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Vision Training

Interdisciplinary research and training in vision have a long and distinguished history at Vanderbilt University. Faculty from the College of Arts & Science, Peabody College, School of Engineering and School of Medicine have cooperated over the years to provide an exceptionally rich environment for vision research and training. The focus of our efforts has been to understand the mechanisms of vision through physiological and anatomical investigations. A central mission of the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center is to provide pre and postdoctoral training centered on perception and system level research for the next generation of vision scientists. This mission is supported by a training grant from the National Eye Institute.

A summary of the training program follows:

• All predoctoral trainees receive the Ph.D. through a specific department (e.g., Psychology, Cell Biology or Electrical Engineering), so the training program naturally relates to departmental graduate programs that are already in place. The requirements of the vision training program represent requirements above and beyond those typically required of non-vision trainees. Nonetheless there is some overlap, in that students who are generally interested in neuroscience might elect to take vision courses as well.

• All trainees attend the weekly vision seminar series (Vanderbilt Visionaries), where they present their own work as well as study that of the preceptors and visiting scientists who speak in it.

• All trainees enroll in a semester long course, The Visual System, which provides in-depth coverage of visual neuroanatomy, physiology, psychophysics, machine vision and neural modeling. This course is team-taught by Vision Training Program faculty.

• The Vanderbilt Vision Research Center (VVRC), funded by a core grant from the National Eye Institute, provides predoctoral and postdoctoral students with resources relevant to their training. These include technical support for computing and mechanical fabrication needs, for illustration and photography, and for assistance in animal care and surgery.

Administrative Structure

An Executive Committee, consisting of Jeffrey Schall (Director) and Randolph Blake in consultation with the other preceptors, handle major training program decisions. They decide upon trainee appointments, course selections, minority and other recruitments, seminar speakers, trainee travel, and all other important discretionary options.

Sample Program of Training

The following is a sample program for a predoctoral student admitted through the Psychology Department; this example shows how a set of departmental requirements can be tailored to provide optimal training, and how courses required of students in the visual sciences program would fit into a departmental plan. The example shown here can be well adapted for students in Cell Biology and Electrical Engineering.

YEAR 1: Three person advisory committee formed consisting of advisor and at least one other vision scientist

* Psych 300 a-b Research Seminar
* Psych 301 a-b Advanced General Psychology (Fall: Neuroscience, Spring: Perception)
* Psych 304 a-b Quantitative Methods and Experimental Design
* *Psych 236. The Visual System.

YEAR 2: Complete Course Work

* Psych 301 a (Fall) Advanced General Psychology (Cognitive)
* Psych 331a-b Advanced Investigational Techniques
* *Psych 335 (Fall) Special Topics in Neuroscience
* *Psych 343, 344, or 351 (Spring) Specialized seminar in Perception,
Neuroscience or Cognition
* *Psych 358 Seminar in Neuroscience

YEAR 3: Preparation for candidacy, formation of Dissertation Committee consisting of Advisory Committee plus at least 2 more faculty, one of whom is a vision scientist and one of whom is outside the home department.

* *1 seminar or course per semester in specialization of choice
* Psych 331 a-b Advanced Investigational Techniques
* Psych 358 Seminar in Neuroscience
* Candidacy Examination consisting of oral defense of major review paper on research area

YEAR 4 :

* Fall: Dissertation Proposal meeting and dissertation research
* Spring: Dissertation Research

YEAR 5+ :

* Dissertation Research and Final Oral Examination

* Asterisked courses are required of all predoctoral students in the visual science program, regardless of departmental affiliation.

Research Training

The overall philosophy of the program is to involve students immediately in laboratory research. In Psychology, this is Psych 300 a-b in the first year, Psych 320 the second, and Psych 331 in the third. Each student selects an Advisory Committee for research in the first semester, under the close supervision of the research sponsor. For students in Psychology, this committee consists of the advisor plus 2 other faculty members. This committee meets every semester to evaluate the student’s progress, which is documented in a report written and defended by the student. At the beginning of the third year, the Committee is expanded by 2, to form the Dissertation Committee; by this time the student should know the general area and likely topic of the dissertation. The qualifying exam is evaluated by this committee. The same committee examines the student on his or her dissertation proposal, and, finally, on the dissertation itself.

Application and Recruitment

Predoctoral applications are generally processed through existing departmental mechanisms. Applications are received for Cell Biology, Engineering and Psychology candidates through the Graduate School, which then circulates them to the relevant departmental offices. Postdoctoral inquiries are usually received by the potential preceptor, but may also come to the program office.

Selection Criteria

Applicants must meet graduate school and departmental criteria for admission. The programs Executive Committee then screen applications for the following characteristics:

1. Evidence of strong interest in vision research.
2. Potential match between one or more program faculty member and the applicant.
3. Quality and extent of prior research experience.
4. Potential for a lasting commitment to vision research.

All Vanderbilt research projects involving human subjects or vertebrate animals are reviewed by the University’s Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects or the Animal Care and Use Committee, whose guidelines and procedures have been approved by the Public Health Service. All trainees’ research proposals will be approved by the appropriate committee prior to beginning the project.

For application materials or additional information, contact vvrc@vanderbilt.edu.

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