Avoiding Hype and Enhancing Awareness in Science Communication

When I joined NIGMS about four years ago, I was struck by the number of press releases from journals and grantee institutions that came across my desk each day. Many of them focused on a recently published paper and failed to explain how the work fit into the broader field. Others overstated the research results to make them sound more exciting and closer to clinical application.

I moderated one of the panel discussions.

Around the same time, science communicators started writing articles and conducting studies about the effects of hyped research findings (e.g., Schwartz et al., 2012; Yavchitz et al., 2012 Exit icon, Sumner et al., 2014 Exit icon; Vox, 2017 Exit icon). While these discussions focused on clinically oriented research, we at NIGMS began thinking deeply about how the issue relates to basic biomedical science. On the heels of our work with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) on enhancing rigor and reproducibility in biomedical research, we started talking to them about this topic as well. Two years later, we were pleased to host their Workshop on Responsible Communication of Basic Biomedical Research: Enhancing Awareness and Avoiding Hype Exit icon.

The June 22 meeting brought together a diverse group of science communicators Exit icon [PDF, 22KB] who included early and established investigators, researchers who study science communication, academic and corporate communication officers, policy advisors and journalists. Each panelist represented a stakeholder group with a role in what panelists later called the “hype cycle” and shared his or her perspectives on the problems of hype, the incentives that cause it and recommendations for avoiding it. The meeting focused on basic biomedical research, but the discussions were also relevant to other areas of science.

In her keynote address Exit icon, veteran science journalist Erika Check Hayden defined hype as “exaggerating the outcomes of research, for whatever motives people have, leading to potential negative effects due to inaccurate portrayal of research.” She credited this definition to Judith Greenberg, our deputy director.

The keynote address by Erika Check Hayden focused on new directions in science communication.

The subsequent discussions highlighted the shared responsibility among all the stakeholder groups for improving science communication and changing the incentives for it. Panelists acknowledged that scientists sometimes oversell the conclusions of studies hoping to get their work published in “better” journals or to improve their chances for obtaining funding; journals may decide on manuscripts to publish based on which ones they think will be cited the most or get press attention; communication officers and journalists are often judged by how many hits their stories get; and universities and research institutes may consider the fundraising potential of scientific news stories.

Here are some of the topics discussed during the workshop that really resonated with me. Continue reading

CareerTrac Webinar for RISE and Bridges Program Directors

We’re hosting a webinar on CareerTrac, the system used to track student outcomes on Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE), Bridges to the Baccalaureate and Bridges to the Doctorate grants. The webinar, for principal investigators/program directors of these grants, will be on Thursday, September 28, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT. A CareerTrac representative will be on hand to provide an orientation about the use of the system and to answer your questions. You may send questions before the webinar to Luis Cubano or post them in the chat box during the event.

To access the webinar, visit the WebEx Meeting page (link no longer available) and enter the meeting number 620 731 655 and the password “nigms.” If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-650-479-3208 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the meeting number above. Slides will be available on the RISE, Bridges to the Baccalaureate and Bridges to the Doctorate websites following the event.

We look forward to talking with you about CareerTrac.

Staff Participating in the September 28 Webinar

NIGMS Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:

Patrick H. Brown, Bridges to the Doctorate Program Director

Luis A. Cubano, RISE Program Director

Mercedes Rubio, Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program Director

CareerTrac:

Jacob Prichard, Project Manager

Notes from the 2017 Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity Program Directors’ Meeting

2017 TWD Program Directors' Meeting: June 18-21, 2017. Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. Baltimore, MarylandThe 2017 Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD) Program Directors’ Meeting Exit icon, organized through a grant to the Federation of Associations for Experimental Biology, took place June 18-21 in Baltimore. This biennial meeting brought together the community of faculty, staff and administrators who manage TWD undergraduate and predoctoral training programs across the nation to network, share best practices for program improvement and connect with NIGMS staff. This year, participants presented more than 100 posters. Plenary sessions and keynote talks described innovative approaches for training and evaluation, efforts to enhance diversity in the biomedical workforce and more.

Highlights included:

  • Alison Gammie, director of NIGMS’ TWD division, outlined the new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement (FOA) in her presentation Exit icon [PDF, 4.4MB]. The FOA will emphasize cultivating a diverse pool of well-trained scientists and will focus on skills and career development, the importance of scientific rigor and reproducibility, and the value of inclusive and supportive training environments. It is scheduled for publication this fall.
  • Principal investigators of administrative supplements to NIGMS predoctoral training grants presented their approaches to modernizing biomedical graduate education through increased focus on scientific rigor, career and skill development, and training opportunities.
  • Melanie Sinche, director of education at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine and author of “Next Gen PhD: A Guide to Career Paths in Science,” shared her research on recent STEM Ph.D. graduates’ career pathways Exit icon [PDF, 1.7MB]. She found that the majority of recent STEM Ph.D. graduates who responded to her survey expressed satisfaction with their work, and they chose their employment primarily for “intellectual challenge” and “flexibility.”
  • Erin Dolan, a professor at the University of Georgia, talked about effective strategies for science education Exit icon [PDF, 1.7MB]. Citing a variety of references, Dolan presented on how the research training community can help students develop interests and careers in the sciences by incorporating models from educational research and social cognitive career theory. This approach is intended to nurture greater enthusiasm for science because it’s based on how students learn and make career decisions. Later, members of the Diversity Program Consortium’s Coordination and Evaluation Center led a workshop on evaluation techniques [PDF, 4.7MB] and shared some tools with attendees that may aid in more effectively evaluating training programs.
  • In his Message from the Director Exit icon [PDF, 5.5MB], Jon Lorsch included an overview of ongoing NIGMS priorities, including the expansion of the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program. He also announced that NIGMS is the new home for the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, which supports educational and career activities for pre-K to grade 12 students, as well as other public outreach programming. SEPA strongly complements the rest of NIGMS’ workforce diversity and training portfolio. Examples of SEPA projects Exit icon include mobile laboratories Exit icon that bring science to rural communities, professional development Exit icon for teachers and media-based projects like the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs Exit icon.

