. Cutting edge genetic methods (e.g., Mendelian Randomization, Linkage Disequilibrium Score Regression, genomic SEM, Polygenic Risk Scores) are used to answer questions related to how those who experience potentially traumatic events come to develop these debilitating symptoms. These faculty and their collaborators are also interested in identifying proximal risk factors (e.g., fear conditioning, anxiety sensitivity) that might mediate the association between genetic risk and these phenotypes, and attempts to answer such questions for diverse populations with varying types of trauma history (e.g., Veterans, young adults, children).

Mood, Anxiety, Psychotic Disorders and Cognitive Traits

VIPBG offers a wide range of training opportunities for individuals interested in developing a greater understanding of the history, nosology (i.e., classification), presentation, measurement and genetic epidemiology of psychiatric traits and disorders. The Institute currently holds a T32 Training Grant in Psychiatric Genetics that supports both predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees ( and regularly hosts invited speakers, seminars, and journal clubs to complement the available courses and research activities. Many of the active and ongoing research projects aim to understand psychiatric disorders and traits by identifying and characterizing risk factors, biomarkers, and treatment responsiveness across the lifespan and in heterogeneous populations. Institute faculty have a long tradition of studying the genetics of schizophrenia and are currently involved in sequencing DNA from multiplex schizophrenia families. Other large-scale studies of mood disorders include the Converge project which focused on identifying genetic variants in recurrent major depression. The breadth and depth of psychiatric genetics training varies by individual. A subset of recent hands-on workshops can be viewed on the VIPBG website.

Substance Use, Misuse, and Disorders

The VIPBG receives funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support both human participants and experimental animal model research activities related to substance use and misuse. Trainees focused in this domain learn about how to conceptualize substance use and misuse traits and behaviors, how substance use can be measured (e.g., self-report questionnaires, medical records), and the impact of measurement strategy on downstream data analysis and interpretation. VIPBG researchers have been at the forefront of estimating the heritability of the use and abuse of alcohol, nicotine & marijuana in adults and adolescents, and have developed methods to study the role of genes and environment in the transition from initiation to progression of substance use. Trainees also have the opportunity to collaborate with members of the Alcohol Research Center (ARC) at VCU and to contribute to research that intersects with other behaviors, traits, disorders, and outcomes. ARC members recently obtained funding from NIAAA for a T32 Training Grant that supports both predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees in alcohol-related research.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health

VIPBG benefits from the active engagement of both the university and VCU medical system in child and adolescent mental health research and treatment through the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, a state-of-the-art medical center. VCU is one of twenty-one data-generating institutions for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study—the largest longitudinal study of adolescent brain development in the nation. The VCU site is one of the four twin-sites, and ascertained over 200 twin pairs through the Mid-Atlantic Twin Registry (MATR,, thus supporting the long history of twin research at VIPBG. Phenotypic and genotypic data collected as part of the Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development (VTSABD) are routinely included in analyses of the Psychiatric Genetic Consortium working groups on psychiatric and substance use disorders. The VTSABD study followed twins from early adolescence into young adulthood with a new assessment planned in middle adulthood. VIPBG researchers regularly collaborate with members of the Virginia Treatment Center for Children (VTCC) and have led several longitudinal research studies, including the Juvenile Anxiety Study (JAS) and the Adolescent and Young Adult Twin Study (AYATS). Trainees have had opportunities to participate in data collection, analysis, archive, and presentation.

Complex Behaviors, Disorders, and Traits

Research at the VIPBG is not limited to a specific subset or list of disorders, behaviors, or traits. Few limits exist. VIPBG faculty and trainees have led or participated in research activities related to musicality, stress, exosomes, neurodevelopmental disorders, newborn temperament, intimate partner violence, mindfulness, aging, BMI/weight, developmental disorders and more. Trainees even have the option of partnering with faculty to harmonize older datasets to investigate the latent structure of new and emerging clinical definitions.

