Summer Translational Science Fellowship providing real-world research training

Bethany Latten is a second-year medical student in the Penn State College of Medicine. Scott Graupensperger is a second-year graduate student completing a dual-title doctorate in kinesiology and clinical and translational science at Penn State University Park. While their coursework and career goals may be vastly different, the Penn State Summer Translational Science Fellowship Program bridges that gap with an educational experience both found rewarding.

The program is sponsored by the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute as part of its mission to train the next generation of scientists focused on accelerating discoveries to benefit human health.

“The Penn State Summer Translational Science Fellowship provides early-stage graduate and medical students with the opportunity to gain select knowledge and skills in clinical and translational research,” said Tom Lloyd, professor of public health sciences and program director.

The fellowship is a highly interactive, hands-on program to introduce both foundational skills like research design and data analysis, and professional skills like ethics and teamwork. Penn State faculty and staff lead sessions twice a week over five weeks — 20 sessions — that stress individual and team learning over traditional lecture-style classes. Examples of real-world clinical and translational research are used throughout the course.

“For example, in one particularly excellent session, led by Dr. Jennifer Kraschnewski, we worked in interdisciplinary teams to tackle the issue of poor nutrition among those who live in inner-cities,” said Graupensperger, a Bend, Oregon, native who completed his undergraduate degree at Northern Arizona University and master’s degree at Bowling Green State University. “We engaged in an activity called 'Write a grant proposal in an hour' which was admittedly stressful, but so rewarding to work with my colleagues on this issue to plan a program of research that could help tackle this very real issue.” 

Opportunities to practice skills like this are integrated throughout the program using case studies, simulations, computer-based modules and small-group discussions.

 "I have nothing but positive things to say about my experiences in the summer program,” said Graupensperger. “Notably, on training days we were expected to be enthusiastic and engaged so that we would get the most out of each session. This was not hard, as the sessions are designed for active learning rather than lecture-based. We got to work with both graduate and medical students to think critically and tackle real-world health problems.”

Latten, a Cortland, New York, native and Penn State graduate, appreciated her interactions with researchers.

“I really enjoyed participating in the summer program because I learned how different researcher-clinician teams work together to design and complete projects,” Latten said. “The program was much more interactive than I expected, and I enjoyed being able to work with my peers to design projects and presentations.”

Graupensperger appreciated that he could still concentrate on research while in the program. A three-month stipend is provided to cover the program and related research time. 

“The summer program was a way for me to dive into translational science by being immersed in educational opportunities throughout the summer, while being funded to work on my independent research project,” Graupensperger said. “I was also excited by the opportunity to be more involved with the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, through which I've been able to meet many renowned researchers across Penn State, and develop a strong mentorship team.”

Latten participated in the program to learn how to conduct clinical research. Prior to entering medical school, her research experience was bench work at a molecular genetics lab. Hearing from both clinicians and researchers opened her eyes to career paths.

“One of the things that attracted me to this program was learning from clinicians and researchers in many different departments at the College of Medicine,” she said. “One of my career goals is to work in an academic setting, and I hope to both teach and potentially do my own research. This summer experience helped me see that clinicians have many options in how they can incorporate research into their career.”

Graupensperger also sees the program helping him reach his career goals.

“Although I'm interested in translating research to have a more direct impact on human health, I aspire for a career in academics, preferably at a research institution,” he said. “I'd like to contribute to training future generations of translation-minded scientists. Ultimately, my summer experiences taught me collaboration and team science skills, helped me to identify and hone in on my dissertation program of research, and connected me with mentors that will make sure that I am on the path to reach my career goals.”

The program is open to students from both the University Park and Hershey campuses.

To apply, medical students must have a defined medical student research project and adviser; doctoral students must be actively engaged in research under the direction of an adviser or have completed a research project within the last semester.

“I would recommend this program to any medical or graduate student who's considering making research a part of their career,” Latten said. “Even though I already had a lot of experience with research in college, this program exposed me to the different research paths clinicians at Hershey have pursued and helped me consider how I will incorporate clinical research into my own career.”

Graupensperger agreed.

“I would — and often do — recommend this program to any student in a relevant field that wants to learn more about how to get more out of their research efforts,” he said. “So many studies get published but then lost in translation and buried in the pages of a textbook, never affecting human health. Anyone who wants their research to make a real contribution to society would be wise to learn the tools offered through the Clinical and Translational Science Institute programs for how to conduct impactful research.”

To learn more, visit the fellowship’s website here. This program is funded through the institute’s TL1 Training Program grant through the Clinical and Translational Science Award of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.    

Applications are being accepted through March 15 for the summer 2018 program. Click here to apply.