Minnesota Obesity Prevention Training (MnOPT)

The MnOPT fellowship program is dedicated to providing innovative interdisciplinary training for the next generation of biologic, behavioral, and clinical obesity prevention scientists. The program offers training to predoctoral (PhD), postdoctoral, and medical fellows. MnOPT is a NIH/NIDDK–Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, Institutional Research Training Grant.

Current Fellowship Opening(s): The June 11, 2021 deadline for applications has passed. Please visit this site for future calls for applications.

The Fellowship Experience

The program offers training for up to three predoctoral fellows who may be accepted in one of several University of Minnesota PhD programs, as well as up to three postdoctoral fellows with MD, PhD, or equivalent degrees.

The positions offer up to a 4-5 year appointment for predoctoral training or a 2-3 year appointment for postdoctoral training with a flexible start date, tuition benefits, an NIH stipend, and support for scientific meeting travel and other training experiences.

Trainees will engage in research that focuses on the biology of obesity, clinical research on human obesity, and applied studies of treatment and prevention in community settings.

Central to the MnOPT mission is having a strong mentoring environment for trainees organized around two training tracks:

  •   Epidemiology/Behavioral Research
  •   Basic Sciences/Clinical Studies

There will also be active efforts to facilitate transdisciplinary training between these areas in order to broaden trainees’ disciplinary horizons.

Trainees will receive interdisciplinary training through a required core course, a monthly obesity research group, and other regular seminars. They will participate actively in research. They will be mentored in communicating study findings in written publication formats and in oral presentations, grantsmanship, research ethics, and career development.

Training goals are accomplished by matching trainees with faculty mentors who guide trainees in the development of the technical expertise and skills they will need to be successful, independent researchers.

There are 33 potential faculty mentors in the program.  See the end of this page.

For additional program details, download General Information and Policies.

Application Process

Download MnOPT Application
[You will need to download and save the application to your desktop.]

If interested, an application should be submitted electronically as a single doc or pdf file to the Program Manager as follows:

Minnesota Obesity Prevention Training Program
Division of Epidemiology & Community Health
University of Minnesota School of Public Health
1300 South 2nd Street, Suite 300
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55454-1015

c/o Kerrin Brelje, Program Manager
Email: kbrelje@umn.edu


Applicants must be US citizens, US noncitizen nationals, or permanent residents. (Individuals on temporary or student visas are not eligible for Kirschstein-NRSA support.)

Predoctoral trainees must be formally admitted into a PhD program at the University of Minnesota before the start of the training.

Postdoctoral trainees must have earned a doctoral degree (MD, PhD, etc.) in health sciences or related fields (laboratory, clinical, nutrition, and epidemiology). Demonstrated experience or potential in research is the primary criteria for appointment.

Criteria for selection of all trainees include academic performance and a career orientation toward independent research in an academic, clinical, or public health setting related to obesity prevention.

Trainee Citizenship
At the time of appointment to the training program, individuals selected for research training supported by NRSA institutional training grants must be citizens or noncitizen nationals of the United States, or must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, i.e., in possession of a currently valid Alien Registration Receipt Card I-551, or some other legal verification of legal admission as a permanent resident.

Noncitizen nationals are generally persons born in outlying possessions of the United States (e.g., American Samoa and Swains Island). Individuals on temporary or student visas are not eligible for Kirschstein-NRSA support. In addition, trainees must be able to commit full-time effort in the program at the time of appointment.

Fellowship Positions—Availability
There are three predoctoral and three postdoctoral fellowship positions with the program. Positions become available at irregular intervals.

Please contact the program director, Robert W. Jeffery (jefferyrw@gmail.com); or the co-director, Catherine Kotz (kotzx004@umn.edu); or the program manager, Kerrin Brelje (kbrelje@umn.edu), for further information.

Stipend & Benefits

Stipends are based on current NIH-approved levels and years of postdoctoral experience. For current stipend information, go to https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-20-070.html. Note that there is a potential payback requirement for postdoctoral fellows who take non-research positions prior to the end of two years.

The amount of tuition covered by the training program is subject to the actual NIH award.

Other Training-Related Expenses
Reimbursement for textbooks and other required course materials, as well as certain other research-related expenses, on a pre-approval basis. Receipts are required for reimbursement.

Health Insurance
Predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows are encouraged and eligible to secure the Graduate Assistant Health Plan for single coverage through the University of Minnesota (trainees pay 5%): http://www.shb.umn.edu/twincities/graduate-assistants.htm.

