It was 1971, a year after Nixon signed the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) was established that ARG received its first T32 training grant, beginning its longstanding dedication to train and support the next generation of alcohol researchers. Six years later, ARG established an NIAAA National Alcohol Research Center and in conjunction, its second T32 program. Since that time, ARG has helped shape over 230 pre- and postdoctoral fellows with graduates going on to work in academic institutions and other research organizations with many remaining at ARG, growing their careers and becoming some of the top experts in the substance use field.
With a new round of funding announced recently, the training program — a collaboration with the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley — will support six fellows, ushering in its 50th year of operation.
The only Training Program to Focus on Alcohol-Related Disparities
Through a highly interactive program, fellows receive training in the incidence, prevalence, and etiology of alcohol abuse, dependence, and related problems. Trainees learn from an intensive residency and involvement in ARG’s research environment and activities, along with weekly seminars, grant making workshops, and individual mentorships with experienced ARG and affiliate scientists. Heading up the new grant is Center Director and Senior Scientist William C. Kerr, PhD.
“As the only NIAAA-funded training program to focus on alcohol-related disparities, our fellows will bring that focus to their work both at ARG and to wherever their careers take them,” Kerr said. “Our fellows receive state-of-the-art training relevant to documenting, explaining, and addressing disadvantages in health-related outcomes linked to race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual minority status. This positions them to make strong contributions to reducing health disparities.”
Once trainees have completed their two-year fellowship, they are equipped to obtain National Health Institutes (NIH) funding, filling a critical training gap, in particular for doctoral students who typically receive little practical training on alcohol-related research even though alcohol remains one of the most widely available psychoactive drugs.
“It determined my future direction”
“ARG’s training program, which is one of 26 such T32 [training] programs funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, really stood out as I was searching for a postdoc,” said Paul Gilbert, PhD. “It’s been home to the National Alcohol Survey for more than four decades and is a nationally-recognized alcohol research center. With a focus on alcohol-related disparities, ARG’s program was a perfect fit for me.”
Gilbert completed his postdoctoral fellowship at ARG and is now an associate professor and director of the Graduate Program at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
As a postdoctoral fellow in one of ARG’s earliest cohorts, and later as a staff scientist, Mike Hilton collaborated with some of the organization’s original members. When asked how the training program may have shaped his current work, he said that the experience was pivotal to his entire career, helping to develop and define his focus.
“I found out about the program at the American Public Health Association conference, applied, was accepted and moved to the Bay Area,” he said. “I was a sociologist and it was at ARG that I developed strong analyses skills.”
Prior to coming to ARG, Hilton studied sociology at Michigan State, but it was at ARG that his interest in, and passion for, alcohol research began.
“It was really everything about the experience,” he said. “Working with leading researchers in the field, collaborating on projects with some of the top scientists, and developing a passion for research that determined my future direction.”
That direction took him to the National Institutes of Health where he started as a project officer. Today, he helps manage the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research as its deputy director.
The program is still accepting online applications for 2022.
The grant runs from June 1, 2022 to May 31, 2027.