Graduate students involved in research tend to think of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a research funding source--not a place to do the research, says Jonathan Wiest, PhD, an associate training director with the National Cancer Institute. Yet NIH's Intramural Research Program offers about 3,800 postdocs at any given time--in fact, an average of 800 positions open up annually. Each has an average length of three years.
Postdocs conduct research across the NIH's constellation of 27 institutes and centers, Wiest says.
"[NIH training] basically covers every type of human health issue you could think of," he says.
While most research involves biomedical work, there are opportunities for psychology postdocs across the NIH, particularly within the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Wiest says. Researchers primarily work at the NIH's main campus in Bethesda, Md., but some also work in the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont., Fort Detrick, Md. and Research Triangle Park, N.C.
To encourage more doctoral students to apply for postdoctoral fellowships, NIH hosted 250 advanced graduate students to its second annual National Graduate Student Research Festival on the Bethesda campus on Oct. 11-12.
During the festival, students met with principal investigators, presented at poster sessions and toured NIH's research facilities.
One of those postdocs working at NIH in the intramural research program is Brendan Rich, PhD, who specialized in child clinical psychology at the University of Florida.
Rich came to NIMH in 2003 to study the cognitive functioning of children with bipolar disorder. His team uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other high-tech methods to study the neural functioning of children as they perform cognitive tasks, such as trying to recognize an angry face.
Children with bipolar disorder have trouble recognizing anger on other people's faces, which can lead to difficulties in social situations, Rich says.
Besides studying the neural mechanisms underlying the deficit, the team is starting to work on interventions to help children recognize the emotion.
That's all part of the "translational" approach embraced by the intramural research program, designed to bridge the gap between research and therapies, he says.
As a researcher, Rich says he also likes that NIMH offers technology and support staff to help researchers use it, plus aninpatient unit where children with bipolar disorder can stay and undergo closely monitored intervention trials.
"It really is about the resources," says Rich. "One of the draws here is you have access to technology that a lot of places simply don't have."