If preferred, fellows can find their own health insurance provider and the program will reimburse them for an amount up to the Graduate Assistant Health Plan single coverage rate. Prior permission from the Program Coordinator is required.

Reimbursement of pre-approved travel expenses to one professional meeting per grant year. Maximum dollar amount is subject to the actual NIH award.

SPOTLIGHT: Emily Nagel, PhD

Dr. Emily Nagel is a 2nd-year postdoctoral fellow on the Minnesota Obesity Prevention Training (MnOPT) program working with Dr. Ellen Demerath on the MILk study. Additionally, she is conducting a study with Dr. Sara Ramel, a neonatologist at Masonic Children’s Hospital to examine the use of ultrasound measurements of muscle to predict neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants. Dr. Nagel is interested in the associations between maternal stress and lactation/feeding and neurodevelopment in preterm infants (and has her fingers crossed for a good score on the K99/R00 application she recently submitted). She is also interested in the human milk microbiome and metabolome and how they may be altered by maternal stress. In addition to her role as a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Nagel is a pediatric dietitian at Masonic Children’s Hospital and specializes in nutrition support and gastrointestinal diseases. She continues to utilize her clinical skills to inform her research and aspires to be a clinician researcher once her fellowship is complete. Dr. Nagel is also passionate about increasing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the dietetics profession and co-created a social media community of dietetic practitioners focused on creating change (Dietitians for Change). In her free time, Dr. Nagel enjoys running and cycling around the Twin Cities with her partner, Dave, and her adorable rescue pup, Charlie. If she had to offer a piece of advice, Dr. Nagel would advise new graduate students and postdocs to keep the love of research alive by allowing space for rest and fun.

PREVIOUS Spotlight: Megan Winkler, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC

Dr. Megan Winkler was a postdoctoral fellow on the Minnesota Obesity Prevention Training (MnOPT) program from 2016-2019. Building upon her postdoctoral work, she successfully applied for and received a competitive NIH K99/R00 grant to study retail food environments and healthy purchasing using system science. This work will use data from the STORE study, a natural experiment that examined a local city ordinance’s effect on food retail and customer food and beverage purchasing. The STORE study was led by Dr. Melissa Laska, one of Dr. Winkler’s MnOPT mentors, and Dr. Winkler was very involved in the STORE study throughout her postdoc.

During her postdoc, Dr. Winkler was also heavily involved in Project EAT, led by another MnOPT mentor, Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. Project EAT is the most comprehensive longitudinal body of research examining multi-level predictors of a broad spectrum of weight-related problems from adolescence into adulthood. Dr. Winkler’s involvement in Project EAT resulted in numerous publications and first-author oral presentations. She also played an integral role in the submission of a successful R21 application (PI: Nancy Sherwood) that will use the Project EAT data to investigate the complex heterogeneity and contextual drivers that link dieting, disordered eating, and obesity during the transition to adulthood. Finally, her research on work conditions and health, implemented through Project EAT during her postdoc, is now being continued with support through a contract Dr. Winkler has with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

In addition to research achievements during her fellowship, Dr. Winkler also co-taught PubH 6636- Qualitative Research Methods in Public Health Practice with Dr. Laska, helped mentor predoctoral trainees and undergraduate students, and led bi-weekly meetings of the Division’s postdoctoral trainee group.

Dr. Winkler took full advantage of her postdoctoral experience and is well positioned for a successful independent research career.

Program Faculty

Tracks Epidemiology/Behavioral Basic Science/Clinical
Leaders: Robert W. Jeffery Catherine Kotz
Faculty Mentors: Katherine Arlinghaus

Ellen Demerath

Simone French

Jayne Fulkerson

Sarah Gollust

Lisa Harnack

Abigail Johnson

Melissa Laska

Jennifer Linde

Traci Mann

Susan Mason

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

Mark Pereira

Nancy Sherwood

Lyn Steffen

Rachel Widome

Emilyn Alejandro

Alessandro Bartolomucci

David Bernlohr

Xiaoli Chen

Lisa Chow

Carrie Earthman

Daniel Gallaher

Aaron Kelly

Do-Hyung Kim

Catherine Kotz

Mindy Kurzer

Douglas Mashek

Timothy O’Connell

John Osborn

Carol Peterson

Xavier Revelo

Hai-Bin Ruan

Elizabeth Seaquist

The Minnesota Obesity Training Program is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH Grant 1T32DK083250–01A1; http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-10-036.html).

The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access and opportunity to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status or sexual orientation. In adherence to this policy, MnOPT advocates the use of recruiting and search processes to enhance participation of racial minorities, women, persons with a disability, and Vietnam era veterans in the training program.