UC Davis Neuroscience of Cognitive Aging Postdoctoral Training Program
The Alzheimer’s Disease Center in the Department of Neurology at the University of California Davis School of Medicine appoints three postdoctoral fellows to study the biological underpinnings of the aging brain as it relates to cognition across the spectrum of human brain aging. This 2-3 year fellowship is funded by the National Institute on Aging through its T32 research training program. The program synergizes an array of more than 30 highly respected neuroscience researchers, laboratories and center facilities, and educational resources available at UC Davis to train postdoctoral students for translational neuroscience research on cognitive aging. The next recruitment will be in Winter 2023.
This program offers candidates an opportunity to explore four focal points of cognitive aging:
- Cognitive systems in normal aging—Trainees interested in this area will collaborate with eminent scholars in pushing the frontiers of cognitive neuroscience research, while further elucidating the effects of normal aging on memory, attention, executive function, and spatial and language abilities.
- Brain structure and function associated with cognitive aging—With mentorship from experts in cognition, neuroimaging, and neuropathology, trainees will explore the neurophysiological and neuroanatomical changes present with advanced age with the aim of identifying points of intervention and developing treatment methods to preserve brain structure and functional connectivity in later life.
- Disease mechanisms of cognitive aging—This focus area will offer trainees the opportunity to study basic mechanisms of cognitive decline and the contributing effects posed by medical comorbidities prevalent in advanced age. In addition to studying the effects of age-related pathologies on cognition, trainees will have the opportunity to conduct research on the concept of cognitive resilience.
- Sociocontextual factors affecting cognitive aging—Trainees will aim to characterize the extent to which socio-cultural factors shape diet, exercise, social networks, hobbies, life philosophies, and neighborhood characteristics – all of which influence brain health, cognitive aging, and risk for cognitive impairment in later life.
Trainees accepted to the postdoctoral training program will work collaboratively with a team of 2-4 mentors to design, enhance, monitor and evaluate their research program and career development. Additionally, the program offers various didactic courses and activities (e.g., journal club, travel to scientific meetings, rotations, research design and statistics) to build a successful career path in academic or industry research.
We employ a mentorship team approach to stimulate collaborative research and offer the best available training opportunities to our postdoctoral fellows. Our mentorship team offers a wide range of neuroscience expertise. Each trainee will choose a primary mentor who best fits the applicant’s background and research interest. The primary mentor works with the trainee to refine and focus the research project and select additional mentors to create a coherent mentorship team of 2-4 faculty members. All mentorship teams include a member with research experience in cognitive aging. The primary mentor provides overall direction, close supervision and guidance to the trainee. All mentors provide focused topical or technical guidance appropriate to the trainees career goals and project. Each mentor team will be reviewed and approved by a select group of training faculty.
Cognitive aging is central to this program and sophisticated measurement of cognition will be central to all research activities. Program faculty have extensive expertise in substantive and psychometric aspects of measuring cognition and this expertise will broadly contribute to the training program. In addition, the training offered through this program, both in terms of didactics and student research projects, will occur within four broad focus areas that are particularly relevant to cognitive aging and that capitalize on the expertise within the UC Davis research environment. While overlapping and not mutually exclusive, these areas will help applicants see the areas of training the program offers and identify potential mentors.
Cognitive Systems in Normal Aging Humans
There is a vast literature that describes differences among various cognitive domains associated with the aging process. A full understanding of how cognitive systems change with advancing age remains elusive despite the vast literature on this subject. Rapid advances in techniques of cognitive neuroscience are exploring unique and exciting aspects of brain function. However, much of our emerging understanding of cognitive function has been obtained through the study of generally healthy, younger individuals. UC Davis faculty members such as Drs. Amaral, Carter, Luck, Mangun, Ranganath and Yonelinas have contributed substantially to these discoveries. These senior researchers along with a host of junior faculty form a tremendous research infrastructure that will support the translational aims of this T32 program. Trainees will have the opportunity to focus on research related to memory, attention, executive function, spatial and language abilities under the auspice of these highly regarded leaders.
