Growing the Next Generation of Psychology & Psychiatry Researchers

By Susan Gallagher

Enriching the careers of our faculty members, providers, trainees, staff, and interns is an integral component of Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences’ strategic plan. In recent years, department leaders have worked diligently to bring this goal to fruition for our research mission. 

“Our research mission not only includes making discoveries to address mental illness, but also helping to build a pipeline of scientists who will be equipped to produce groundbreaking research in the future,” said Jonathan Posner, MD, the department’s vice chair for research. “Mentoring and supporting early-career scientists is critical to our work in Duke Psychiatry.”

The department supports a broad range of early-career investigators through various programs and has established a number of initiatives to help navigate grant-seeking and research processes, tapping the expertise of more seasoned scientists in the department. Below are some highlights.

Early-Career Researchers in Duke Psychiatry

NIH Research Career Development Awardees 

Infographic: K Awards - 5 current, 7 pending

Five early-career researchers in Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences currently have a National Institutes of Health research career development award, or “K award,” with seven additional proposals pending. 

K awards, an important milestone for researchers early in their career, include both training and research aspects and reflect a major investment in investigators believed to have strong potential to contribute significantly to their field.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Infographic: Postdocs: 18 associates, 3 scholars

The department currently employs 18 postdoctoral associates and three postdoctoral scholars—early-career investigators bridging the transition from graduate student to faculty member. 

"Duke Psychiatry has played a pivotal role in advancing my scientific career by providing indispensable early-career support through monthly ‘works-in-progress’ meetings and their rigorous internal grant review process. Beyond offering valuable mentoring and facilitating instrumental collaborations, these resources were crucial in refining my research proposal, ultimately leading to the submission of a K award to the National Institute of Mental Health."
— Sarah Maylott, PhD, postdoctoral associate

Other Early-Career Researchers

  • Each year, two psychiatry residents match into the physician scientist track of Duke’s psychiatry residency. The track helps resident-scientists develop skills in research, team management, grant proposal development, mentoring, communication, and public engagement.
  • Dana Rubenstein, a Duke medical student, is conducting research under the mentorship of professor Joseph McClernon, PhD, through the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s TL1 pre-doctoral scholarship for third year Duke medical students. The program provides individualized training through mentored research, didactic training, and professional development curricula.
  • In 2022, the department began partnering with the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Department of Psychology and the Duke-NCCU Bridge Office to offer research internship opportunities to NCCU psychology graduate students. In the 2023-2024 academic year, the department is hosting three NCCU interns.

New Programs to Support Early-Career Researchers 

Postdoctoral associates and scholars and junior faculty members can avail themselves of several new programs:

  • Internal Review Process – Investigators submitting new NIH proposals can engage in an internal grant review modeled after the NIH review process. Three faculty members review the proposal and provide feedback before the proposal is submitted to the funding agency.
  • Monthly Works-in-Progress Meetings – This forum provides a setting for researchers to present and discuss a new research proposal that is still in the planning phases, allowing early input and feedback as a study is being developed.
  • Grant Writing Program – Designed primarily to assist early-stage investigators with K award proposals, this program includes grant planning, grant editing, and an internal grant review. 
  • Grant Editing Program – Through this program, grant editors review proposals prior to their submission deadline, helping to ensure a clear and well-written proposal. 

“Duke Psychiatry has been extremely supportive of my career goals to continue autism biomarker research while also practicing as a child psychiatrist. I have really benefitted from the constructive feedback I’ve received throughout the grant writing process. One highlight was the career development award planning meetings with Jonathan [Posner] and my mentor to ensure we had thought about all the Duke resources we can leverage in the training plan.”
— Alexandra Bey, MD, PhD, assistant professor and alumna of Duke's psychiatry residency and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship

Mentoring early-career investigators and developing and sustaining programs to support them is no small undertaking, but to Posner and other department leaders, the investment is well worth the effort. “While many of our current scientific discoveries are and will continue to be impactful for the field, the work of our up-and-coming investigators will be all the more significant,” he predicts.