Pittsburgh Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center

Research Career Development Core (RCDC)

The goal of the Research Career Development Component is to create a new generation of investigators with expertise in age-related balance and mobility research. These investigators will have expertise in basic, translational, and clinical approaches and will lead and participate in collaborative multidisciplinary projects.

To accomplish this goal, the RCDC uses a range of learning strategies for trainees from multiple disciplines. The program:

  • integrates training in basic and clinical research
  • creates a structured but flexible rich learning environment
  • provides core competencies, self-assessment tools, availability of research project support and access to a talented and established source of funded senior investigators from multiple disciplines dedicated to balance and mobility research and mentoring

RCDC Leadership

Component Co-leader: Dr. Susan Greenspan has been the RCDC Component Leader for the past 10 years and will continue in this role as PD of the RCDC KL2. She is Professor of Medicine with tenure, Professor of Clinical and Translational Science, board certified in Geriatrics, Endocrinology and Metabolism, and Internal Medicine with a focus on osteoporosis, falls and fractures, a theme that is central to the Pittsburgh Pepper. She has a long standing commitment to training illustrated by her 10 year NIH funded K24 mentoring award in which she has successfully trained over 20 medical students, 15 fellows from multiple disciplines and over 20 junior investigators. In addition to her role as PI of the Pepper, she is the PI for the T32 on Aging and Geriatrics. She is also Director of Research for the Aging Institute of UPMC. She has been NIH funded for the past 20 years. She serves on the Board of Scientific Counselors for NIA and was recently appointed to the Clinical Trials Advisory Panel (CTAP) which provides recommendations to the National Advisory Council on Aging and to NIA on potential initiatives for large-scale clinical trials that might be supported by the Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology (DGCG). These roles make her uniquely positioned to provide resources for Pepper junior investigators. As an alumnus of the UPMC Katz Leadership Program, she has critical institutional ties to help guide investigators to academic success and to enrich collaborations and opportunities within the UPMC network and in the Pittsburgh community.

Component Leader: Dr. Doris Rubio became the co-leader in 2014. Dr. Rubio is Professor of Medicine, Biostatistics, Nursing and Clinical and Translational Science. She is Director of the Data Center, Center for Research on Health Care and co-director of the Institute for Clinical Research Education, which is home to the CTSI Education and Training Core. She is co-director of the CTSI KL2 and was co-director of the Roadmap K12, prior to the CTSI. She has been with the Pepper Center since its inception in 2004 as the co-leader of the Data Management Analysis Informatics Core. In addition, she has been instrumental in designing career pathways and programs for our Pepper Scholars and other Pepper trainees and has provided access and direction to the many courses, seminars and degree programs offered by the CTSI. In fact, 8 Pepper Scholars have successfully competed for the CTSI KL2 with Dr. Rubio’s guidance. In her new role as the co-leader of the RCDC of the Pepper she will formalize these activities for our scholars.

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Types of Trainees

Pepper Scholars (KL2)

  • The purpose of the Pepper Scholar program is to support junior faculty trainees who have achieved an initial level of expertise and productivity in an area related to balance, mobility, and aging while they seek their first independent funding.
  • Candidates will generally have completed the bulk of initial didactic training in research methods, have completed and published initial research projects, have a sponsoring mentor and mentoring team, and have a training plan with specific goals and milestones, including a specific research project and plan for submitting a proposal for independent funding.

Expectations for Scholars:

  • All Scholars must spend at least 75% time in research.
  • Scholars are expected to have an individualized training plan that utilizes the resources of the CTSI – ICRE.
  • Scholars will complete an Individualized Develop Plan annually and review with their mentoring team.

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  • The purpose of this program is to engage trainees in the research area of balance, mobility and aging early in their development by offering research opportunities in a supportive and enthusiastic environment. The Novice candidates also provide a pipeline for future Pepper Scholars.
  • Candidates must have an interest in some aspect of balance, mobility, and aging, a sponsoring mentor who is involved in the OAIC and defined research goals, including a research project in a related area.
  • Trainees at this initial level must have funding from an existing institutional program. Trainees may come from any of the age-related T32 training grants, the Hartford Center of Excellence, physicians on other funded research training tracks within their specialties, or doctoral or postdoctoral trainees from the Schools of Public Health, Nursing, Allied Health, or Engineering.

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Young Investigators - Transitioning to Independence

  • The purpose of this program is to promote development into an independent investigator by fostering experiences in leadership and collaboration with other investigators, skills supplementation as desired, and team support and feedback on proposals and manuscripts.
  • Candidates have independent career awards in areas relevant to our theme.
  • They have a sponsoring mentor related to the Pepper Center and a career training plan with specific goals and milestones, including a specific research project.

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Visiting Scholar

  • The purpose of the Visiting Scholar program is provide access to Pepper Center research and research training to young investigators from other centers across the US and around the world.
  • Visiting Scholars must:
    • Be sponsored by their institution.
    • Be active in research training at the home institution in an area relevant to the Pepper Center theme.
    • Have a faculty sponsor in the Pepper Center.
    • Have a specific set of goals for the visit.
  • We sponsor visits by trainees from other OAICs and other academic Centers.

