The Visual Sciences Training Program

The Visual Sciences Training Program (VSTP) is comprised of a multi-disciplinary vision sciences research community at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). This program is funded by a T32 Training Grant from the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Interactions among faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students in the VSTP and the broader research community at CWRU and University Hospitals Case Medical Center create an excellent training environment in vision science research. Please click here to view a pdf version of the VSTP Trainee Handbook.

Kris Palczewski, Ph.D., Program Director

"As Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and Principal Investigator of a multifaceted vision science research program funded by the NIH, together with Douglas Rhee, M.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, I would like to invite graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to consider study and training in the Visual Sciences Program at CWRU. We have assembled a multidisciplinary team of more than forty researchers to provide excellent training in this growing research area. The National Eye Institute strongly supports training and vision research at CWRU by funding the Visual Sciences Training Grant, the Visual Sciences P-30 Core facility grant, an R24 multi-institutional program grant led by CWRU investigators, and over twenty individual investigator grants. The experience and expertise of the faculty will ensure that you will have a successful and productive experience."

- Kris Palczewski, Ph.D.

Training Faculty and Research Areas

Click here for a complete list of VSTP Training Faculty.

Predoctoral Training

Predoctoral students typically apply for PhD training at CWRU through the umbrella admissions program, Biomedical Scientist Training Program (BSTP) which serves all of the PhD-granting programs at the CWRU School of Medicine. Alternatively students may apply directly to the PhD programs in the Department of Pharmacology or the Department of Neurosciences.  Applications for PhD training should be completed in the fall or early winter for admission in July, preceding the next academic year.  After foundation core courses in cell and molecular biology and research rotations in several different laboratories, first-year PhD students then choose a research advisor and specific PhD-granting program by January.  Students who align with VSTP trainers are eligible to compete for appointment to the Visual Science Training Grant.  VSTP trainees conduct research in any of the five VSTP areas of emphasis: Aging and Diabetes in the Eye, Ocular Inflammation and Infection, Phototransduction, Retinal Development and Disease, and Translational Visual Sciences. During the first and second years of graduate education, trainees will complete coursework requirements and initiate their PhD research projects with their dissertation advisors. The third and fourth years are dedicated to completing their research project, submitting manuscripts for publication, preparing a written dissertation, presenting a public thesis seminar and orally defending their work before a thesis committee that has followed their progress through the course of studies.

Postdoctoral Training

Postdoctoral Trainees are those who have already attained a Ph.D., M.D., or M.D./Ph.D. degree at the time they are appointed to the Visual Sciences Training Program. The intent of postdoctoral training is to attract individuals from non-vision areas whose previous experience with contemporary research approaches can be applied creatively toward understanding problems in vision science, synthesizing literature and technology from different disciplines and bringing new insights to an area of interest. Recent Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent doctoral-degree recipients perform mentored research on a full-time basis under the supervision of a faculty member approved as a VSTP trainer. The training period on the T32 grant is usually one to two years.

Research Experience Component

The strength of the VSTP is that all trainees receive departmental- and research-specific mentoring and benefit from the resources of the Visual Sciences Research Center (VSRC). The laboratory-focused experiences collectively equip pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees with insight into a full range of research issues, including ocular genotype, cell/molecular biology of the visual system and structural and functional phenotypes of eye diseases. As trainees progress toward the status of independent, NEI-funded investigators, they will be able to pose biologically and clinically relevant questions without being restricted by either discipline or methodology. All trainees participate in journal clubs, departmental seminar programs, VSRC group presentations and the annual VSRC retreat.

Current Topics in Vision Research - PHRM 432 (Spring 2016)

Current Topics in Vision Research is a required course for all pre-doctoral trainees in the Visual Sciences Training Program (VSTP). Postdoctoral trainees of the VSTP also are encouraged to take the course for credit and will be supported by the training grant. All other post-docs can audit the course. Vision research is an exciting and multidisciplinary area that draws on the disciplines of biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, neuroscience, pathology, pharmacology and structural biology. This graduate level course provides the students with broad exposure to the most recent and relevant research currently being conducted in the field. Topics typically cover a variety of diseases and fundamental biological processes occurring in the eye. Regions of the eye that are discussed include the cornea, lens, and retina. Vision disorders discussed include age-related macular degeneration, retinal ciliopathies, and diabetic retinopathy. Instructors in the course are experts in their fields and are members of the multidisciplinary visual sciences research community here at Case Western Reserve University. Students are exposed to the experimental approaches and instrumentation currently being used in the laboratory and clinical settings. Topics are covered by a combination of traditional lectures, demonstrations in the laboratory and the clinic, and journal club presentations.

Application Process

Initiating an Application: Students enrolled in a CWRU PhD or MD/PhD program can apply, providing they are US citizens or permanent residents. Underrepresented minorities and students with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

Please submit a single PDF file with the following information:

From the student: Cover letter, biosketch, graduate school transcript, description of proposed research project (2 pages maximum which should not be a copy of the mentor's grant proposal)

From the mentor: Letter of recommendation and proposed training plan.

Please send the PDF to

Visual Sciences Training Program
Case Western Reserve University, School of Medicine
Attention:  Vida Tripoda, Assistant to the VSTP Director