Program Prepares Postdocs for Research and Teaching Careers

IRACDA Participating Institutions MapWe’re once again soliciting applications from research-intensive institutions for the NIGMS Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award program.

Now in its 12th year, the IRACDA program supports traditional postdocs at research-intensive universities who also teach at nearby institutions with substantial enrollments of minority students. The program offers an opportunity to conduct top-notch research while developing teaching and other academic skills, such as problem-solving, communication, time management and grant-writing. Eighteen institutions currently participate in the program.

Because the IRACDA program combines a traditional mentored research experience with instruction, it prepares scientists for careers in both research and teaching. It also benefits the students at the institutions where the teaching takes place. So far, the data indicate that IRACDA postdocs do as well as or better than their peers in publishing and in getting jobs in academia and industry.

In fostering a diverse scientific workforce, IRACDA is a model program. Underrepresented groups currently make up about 28.5% of the national population, yet just 9.1% of college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations. Nationally, about 7.5% of postdocs are from underrepresented groups. The IRACDA program, although not targeted to minorities, has about 40% of its postdocs from underrepresented groups. The program also strengthens the overall teaching and research opportunities at institutions with substantial minority enrollments. In these ways, IRACDA further promotes the development of the next generation of a diverse pool of scientists who are available to address the Nation’s biomedical, behavioral and clinical research needs.

IRACDA also addresses the growing recognition that future faculty should not only be able to conduct research, but also be effective teachers in the classrooms. Most faculty positions require some amount of teaching, and so it’s only natural that postdocs are trained in modern pedagogy before they start teaching as part of their faculty duties. To this end, major research universities are beginning to offer teaching certificate programs for their doctoral students.

If you’d like to know more about IRACDA or find out how you can participate, please contact me.

Register Now for the Protein Data Bank’s 40th Anniversary Symposium

A special symposium marking the 40th anniversary of the Protein Data Bank (PDB) Exit icon will be held this year at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, October 28-30.

It’s quite fitting that the meeting is being held here. It was a 1971 symposium at the laboratory titled “The Structure and Function of Proteins at the Three-Dimensional Level” that led to the establishment of the PDB as a freely accessible portal for the experimentally determined structures of biological macromolecules. Since then, the PDB has grown into an international resource for structural biology, today containing nearly 75,000 structures of proteins, nucleic acids and complex assemblies.

Because it is such a vital resource for researchers, NIGMS and other parts of NIH, along with the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, have helped fund the PDB’s operation for many years. NIGMS is also a sponsor of the symposium.

The October event, which is open to all, will include presentations by many prominent scientists who have been instrumental in the development of the PDB and the field of structural biology. Among the confirmed speakers are Michael Rossmann of Purdue University, an early advocate of the PDB; Wayne Hendrickson of Columbia University, a leader in solving the structures of membrane proteins; and Kurt Wüthrich of the Scripps Research Institute and the ETH Zürich, a pioneer in NMR structure determination techniques.

A limited number of travel awards to attend the symposium are available for students and early career scientists; applications are due by
August 1

More information about the program, registration and travel is on the meeting Web site.

Forging Ahead

Under Jeremy Berg’s leadership, NIGMS has thrived and continued to support outstanding, cutting-edge research. I hope to maintain this momentum while serving as acting NIGMS director.

Many of you know me from the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology, the part of NIGMS I’ve directed since 1988. Others know me from the NIH Director’s Pioneer and New Innovator Award programs, which I’ve led for a number of years, or from my role in chairing NIGMS’ strategic planning processes. Some may even recall when I previously served as acting NIGMS director (from May 2002, when Marvin Cassman left, to November 2003, when Jeremy arrived).

In this time of transition, we are managing a challenging budget situation and also pursuing several major activities. One is implementing action items from the training strategic plan. I am excited to see this effort come to fruition, as it will have a significant impact on both students in our training programs and those supported by regular research grants.

In addition, we are looking forward to marking the Institute’s 50th anniversary in 2012. Planning is already under way for activities at scientific meetings and on the NIH campus. We will post more details here in the coming months.

And of course we eagerly anticipate the selection of a new NIGMS director. The search committee is a terrific group of people who know the Institute well. I have a lot of confidence that they will find us a director who will continue NIGMS’ strong tradition of excellent leadership.

Part of Jeremy’s legacy at NIGMS is the Feedback Loop. Keeping open lines of communication has always been really important to us, and I welcome your input at any time.


Today is my last day as Director of NIGMS. It is hard to believe that almost 8 years have passed since I was first offered this tremendous opportunity to serve the scientific community. It has been a privilege to work with the outstanding staff members at NIGMS and NIH, as well as with so many of you across the country.

As I write my final post, I find myself recalling a statement I heard from then-NIH Director Elias Zerhouni during my first few years here: It is very difficult to translate that which you do not understand. He made this comment in the context of discussions about the balance between basic and applied research, which certainly has applicability in this setting and is relevant in a broader context as well. In some ways, it has also been my mantra for the NIGMS Feedback Loop.

Early in my time at NIH, I was struck by how often even relatively well-informed members of the scientific community did not understand the underlying bases for NIH policies and trends. Information voids were often filled with rumors that were sometimes very far removed from reality. The desire to provide useful information to the scientific community motivated me and others at NIGMS to start the Feedback Loop, first as an electronic newsletter and, for the past 2 years, as a blog. Our goal was–and is–to provide information and data that members of the scientific community can use to take maximal advantage of the opportunities provided across NIH and to understand the rationales behind long-standing and more recent NIH policies and initiatives.

I chose the name Feedback Loop with the hope that this venue would provide more than just a vehicle for pushing out information. I wanted it to promote two-way communication, with members of the scientific community feeling comfortable sharing their thoughts about the material presented or about other issues of interest to them. In biology, feedback loops serve as important regulatory mechanisms that allow systems to adjust to changes in their environments. I hoped that NIGMS’ “feedback loop” would serve a similar role.

I am pleased with our progress toward this goal, but there is considerable room for further evolution. The emergence and success of similar blogs such as Rock Talk are encouraging signs. I know that NIGMS Acting Director Judith Greenberg shares my enthusiasm for communication with the community, and I hope that the new NIGMS Director will too. I encourage you to continue to play your part, participate in the discussions and engage in the sort of dialogue that will best serve the scientific community.

I plan to continue communicating with many of you in my new position as a member of the extramural scientific community. For the time being, you can reach me at

Meetings Help Develop a Diverse Scientific Workforce

SACNAS National ConferenceAs part of our commitment to developing a diverse scientific workforce, we sponsor the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) national conference Exit icon and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) Exit icon.


These conferences represent two of the largest gatherings of science and math undergraduate students from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. They are terrific opportunities for you to meet and recruit outstanding students. You also can volunteer to mentor students or judge their posters.

This year, SACNAS will meet in San Jose, CA, October 27-30, and ABRCMS in St. Louis, MO, November 9-12. For more information or to register, visit the meeting Web sites.