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Rochester Musculoskeletal (ROCMSK) T32 Training Program

Dating back to 2006, the CMSR has been home to a formal T32-supported training program aiming to provide a comprehensive didactic and research education as well as career development mentoring to future scientists in the musculoskeletal field. In 2020, the training program was rejuvenated and rebranded as the “Rochester Musculoskeletal (ROCMSK) Training Program” with the support of a T32 grant award (T32AR076950) from NIAMS and significant support from the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, which is directed by Drs. Hani AwadLaura Calvi and Danielle Benoit

T32 TeamOverall, ROCMSK training program aims to recruit the most promising talents from diverse pools of graduate students accepted into 6 degree-awarding departments and programs at the University of Rochester and postdocs identified by ROCMSK mentors. ROCMSK training program aims to nurture these trainees to ensure continued development and innovation in the basic understanding of musculoskeletal biology and translating discoveries into therapies for orthopaedic problems that critically impact the public health. The training will emphasize basic and translational science education through: contemporary curricular activities specifically designed for musculoskeletal science; innovative research experiences pursued through PhD dissertations and post-doctoral projects with emphasis on scientific rigor and biomedical ethics; individualized development plans that utilize evidence-based approaches for career planning; expansive networking opportunities through monthly invited-speaker seminars and an annual symposium; and scientific communication through formal expectations of publications, presentations at national meetings, and submissions of fellowship grant applications.

  • weekly CMSR-wide Work-In-Progress (WIP) Meetings.  Historically, these meetings have been lynchpin in the CMSR’s mission to educate students and fellows. Each meeting will be moderated by 2 trainees who take 30 minutes each to present either ‘dirty data’ (work-in-progress) for discussion of troubleshooting and research direction, or formal polished presentations which provide background, hypotheses, experimental strategies, results and conclusions regarding a single project. All graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, including T32 trainees, participate in these meetings and generally have the opportunity to present approximately 2-3 times per year.
  • The Foundations in Musculoskeletal Science Curriculum, which was developed specifically for the Musculoskeletal (MSK) Training Grant, providing training in scientific concepts and communication skills for our trainees. All T32 trainees will be required to enroll in these courses. The Musculoskeletal Science Courses are 1-credit courses that meet for 50 minutes each week over the span of 2 academic years as described on the CMSR website. These courses are designed to enrich ROCMSK trainees’ research experience while not imposing significant time constraints that detract from trainees’ research experience.  For pre-doctoral candidates, these courses can be used towards degree requirements, as they complement the courses required by participating graduate programs and can each be used as a 1-credit electives.            
  • Journal Clubs.  Several Journal Clubs meet on a weekly or biweekly basis. These journal clubs are an integral component of graduate and postdoctoral training in the basic biomedical sciences for a complete exposure to the current literature, in particular as it pertains to a researcher’s specific area of interest. This is of unique importance in the musculoskeletal field because of the close interplay that exists between various skeletal tissues during disease and repair processes.
  • ROCMSK Grant Writing Mentoring Initiatives. Since the inception of the CMSR in 2000, a weekly Friday PI meeting convenes to discuss and administer CMSR business (including discussion and oversight of progress in this Training Program), and to provide a forum for investigators to receive input from colleagues about grants under development. Under the auspices of the new Training program, ROCMSK Trainees will be required to attend this weekly meeting, where they will observe and contribute to the discussion of other proposals that are under development and learn the nuances of grantsmanship. In addition, trainees will be invited meet weekly for 1 hour with a grant writing group to critique ongoing writing efforts for F-series or K-series grants. The group will be led by Dr. J. Edward Puzas, the chair of the CMSR Mentoring Committee, who has exceptional experience in grant mentorship through his leadership of the US Bone and Joint Initiative Young Investigators Initiative Grant Mentoring Program. Each trainee is required to bring a proposal section currently under construction for distribution/discussion and the time will be split to cover all participants’ contributions.
  • The William F. Neuman Visiting Scientist Seminar Series features invited distinguished speakers monthly. Historically, the CMSR has invited prominent scientists to the University for the purpose of presenting their cutting-edge research and to meet and interact with faculty and trainees in our group. Such interactions are vital for young investigators, who need to expand their awareness of current progress and to make acquaintance with established researchers. With Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation support that was initiated as a result of the successful funding of the current and past T32 since 2006, we have hosted and continue to invite numerous internationally recognized musculoskeletal scientists over the past decade.
  • The Annual Center for Musculoskeletal Research Symposium is an anchoring event that has been a celebrated training-related CMSR tradition for the past 10 years. The symposium generally features: i) a scientific session with 15 minute podium presentations by several predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees selected based on submitted and refereed abstracts, ii) a poster session for all trainees in the CMSR, iii) a plenary session comprised of CMSR faculty and a Keynote Guest Speaker, iv) a celebration dinner to honor the Keynote Speaker and promote comradery and interaction between all members of the CMSR and ROCMSK Program, and v) the recognition of 3 annual Randy N. Rosier Trainee Travel Awardees to recognize their outstanding research presentation in the Scientific Session.
  • Community Outreach. Our outreach and educational initiative provides one exceptional high school student from the Rochester City School District (RCSD) the opportunity to obtain a year of exposure to biomedical research in musculoskeletal science under the umbrella of the Teen Health and Success Partnership at URMC. The selected RCSD student will be paired with one of the ROCMSK trainees for 2-month rotations each to cover the entire year. This arrangement affords each ROCMSK trainee an opportunity to mentor promising underprivileged student prospects and provides an the RCSD student a rich experience in which they can sample up to 6 unique musculoskeletal science vignettes to stimulate a life-long interest in science and research. In addition, ROKMSK Trainees are expected to lead one session every year with the outreach program MedClub, which is led by Dr. Loiselle.  MedClub is a partnership between the CMSR and the Rochester-based teen empowerment initiative, Champion Academy (https://championacademyroc.org).  MedClub includes approximately 30 middle and high school students from the Rochester City School District that have self-identified as interested in a STEM related career .  MedClub aims to expose students that are under-represented in research and health-care related careers to these professions via a series of monthly hands-on modules, led by CMSR trainees and faculty, which are designed to spark enthusiasm and commitment to scientific or medical careers. 

