Program Description

The Substance Abuse Epidemiology Training Program at Columbia University trains individuals from different disciplines for careers and leadership in substance abuse epidemiology. We train pre- and post-doctoral fellows to use epidemiologic methods to understand the onset, course and consequences of substance abuse, and to transform such understanding into actions that mitigate the terrible toll substance abuse takes on individuals and on society. This training program is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health. It is a joint enterprise between the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, and the Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, located in the Columbia University Medical Center.

We emphasize a multi-level, cells-to-society approach. Our training goals include gaining knowledge about substance abuse epidemiology and related areas; acquiring depth of knowledge in a specialized area; building a set of methodological skills; developing conceptual thinking, including formulation of key research questions and testable hypotheses; designing and carrying out studies to test these hypotheses; presenting findings in professional settings; writing publishable manuscripts; writing grant proposals; collaborating with others; and becoming trained in the responsible conduct of research.

Program components include:

Component 1: Courses

These include courses in introductory and advanced epidemiologic methods and biostatistics, courses in substance abuse epidemiology, and courses in social epidemiology, psychiatric epidemiology, genetic epidemiology, measurement, stigma, and service delivery.

Component 2: Weekly faculty-fellow seminar in substance epidemiology

The faculty-fellow seminar integrates the training program by providing a setting to meet and discuss important issues on a regular basis. The seminar provides opportunities for fellows to present their research and receive feedback; keep abreast of recent developments in the field via presentations by faculty and outside experts, participate in workshops on grant and manuscript preparation, learn more about major studies, their methods and findings, and learn more about the methods of other types of substance abuse research, including laboratory and clinical studies.

Component 3: Mentoring by leaders and experts

Mentors have an important role in fostering fellows’ development into independent researchers. Our faculty mentors are leaders in substance abuse epidemiology and related fields. They provide close guidance and supervision on literature, skills building, developing research questions and testable hypotheses, designing, carrying out and managing studies, making presentations, publications, obtaining funding, collaborating with others and conducting research responsibly. This takes place through individual meetings and by integrating fellows into project teams. Mentors also help guide fellows in career development. Co-mentors add to fellows’ mentoring when their additional expertise assists in accomplishing a project or broadening fellows’ learning to new areas.

Component 4: Field placements – direct participation in research

This provides fellows with hands-on, supervised research experience with their primary mentor. Fellows participate in field placements for 12 to 20+ hours per week, depending on their stage in the program and whether they are pre- or postdoctoral.

Component 5: Seminar and conference presentation

Learning to present in professional settings is an important part of scientific development. Fellows are mentored in submitting abstracts and presenting their work, and ordinarily attend and present at at least two professional conferences a year.

Component 6: Manuscript preparation and submission

Fellows will be trained in manuscript preparation by instruction, by critically reading papers written by others, by working with more senior scientists in their field placements, and by writing their own manuscripts, working with mentors and co-mentors.

Component 7: Grant proposal preparation

Fellows will be trained in grant preparation by didactic sessions in the weekly seminars, by reading proposals written by others, by participating in mock reviews of grant proposals, by assisting their mentors with grant proposal preparation, and by writing their own proposals, working with their mentors and co-mentors.

Component 8: Additional training/learning activities, e.g., leadership development, scientific workshops

All fellows prepare Individual Development Plans (as required by NIH) under the guidance of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. This office also provides an array of courses and workshops on leadership skill-building. CUMC is also a setting rich in other training and learning resources, including Grand Rounds in Epidemiology, Psychiatry, HIV and Child Psychiatry, weekly biostatistics seminars, the weekly seminars of other training programs, and other talks, workshops, seminars and brown-bag lunches.

Component 9: Career planning

Short-term career planning involves mentorship on the activities needed to succeed in the fellowship, including planning of the process to meet agreed-upon benchmarks. Longer-term career mentorship focuses on strengthening fellows’ knowledge of career possibilities, the knowledge and skills needed to achieve these, and how these fit with the fellow’s interests and abilities.

Component 10: Training in the responsible conduct of research

This will include didactic training, seminars, and hands-on experience in research ethics and the protection of human subjects in research.