Brain Structure and Function Associated with Cognitive Aging
Substantial differences in brain structure and function accompany advancing age. While a significant proportion of these differences can be attributed to co-incident disease such as AD or cerebrovascular disease, more recent studies identify differences in cortical thickness, white matter integrity and resting state connectivity. These results underscore the complex nature of brain changes associated with advancing age and offer tremendous opportunity for innovative research to understand the biology of these differences with the goal to develop interventions to retain brain structure and functional connectivity into later-life. Additional use of glucose metabolic studies can potentially further enhance these investigations. UC Davis is fortunate to have faculty members with extensive imaging experience such as Drs. Carter, DeCarli, Mungas, Cherry, Sutcliffe and Badawi. Many of these researchers also have extensive training experience that will support fellows in this program to pursue this area of research. Trainees will have the opportunity to select training in one or more of these neuroimaging areas as they relate to their tailored research investigations.
Disease Mechanisms of Cognitive Aging
Advancing age is accompanied by an increasing prevalence of medical comorbidities and rising risk for neurodegenerative diseases such as AD. It is not surprising, therefore, that these processes either strongly influence or contaminate our concept of “normal aging”. Understanding the pathophysiology and clinical expression of these medical illnesses is essential to developing novel research directions that seek to further understand biological differences in the brain associated with the aging process. UC Davis is fortunate to have a number of faculty members with considerable experience in the pathology of age-related diseases, such as Drs. Jin, Rutlege, Voss and DeCarli, as well as a number of faculty members with extensive experience in the cognitive and behavioral aspects of these diseases, such as Drs. Farias, Mungas, Reed and Olichney. Understanding the basic biology and cognitive impact of these diseases on cognitive aging will be a core aspect of training for all T32 fellows. However, the program will accommodate those interested in a more basic understanding of diseases associated with aging as they relate to cognition. This core area offers the opportunity to understand the basic mechanisms of cognitive decline with advancing age given current limited understanding of biological factors that explain dementia in the population. In addition to understanding basic mechanisms, UC Davis has developed a novel research program to investigate the role of resilience to disease during the aging process (R01 AG 031563, Brain pathologies, reserve and cognition in aging and dementia, Reed, PI). This area of research seeks to examine factors associated with preserved cognition in the face of disease such as vascular or amyloid pathologies. Interested fellows will learn both basic mechanisms of disease, cognitive measurement and advance statistical techniques to study cognitive reserve.
Epidemiology of Cognitive Aging and Population Science of Dementia.
Ample opportunities exist to leverage several ongoing epidemiologic cohort studies in diverse populations including ethnic minority groups and those with diabetes ( http://rachelwhitmer.ucdavis.edu) . The Epidemiology program focuses on lifecourse risk and protective factors, vascular and metabolic contributions to brain aging, and the interplay of social influences on cognitive decline, and incidence of dementia.
Sociocontextual Factors Affecting Cognitive Aging
This research focus emphasizes evolving evidence that social cultural factors that shape diet, exercise, social networks, hobbies, life philosophies and even neighborhood characteristics strongly influence brain health, cognitive aging, and risk for cognitive impairment in later life. UC Davis faculty members are particularly interested in research related to nutrition (Olichney), educational and racial/cultural background (Mungas), personality characteristics, lifestyle factors (e.g., cognitive, social and physical activity throughout the lifespan) and neurodevelopmental factors (e.g., indicators of brain growth) (Reed, Farias and Mungas) and the importance of neighborhood effects (Meyer, Hinton). Intrapersonal and environmental approaches to compensation for cognitive impairment and the development of interventions to improve compensation strategy use among older adults are also areas of focus (Farias). Interested fellows will be directed to understanding the basic theories behind these findings and develop testable neuroscience hypotheses to further understand the biological and cognitive consequences of these sociocontextual factors on brain structure or function.
Ph.D. or M.D. /Ph.D. Ideal candidates will have a knowledge base in the fundamental principles of brain organization, function and development and exposure to the breadth of the neuroscience aging. The successful applicant will have strong academic credentials, well-developed problem solving skills, be able to stimulate new collaborations to advance scientific discovery, lead and mentor students and research assistants, as well as verbal and English written skills, and an aptitude for writing manuscripts and giving scientific presentations.
Postdoctoral applicants are required to identify and contact a faculty mentor who best fits their background and research interest. This person will help the applicant refine their research project and select additional mentors to the applicant’s mentorship team.
Fellowship awards will be based on a competitive application process. Important considerations will be academic qualifications, career goals, and the quality of the training proposal.
Application materials, as required below, should be submitted to Connie Koog (email@example.com) in a PDF file.
- Postdoctoral application
- Applicant’s current CV
- Three letters of recommendation
- Proof of U. S. citizenship or legal admission to the U.S. as a permanent citizen at the time of application.