Overall, these training elements provide trainees with an outstanding educational experience that compliments and extends the research-specific training provided by Program faculty.

Interested in applying or have questions about the program, please e-mail Dr. Laura Calvi or Tiffany Totman.

Current Trainees

Pre-doctoral

Nick JamesNick James

BS, Boston University

Mentor: Jennifer Jonason, PhD

Research Interests: Development of a comprehensive understanding of chondrocyte biology and cartilage homeostasis as well as how they are altered and might be restored in disease.

Future Plans: Finishing up post-doctoral work and in ten years running own lab focused on developing regenerative medicines to treat (and someday cure) osteoarthritis.

Hobbies: Trying new restaurants, chilling out with (now socially distant) friends, and playing with his two cats while dreaming about the day he finally feels ready to adopt a dog. He also likes biking, hiking, and both board and video gaming.

Mark kenneyH. Mark Kenney

BA, University of Rochester

Mentor: Edward Schwarz, PhD

Research Interests: Studying the role of the lymphatic system in the development and progression of inflammatory arthritis.

Future Plans: As a future physician-scientist, his ideal career would consist of integrated clinical and research practices that continually inform each other.

Hobbies: Outside of science, he enjoys spending time with friends and family. Loves playing basketball and exploring the outdoors. Very passionate about binging TV shows and placing first in Mario Kart.

Rahul AlencheryRahul Alenchery

BS, U Mass - Amherst

Mentor: Hani Awad, PhD

Research Interests: Understanding the signaling pathways and mechanisms that lead to fibrovascular scar formation in injured tendons. In particular, deciphering the role of mTOR signaling and its crosstalk with TGF-β1/PAI-1 in fibrotic tendon healing

Future Plans: To be a leading figure in developing novel innovative solutions to currently unmet health issues, ideally in a fast-paced industry position where boundaries of foundational scientific discoveries in the field of biomedical research can be pushed and professional development can be nurtured.

Hobbies:  Avid food enthusiast, Amateur dancer, Occasional rock climber

KERKatherine Escalera-Rivera

BS, University of Puerto Rico

Mentor: Jennifer Jonason, PhD and Jennifer Anolik, MD, PhD

Research Interests: Understanding mechanisms that lead to infiltration of immune cells to the synovial joints, which can significantly contribute to chronic inflammation and joint degeneration.

Future Plans: In 5 years, being in post-doctoral training, applying to grants that support my route to independence. In 10 years, establish own laboratory with a research focus on the immune processes associated to Osteoarthritis.

Hobbies:  Has infinite repository of lame jokes. Enjoys TV, her dogs, going to the gym, and trying out new restaurants. Aspires to climb the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks with husband, Dawling.

Post-doctoral

AnneAnne Nichols, PhD

PhD, Virginia Tech

Mentor: Alayna Loiselle, PhD

Research Interests: Understanding the signaling pathways and mechanisms that govern cell- matrix interactions in mechanically active tissues, specifically tendon.

Future Plans: Start her own lab focused on examining the cellular and molecular basis of tendon mechanobiology, in the context of how damage to the tendon matrix due to injury or overuse causes changes in the behavior of  tendon cells in tendinopathy.

Hobbies: Enjoy kayaking/hiking/camping with her husband and their two dogs. She also recently taught herself how to knit!

AlexAlex Kotelsky, PhD

PhD, University of Rochester

Mentor: Whasil Lee, PhD

Research Interests: Multiscale biomechanics, focusing on applications to musculoskeletal diseases, to investigate the crosstalk between mechanics and biology.

Future Plans: In the next 5 years, plans on publishing multiple research articles and submitting Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) grant application. Ultimate goal is to have a career within academia and work as a successful researcher and professor.

Hobbies: Enjoys spending time with family cooking, playing board games, and playing with and taming their five pet hamsters. Loves spending time outdoors camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, exploring state parks and traveling to different cities, amusement parks, and museums. Studies guitar and piano and enjoys learning new languages and cultures.