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Individualized Training Plan

The training program for Pepper Scholars will be flexible and personalized as we expect to have Scholars with diverse backgrounds and prior research training. For those with no prior research training, a rigorous curriculum will be planned. For those Scholars with a great deal of prior research training (such as with a PhD in Epidemiology), a flexible personalized curriculum will be planned that will include learning Clinical and Translational Science methods, attending seminars and grant writing, and other training that will complement their current training and provide a strong methodological background for their future career. For basic scientists, we will develop curriculum that includes exposure to clinical and translational research methods, such as the CTSI’s core curriculum. The PDs and mentors, will work closely with each Pepper Scholar and formally develop an individualized curriculum as follows:

  • Review the Scholar’s past experiences and competencies.
  • Review the Scholar’s career goals and objectives for the didactic training.
  • Devise a set of courses, seminars, and curricula that fit the Scholar’s needs. We will provide flexibility in advanced coursework selection because of the diversity of the background, training, and future goals
  • Monitor the Scholars’ progress as they undertake the training program and, if necessary, modify the didactic training to meet each RCDC Scholar’s needs. The PDs will oversee and direct any changes that need to be made in the didactic training program to ensure that career goals are achieved.

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Career Development and Training

The University of Pittsburgh has a distinguished history of, and established infrastructure for, successfully training medical students, residents, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty in Clinical and Translational Research and supporting their career development. This infrastructure was further expanded in 2006 when the University of Pittsburgh was funded in the first round of the prestigious NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program which was successfully renewed in 2011. This award together with institutional monies funded the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) to develop, nurture, and support a cadre of clinical and translational scientists. At the heart of the clinical and translational research training enterprise at the University of Pittsburgh is the CTSI Institute for Clinical Research Education (ICRE), which is devoted to the development of high quality clinical and translational researchers.

The mission of the ICRE is to offer the highest-caliber training and education in clinical and translational research to all levels of trainees in the schools of the health sciences and to enhance collaboration and cooperation among clinical and translational research trainees and researchers from multiple disciplines.

The ICRE, under the direction of Dr. Wishwa Kapoor and the co-director Dr. Doris Rubio, brings all of the clinical and translational research training programs under one organization and into one physical space. The ICRE is the infrastructure for degree and career development programs for trainees all stages of the career pipeline. It includes core faculty and mentors from all six schools of the health sciences (Dental Medicine, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health).

Degree Programs in Clinical and Translational Research: The CTSI ICRE offers a PhD in Clinical and Translational Science, a Master of Science (MS) and a Certificate in Clinical Research, and a Certificate in Comparative Effectiveness Research. These CTSI degree programs are available to, and have provided training to, clinicians in all of the Schools of the Health Sciences. The ICRE has developed over 50 courses for the degree programs and, for the MS, offers four different specialty tracks.

All of the programs of the CTSI-ICRE are available for our RCDC trainees. Trainees should direct any inquiries to Dr. Doris Rubio, Co-Director of the RCDC and ICRE.

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Good mentoring can be one of the most essential elements to assuring productive and successful academic careers. We encourage all RCDC trainees who already have mentees to participate in the Training Early Academic Mentors (TEAM) program, which covers a wide variety of mentoring skills, and leads participants through the development of their own portfolio of mentoring resources, such as contracts, research group orientation documents, mentee goal-setting worksheets, amongst others.

Mentor Consultancy Program: The trainees have a Mentor Consultancy Program, a grass roots effort to meet a perceived unmet need. The trainees wanted access to a mentor who was outside their usual discipline and working environment to provide independent objective advice about a range of career issues. The consulting mentor may be a senior or junior faculty member, depending on the needs of the trainee. All members of the OAIC are invited to become a mentor consultant or a mentee. Mentor-consultants might advise on 1) navigating a career path to independence in these turbulent times, 2) general research perspective from outside the discipline and 3) specific career or research decisions/dilemmas. At the end of each academic term, the trainee and their Mentor-consultants write a short report on their experience with the program.

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RCDC Seminars

Research Career Development Component Seminar: This biweekly seminar is facilitated by Drs. Greenspan and Rubio and supports all OAIC trainees. Topics covered include research project implementation or “tool box” sessions (IRB, HIPAA, safety monitoring, recruitment, retention, measurement issues, intervention protocols, data quality), current and topical ethical issues, including conflicts in research, abstract and manuscript preparation and grant development and presentation. Sessions also involve “works in progress”. Trainees participate in peer review of proposals and manuscripts in order to learn to give and receive constructive feedback. Topics are selected and addressed by a peer process led by current Pepper Scholar facilitator, Dr.Bethony Barone-Gibbs. Speakers are often invited by the group. Since the seminar involves trainees at all levels, this Seminar recreates a sense of role modeling across levels of experience that some of these trainees experienced during house staff training, when medical students learn from interns who in turn learn from residents and fellows, who all learn from faculty attending. Trainees present proposals and work in progress in this small group setting for feedback prior to scheduled presentation at the Research Seminar or at national meetings.

Didactic Sessions: We have a set of mandatory didactic sessions that are focused on balance, mobility, and aging research. These sessions are provided at the beginning of each academic year to ensure that all RCDC program trainees are exposed to component content areas.

Component Didactic Sessions of the RCDC

Topic Speaker
1 Research Competencies and Your Career Plan Greenspan and Rubio
2 Introduction to Balance, Mobility, and Aging Research Greenspan and Newman
3 Developing a Pilot Project Hanlon
4 Clinical Tests for Balance, Mobility and Gait Brach and VanSwearingen
5 Lab Assessment of Balance, Mobility, and Gait Sparto and Brach/td>
6 Imaging Resources for Mobility and Gait Rosano and Aizenstein
7 Molecular and Cellular Approaches to Mobility and Aging Greenamyre and Graham
8 Subject Recruitment and Database Utilization Albert and Newman
9 Data Management in Aging Studies Rubio
10 Introduction to Biostatistics and Aging Research Perera
11 Leadership Skills and Academic Success Resnick

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