This training grant is a very valuable asset to a broad range of UCSF programs. The resources that are made available to our Scholars enrich graduate education and the training experiences of the postdoctoral and clinical fellows that are supported under this mechanism. A description of the various components of our training program follows.
The process of securing a CIRM-sponsored fellowship at UCSF is very competitive. We work extremely hard to make sure that open positions are widely advertised to our various constituencies. These include the many graduate groups, the departments with which they are affiliated and the clinical training programs. Announcements are made through several routes including LISTSERVES and in person at seminars, journal clubs, workshops and retreats.
We know that a strong, fair and open application process is key to recruiting truly outstanding trainees. One aspect is making sure the applicants have sufficient time to prepare outstanding proposals. Therefore, the announcement of vacant positions is made at least four weeks before the application due date. The proposal has several components, including a three-page research plan, a mentor training plan/letter and biographical sketches from the applicant and his/her Principal Investigator. We ask for two additional reference letters from individuals who know the prospective Fellow well, and can make detailed comments about their past accomplishments and future potential. A committee consisting of UCSF scientists, who broadly represent the major stem cell research pipelines at this university, reviews the applications. Two individuals provide written critiques and scorers for each application. Thus, we use objective criteria to choose the Scholars.
Our trainees take advantage of the numerous and varied stem cell-related activities that are sponsored by this program and available at UCSF. This year we started a new activity, CIRM Scholar Lunches. These meetings are designed to bring the pre-doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and clinical fellows that this training grant supports together with the leadership of the program. We allot time for general discussions and to cover special topics. During the past year the latter included ethical issues in stem cell biology, careers in the biotechnology sector, obtaining venture capital for start-ups, licensing and patenting.
The Scholars also attend local, national and international meetings. The CIRM annual meeting is a popular event that brings them together with trainees and their mentors from other universities. This is a valuable opportunity for scientific interchange and networking. Many also attend the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, which is an exciting opportunity to meet the thought leaders in many branches of stem cell science. The other meetings they attend are usually more specialized, focusing on their particular areas of research.
At UCSF they take advantage of many retreats that are held annually. Examples include those that are sponsored by the Biomedical Sciences Program, The Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program and the Program in Biomedical Sciences. They also attend lectures that are part of the 11 regular seminar series at this university. Some are entirely focused on topics in stem cell biology and others include speakers who work in the field. The Scholars also participate in Journal Clubs, where exciting new publications are discussed and in Workshops, where they have an opportunity to present work in progress and receive feedback from the students, fellows and faculty who attend.
They also take formal courses or audit these offerings. Some are specially designed for stem cell trainees such as Developmental and Stem Cell Biology, which integrates fundamental concepts in these fields. They also take the one-week Stem Cell Biology course that is offered by the UCSF CIRM Shared Lab and Teaching Facility, which has both a lecture in the laboratory component. They also participate in a course that addresses ethical issues in stem cell biology research. On an individual basis they attend more specialized courses that are specially tailored to their fields of study.
Program administration is directed by the Principal Investigator and the Co-Principal Investigator, Dr. Robert Blelloch, a physician and scientist. A strong oversight committee, consisting of prominent UCSF stem cell scientists, helps manage this important resource. A talented staff handles financial and other administrative aspects of the training grant.
In summary, we have designed a training program with maximal benefits to our CIRM Scholars. As a group, they have gone on to many types of careers in the stem cell sciences. They have taken jobs in the biotechnology sector and in academia. We think that their training experiences at UCSF have given them a very strong foundation on which to build successful careers.