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Research Track in Psychiatry

History and Philosophy of the Research Track

Since 1983, the Department of Psychiatry has offered the Research Track for psychiatry residents interested in academic careers based in basic science and clinical mental health research. The Research Track is a unique five-year training sequence specifically designed to prepare psychiatry residents for research careers while ensuring clinical excellence. Instead of postponing research training until a fellowship, the resident in the Research Track spends progressively more time in research activities over the course of the program, while continuing clinical training. Thus, this program integrates clinical training with programmed research experience within the context of an expanded residency program, in essence a true “translational” training opportunity.

Cores of the research experience are the formulation of specific research and educational goals and a formalized relationship with a research mentor. The expected clinical knowledge base, accumulated clinical skills and clinical requirements are the same as for the general residency program. A fifth year is added to the four-year clinical residency to allow full elaboration of a research experience without a compromise in clinical training, integrating the development of clinical and research skills, and fostering the maturation of scientific judgment. Graduates of the program are exceptionally well positioned to transition smoothly into research-based academic positions, to compete effectively for research grants and to produce original research of the highest caliber.

Research time typically begins with two months in the second year of training (PGY-2), followed by incremental increases over the following years (typically 4 months in the PGY-3 year, and 6 months in each of the PGY-4 and 5 years). Flexibility in the research and clinical times allows residents to design individualized schedules. Research time may be taken as a full-time block in specific months chosen by the resident, or more typically it is scheduled part-time throughout the year. What distinguished this program from a traditional fellowship is that it is an integrated experience. Part-time clinical training is interspersed with a part-time research effort, and it occurs throughout residency training. A significant advantage of the Research Track is the participation in research during the residency period. Typically, even the most well-trained, motivated psychiatry residents do not have any protected time for research until their fourth year of residency training. Counting the third and fourth years of medical school, this means an absence from significant research activities for up to five years. As presently designed, the Research Track reduces this period away from the research environment. Thus, while the Research Track is designed with a lower percentage of research time per year than is required for a typical post-residency training program, individuals entering a traditional fellowship at completion of their residency training have spent a significant amount of their time away from the laboratory.

Research Track residents select a seasoned research mentor. The mentor has primary responsibility for guiding them through the training process, in addition to annual reviews of their work and research plans by the Research Track Executive Committee. Research projects may be basic or clinical, and involve any aspect of psychiatry. Research Track residents may work with anyone with an ongoing, active research program on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry or the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI) at the University of Michigan. Under special circumstances, a resident may work with a mentor who is outside the Department of Psychiatry and MBNI.