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Office of Fellowship Training (OFT)

OFT Mission

The mission of the Office of Fellowship Training is:

  • To support and promote a productive and fulfilling research training experience in the NIMH Intramural Research Program
  • To encourage career planning and guide career management through trainee use of Individual Development Plans (IDPs)
  • To provide programs and services to assist trainees in discovering and clarifying career choices
  • To provide opportunities and to encourage trainees to build a professional skill set which enables them to become world leaders in academic and non-academic careers

Come visit our booth and speak with an OFT staff member about the fellowship and training opportunities we offer at the NIH/NIMH. We will be at the following scientific meetings: Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Society of Biological Psychiatry (SOBP) and Society for Neuroscience (SfN).

Trainee Successes: Past & Present

Vay Cao, Ph.D.

Vay Cao, Ph.D.

I spent just over 5 wonderfully challenging and educational years at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as a neuroscience doctoral candidate, conducting my thesis dissertation research in a laboratory studying neural activity and behavior. I was fortunate to have joined the NIH Graduate Partnership Program for my PhD, giving me the unique and unforgettable opportunity to do challenging, cutting edge research conducted by a diverse research population within a premiere research institution. As a graduate student who was relatively new to my doctoral field, I was surrounded by others' diverse research studies, with many intellectual extracurricular opportunities available to me.

At the NIMH, I studied how the brain changes in response to motor learning, using in vivo microscopy techniques and marrying my love for behavior with my interest in how our brains work. I also joined the NIH Graduate Student council, serving on the social committee and becoming Co-Chair in my third year. After that, I participated in the student-run acapella group "Nerds in Harmony (NIH)", performing in Building 10 with other researchers and graduate students for patients, visitors and fellow researchers.

As many people will also discover over the course of their research training experience, one important thing I discovered in my PhD was that academic research is not my true calling, even though I will always have the heart of a scientist. I began researching what career options are available to scientists in my third year, taking on opportunities at NIH and beyond to engage in writing, leadership and organizing. After I graduated, I joined a neurotech startup company, moving across the country to start my career in the business world. I feel so fortunate to still be knee deep in my love for neuroscience, but serving the research community in a different way. My first role in industry was as an Application Scientist, and I have since shifted my roles and responsibilities as I continue to grow with my company.

While working my day job, I also founded a career coaching platform and resource center called "Free the PhD," specifically to pay it forward and help fellow PhDs and other graduate students find an easier path into a career they love. Like myself, many will discover that academic research isn't for them, and I am passionate that ushering more talented, ambitious, research-trained individuals into society will make the world a better place. Through my research at the NIMH, I contributed scientific knowledge to my field, and that experience also contributed deeply to making me into the person I am today. Researchers have many avenues through which to disseminate knowledge, discover new things and make an impact, and I'm living proof that you can take your research experience into exciting and rewarding new life directions!

Selected Publications

  1. Skin suturing and cortical surface viral infusion improves imaging of neuronal ensemble activity with head-mounted miniature microscopes. Li X, Cao VY, Zhang W, Mastwal SS, Liu Q, Otte S, Wang KH. J Neurosci Methods. 2017 Nov 1;291:238-248. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2017.08.016. Epub 2017 Aug 19. PMID: 28830724 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  2. Multi-layer Cortical Ca2+ Imaging in Freely Moving Mice with Prism Probes and Miniaturized Fluorescence Microscopy. Gulati S, Cao VY, Otte S. J Vis Exp. 2017 Jun 13;(124). doi: 10.3791/55579. PMID: 28654056 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  3. Genetic Feedback Regulation of Frontal Cortical Neuronal Ensembles Through Activity-Dependent Arc Expression and Dopaminergic Input. Mastwal S, Cao V, Wang KH. Front Neural Circuits. 2016 Dec 6;10:100. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2016.00100. eCollection 2016. PMID: 27999532 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  4. Dopamine is Required for Activity-Dependent Amplification of Arc mRNA in Developing Postnatal Frontal Cortex. Ye Y, Mastwal S, Cao VY, Ren M, Liu Q, Zhang W, Elkahloun AG, Wang KH. Cereb Cortex. 2017 Jul 1;27(7):3600-3608. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhw181. PMID: 27365296 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  5. Motor Learning Consolidates Arc-Expressing Neuronal Ensembles in Secondary Motor Cortex. Cao VY, Ye Y, Mastwal S, Ren M, Coon M, Liu Q, Costa RM, Wang KH. Neuron. 2015 Jun 17;86(6):1385-92. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.05.022. Epub 2015 Jun 4. PMID: 26051420 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  6. Arc regulates experience-dependent persistent firing patterns in frontal cortex. Ren M, Cao V, Ye Y, Manji HK, Wang KH. J Neurosci. 2014 May 7;34(19):6583-95. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0167-14.2014. PMID: 24806683 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  7. In vivo two-photon imaging of experience-dependent molecular changes in cortical neurons. Cao VY, Ye Y, Mastwal SS, Lovinger DM, Costa RM, Wang KH. J Vis Exp. 2013 Jan 5;(71). pii: 50148. doi: 10.3791/50148. PMID: 23329071 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  8. Optogenetic inactivation modifies monkey visuomotor behavior. Cavanaugh J, Monosov IE, McAlonan K, Berman R, Smith MK, Cao V, Wang KH, Boyden ES, Wurtz RH. Neuron. 2012 Dec 6;76(5):901-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.016. PMID: 23217739 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  9. Visual avoidance in Xenopus tadpoles is correlated with the maturation of visual responses in the optic tectum. Dong W, Lee RH, Xu H, Yang S, Pratt KG, Cao V, Song YK, Nurmikko A, Aizenman CD. J Neurophysiol. 2009 Feb;101(2):803-15. doi: 10.1152/jn.90848.2008. Epub 2008 Dec 10. PMID: 19073807 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles
  10. IPRO: an iterative computational protein library redesign and optimization procedure. Saraf MC, Moore GL, Goodey NM, Cao VY, Benkovic SJ, Maranas CD. Biophys J. 2006 Jun 1;90(11):4167-80. Epub 2006 Mar 2. PMID: 16513775 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article Similar articles