From April 6-8, 2016, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) will convene its 8th Young Investigators Research Forum (YIRF). Held in Bethesda, MD, the YIRF was developed by the AASM in collaboration with the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to address concerns about the dwindling number of new scientists and clinician-scientists pursuing academic medical research careers, particularly in sleep and circadian medicine.1,2 Over the ensuing decade, the YIRF has become a jewel of a training opportunity—two days where promising new minds in the sleep field come together to participate in an intensive training program that focuses on skills and knowledge that are vital to a successful career in clinically-oriented research.
Trainees with an interest in sleep research from all disciplines and settings are encouraged to apply to participate in the YIRF. For instance, the 2015 Forum included individuals from a broad range of training levels (medical resident to junior faculty) representing a diverse assortment of specialties including clinical psychology, epidemiology, genetics, neurology, nursing, neuroscience, otolaryngology, psychiatry, and pulmonary medicine. Some participants come from institutions where they have no local sleep mentor to guide them as they begin their careers in academic sleep research; others are part of “well-oiled machines” with formal infrastructure in place to foster academic success. Nevertheless, trainees from all backgrounds learn from the faculty and each other and report that they come away from the YIRF experience with new insights and information about launching their careers and competing successfully for research funding.
Planning for the YIRF begins nearly a year in advance to secure the participation of valuable faculty members, including a mix of MD and PhD sleep and circadian researchers who are AASM members, as well as NCSDR and other NIH faculty. The program is always evolving to incorporate new components in response to participant feedback. For instance, the 2015 Forum included a new workshop where participants submitted “work in progress” specific aims in advance of the YIRF meeting for review and discussion by faculty and peers, and received personalized feedback about how to hone their research ideas and communicate them effectively. Planned events for the 2016 YIRF include sessions on mentoring, writing scientific papers, making a scientific presentation, and balancing competing career demands (research/clinical work/ teaching/service).
A major component of the YIRF is devoted to grantsmanship. In addition to a lecture on grant writing, participants will hear about funding opportunities from a variety of sources such as private foundations (including the American Sleep Medicine Foundation), the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and of course, the National Institutes of Health. Critical information is conveyed to participants, including upcoming changes in the grant application process, new program initiatives, and areas of funding interest by institute. The grant writing curriculum culminates in a mock grant review workshop chaired by faculty who have served on study sections and real NIH Scientific Research Officers. Trainees are not “flies on the wall” in the mock study section—they are active participants. YIRF trainees attend a webinar on grant review prior to the face-to-face meeting and receive 3 grants to review before the YIRF meeting. The mock grant review session is run just like a real study section meeting so that participants have a full understanding of the process. Consistently rated among the highest components of the YIRF, this session seeks to demystify the research funding process for trainees and position them to succeed in today's competitive funding climate.
Of course the backbone of any successful enterprise is the people. The multidisciplinary nature of sleep medicine is a wonderful strength, but our field's diversity may limit opportunities for interaction among newcomers who may only attend meetings related to their discipline. Thus, the YIRF provides a venue for future leaders in sleep and circadian research to network not only with faculty and NIH scientists, but with one another, and perhaps plant seeds for future collaborations.
Feedback about the YIRF from past participants is overwhelmingly positive. For example, one hundred percent of 2015 YIRF attendees reported increased knowledge regarding NIH mechanisms and procedures for grant funding and over 90% stated that the YIRF improved their grant writing skills, enhanced their understanding of what is needed to become a successful investigator, and improved their ability to network with people who could help them in the future.
Thus, I am calling upon all AASM members who mentor trainees to spread the word about the 2016 YIRF. Applications and more information are available at http://aasmnet.org/younginvestigators.aspx. To recap, YIRF attendees will learn vital information required for pursuing a career in research, receive hands on training for pursing research grant funding, and have the opportunity to network and establish research mentorship among faculty and NIH staff. More importantly, perhaps, our field will shore up its future by fostering the pursuit of clinical research in sleep and circadian medicine by early career faculty and fellows training in sleep medicine.
Dr. Sharkey has indicated no financial conflicts of interest.
Sharkey KM. AASM Young Investigators Research Forum helps ensure a bright future for sleep and circadian research. J Clin Sleep Med 2015;11(10):1077–1078.
Thanks to the past chairs of the AASM YIRF: Dr. Richard Berry, Dr. Stuart Quan, Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, and Dr. Sanjay Patel; Dr. Michael Twery and Dr. Aaron Laposky at the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research as well as the Trans-NIH Sleep Research Coordinating Committee for continued support of the YIRF; all of the AASM and NIH faculty including the SROs who have donated their time to this important training activity; and Dr. Lucy Deriy and other AASM staff for their hard work to ensure that the program is a success.
Colten HR, Altevogt BM, authors. Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation: an unmet public health problem. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2006.
Pack AI, Zee PC, authors. The pipeline of investigators for sleep research - a crisis! Sleep. 2006;29:1260–1. [PubMed]