Methods-centered training

Methods-centered training typically involves gaining expertise in statistical methods, programming, and computation and may include methods and software development. Methods-centered training is not phenotype-specific but often involves gaining sufficient working knowledge of one or more traits, conditions, or disorders to create and answer research questions.

Biometrical/Twin & Structural Equation Modeling

Biometrical modeling investigates how genetic and environmental factors contribute to biometrical (i.e., statistical) properties of traits within a population. Examples of these biometrical properties are means, variances, and covariances, including covariances between different traits in the same individual and covariances between different traits in different (related) individuals. This allows the partitioning of individual differences in traits as well as in correlated traits in sources due to genes and environment. Traditionally, twin and family studies composed the vast majority of the study designs used in this research domain; however, the existence of large-scale, population databases like those in Sweden have enabled exciting advances in genetics research, including the development of family genetic risk scores based on extended family pedigrees and modeling a range of research designs involving relatives, including children of twins, extended twin pedigrees, etc., allowing an exploration of the contribution of both genetic and environmental sources of variance and their interaction to the understanding individual differences in traits of interest (Kendler 2021; Predoctoral trainees are not expected or required to have knowledge of programming or modeling before joining a PhD program affiliated with the institute. All graduate courses assume no prior familiarity with biometrical genetics and structural equation modeling (Figure:

Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS)

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) empower researchers to identify genomic regions linked with phenotypes. GWAS-related training can include wet lab (e.g., specimen preparation, genotyping) and dry lab (e.g., computational) techniques as well as post-GWAS methods like polygenic risk score analysis. These studies often require large scale data analysis and collaborators from many universities, institutions, and consortia. Many VIPBG faculty are members of the Psychiatric Genetics consortium subgroups and other consortia in their area of phenotypic specialty, providing opportunities for their training to become familiar with collaborative research. Training plans that emphasize GWAS methods often include course work in advanced statistical genetics, molecular genetics, and programming. Opportunities for hands-on training in multi-omic analysis, meta-analysis, polygenic risk score calculation and validation, DNA sequence analysis (exome and whole genome), and genomic structural equation modeling also are available.

Omic and Multi-omic Research Methods

Omics research includes in-depth measurement of at least one biological layer (e.g., genome, epigenome, transcriptome, proteome, etc.). While DNA is relatively stable in its sequence content, non-genomic biological layers can be very dynamic. A central focus of non-GWAS omic research is understanding how genetic, biological, behavioral, and environmental factors jointly influence the development, onset, trajectory, and severity of traits and disorders. Opportunities for hands-on training also include method development. Examples of active areas of omics research include:

Advanced Genomic Methods

In addition to omics association study analysis techniques, VIPBG offers trainees the opportunity to apply advanced genomic methods like multi-ancestry analyses for GWAS and polygenic risk score construction and genomic structural equation modeling. The purpose of applying these computationally demanding techniques is to calculate accurate estimates and to produce robust results from globally representative cohorts (i.e., multi-ancestry, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan samples). VIPBG faculty are also actively involved in increasing diversity in all areas, including trainee and faculty recruitment.

Methods Development/Data Science

New methods and method expansions are developed each year as part of the effort to accelerate discoveries in psychiatric, statistical, and behavioral genetics research. VIPBG faculty have contributed to many novel developments and method expansions, including the open source R package OpenMx for structural equation modeling and MAGIC LASSO for prediction in datasets with widespread non-random missingness, R packages for analyzing parent-offspring trio data, and software for expression Quantitative Trait Loci analyses. Training plans that emphasize methods development usually require expertise in at least one of the following areas and working knowledge of at least two others: statistical genetics, statistical methods, algorithms, programming, software development  (Figure:

Martin, A.R., Kanai, M., Kamatani, Y. et al. Clinical use of current polygenic risk scores may exacerbate health disparities. Nat Genet 51, 584–591 (2019). and; Twins icons created by Freepik. Flaticon.