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Who can residents work with?

In principle, residents can work with any faculty member at Penn. They are encouraged to consider the basic science labs in neurosurgery, and all have successfully mentored residents, but they can also consider labs in bioengineering, radiology, neurology, neuroscience, the Institute for Medicine and Engineering, the Nano/Bio Interface Center, the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, the Center for Brain Injury and Repair, or the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. These are only a few examples. Residents are encouraged to take advantage of the rich collaborative research environment at Penn. In fact, they might wish to work with co-mentors - for example, one basic science and one clinical faculty member, or one junior and one senior faculty member, or one mentor from Neurosurgery and one from another department. These co-mentorship arrangements have worked out well in the past and can give the benefit of committed intellectual input from two sources with quite different points of few, as well as the resources and expertise in two labs.

What type of project can residents work on?

No one will dictate the type of research project. If residents become inspired by a problem they face in the OR or by a speaker at Grand Rounds, they should by all means find a lab to pursue their interest. If they have a good basic science background and want to design their own project, they might seek out a senior faculty member who has the resources to start something new. Those who have less basic science experience can look for a faculty member with an ongoing project that they can contribute to. Ideally, they should all find projects that are related to their developing clinical interests.

How are resident research rotations funded?

Residents write a research grant proposal which is submitted to extramural funding sources. The department also holds an NIH T32 training grant which has a slot for resident research. Residents should discuss the deadlines with their mentor as soon as they have committed to their lab.

Grant writing - why, how and when

Grant writing is an essential part of the research training at Penn. Seven years will go by quickly and when they become faculty members at an academic institution, they will be expected to write a K grant, an RO1 or participate in RO1s and program project grants at that institution. At Penn, residents are prepared for this critical part of being an academic neurosurgeon. As soon as they identify their research mentor(s), residents can begin formulating their project and writing the proposal. (Be sure to identify the submission dates for the relevant funding agencies.)

There are three key goals:

  • To get experience in formulating a hypothesis, learning to summarize the literature and present the preliminary data in a compelling way and to familiarize residents with the NIH formats, submission and review process;
  • To clarify the research goals and methodologies with the mentor before starting in the lab, in order to "hit the ground running";
  • When the fellowship is funded, it becomes a line on the CV that shows residents can successfully compete for extramural funding.
This makes Penn residents even more competitive for future applications as a faculty member. Penn's track record in helping residents get funded is very successful (see above).

Is there a possibility of turning the resident rotation into a PhD?

Yes, but residents must apply to and be accepted by a Penn graduate group and the training plan must be acceptable to both the graduate group and the neurosurgery department.

What are residents expected to accomplish in 18 months?

Residents are expected to generate a body of novel research and publish it. The faculty mentors are all quite aware of the time constraints and will work with residents to keep their project focused.

What is the research environment like at Penn?

Very collaborative.

What other resources are available to residents?

Penn has a large number of core facilities that can help speed up the technical aspects of research.

Can residents do clinical research instead of basic science research?

Residents participate in and publish clinical research throughout their residency. The research rotation is specifically meant to give basic science or translational research experience.

Where do residents submit their research grant proposal?

Typically, the residents submit their research proposal to one or more of the following sources: the NIH (for an NRSA award), the AANS, medical device companies, the departmental T32 training grant.

How do residents find a mentor?

Their third year or sooner, Dr. Grady encourages residents to meet or re-meet faculty of the labs they are interested in, talk to faculty in the department about their interests and get some recommendations. Talk to other residents. Search Penn websites:

Penn Neurosurgery Department
Penn Center for Brain Injury and Repair
Penn Neurology Department
Penn Neuroscience Department
Penn Institute for Neurological Sciences
The Walter Flato Goodman Center for Comparative Medical Genetics
Penn Cell and Developmental Biology Department
Penn Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research
Penn Bioengineering Department
The Nano-Bio Interface Center
Penn Radiology Department
The Stokes Institute at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Is the time protected?

The time is fairly well protected. Lab residents are expected to cover when the chief residents are away for meetings or job interviews.

What other responsibilities do the lab residents have?

Lab residents take the leadership role in the recruitment and interview process for new applicants. They have a vested interest in this process since the incoming residents will be their junior residents when they are the chiefs. Also, the boards are taken for credit during March of PGY5 and there should be some time set aside to study for it.

Do residents attend meetings?

Residents may attend the national neurosurgical meetings (AANS and CNS) when their work is accepted for oral presentation. During their research time residents may attend specialty meetings where their presentations have been accepted.

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