To view more of the presentations and to access abstracts for the poster sessions, please visit the 2017 TWD Program Directors’ Meeting resources page Exit icon.

Webinar for Bridges Applicants

UPDATE: The slides from the Bridges Applicants webinar have been posted.

Are you preparing an institutional Bridges to the Baccalaureate grant or Bridges to the Doctorate grant application? If so, you may have questions about the funding opportunity announcements, data tables and FORMS-D application package [PDF, 1.95MB] required for the upcoming September 25 application due date.

We’re offering a webinar (link no longer available) to discuss these topics on Thursday, August 10, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. EDT. You may send questions to us (Mercedes Rubio or Patrick H. Brown) before the webinar or post them live in the chat box during the event. If you’re away from your computer, you can access the webinar from a mobile device or listen to a voice-only option by dialing 1-888-469-1681 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the participant passcode 4928788. Slides will be posted on the Bridges to the Baccalaureate website and Bridges to the Doctorate website following the event.

We look forward to talking to you about the Bridges programs.

NIGMS Staff Participating in August 10 Webinar

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:

Mercedes Rubio, Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program Director

Patrick H. Brown, Bridges to the Doctorate Program Director

Office of Scientific Review:

Tracy Koretsky, Scientific Review Officer

Division of Extramural Activities:

Justin Rosenzweig, Grants Management Specialist

Students ‘Build’ Connections and More at Scientific Conferences

For students in the biomedical sciences, attending conferences is a chance to share ideas and research experiences with colleagues from across the country, while learning about educational and career opportunities and building identities as scientists. Outcomes from student conference attendance may also help us to learn how students build and maintain scientific identities. At conferences over the past two years, we have witnessed undergraduate trainees from the more recently-established Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) program joining colleagues from long-running NIGMS-supported grants, like Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) and Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC).

Since BUILD is a fairly new program, it’s been great to see how quickly its trainees have embraced the opportunities conferences have to offer, from simply meeting other program trainees and sharing stories about their research to making valuable networking connections. BUILD, established in 2014, is a component of the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC), which also includes the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC). The DPC is part of a broad, trans-NIH strategy to address new ways to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce.

In recent years, BUILD trainees have been in high attendance at the NIGMS-supported Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Link to external website conference and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) Link to external website. These conferences focus on broadening participation in biomedical research and introduce students to groundbreaking scientists.

During the BUILD networking sessions at both meetings, we heard students’ stories about their research and programs. We also had the opportunity to witness an element of students developing scientific identities—trading business cards.

Many BUILD students also made presentations on their research at the 2016 SACNAS and ABRCMS meetings, and eight of them received awards for posters and oral presentations. These awards are based on a variety of criteria, including knowledge of a subject area as well as experimental design. Because the DPC’s BUILD programs introduce undergraduate students to research through hands-on lab experience, it’s great to see that students are sharing their research findings, taking part in poster sessions and being recognized for their efforts.

Students’ interactions during networking sessions and scientific presentations complement another DPC goal: providing role models and mentors to students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Because evaluating program outcomes is integral to the DPC, we are evaluating whether these kinds of interactions help students persist in science careers and develop identities as scientists. It is our hope that what we learn from DPC interventions—such as promoting conference attendance among students—can be scaled to fit a larger audience and benefit students in other training programs.

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Early Career Scientist Shares Her Passion for Basic Research, Mentoring and More

I recently sat down with NIGMS-funded early career scientist Namandjé Bumpus to talk about her research and career path. Questions came from undergraduates across the country, including Thorne Varier in the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I invite you to watch the archived videocast and share it with students and postdocs in your labs and departments.

The Q&A was part of the Second Annual Early Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students. We launched the lecture series last year to highlight the achievements of our early career grantees and encourage students to pursue biomedical research careers.

Namandjé, an associate professor in the department of medicine, division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, started with a scientific presentation that walked us through her research investigating the mechanisms involved in HIV drug activation and metabolism. She also described an exciting new project that involves genotyping people to identify genetic variations that may also influence these processes. Then, during our conversation, she talked about when she knew she wanted to be a scientist (a professional society played a major role), how mentors have supported her along the way, what she would have done differently and why basic research is so important for medical advances. Some other highlights from the lecture are on Twitter (#ecilecture).

Much of what Namandjé shared relates to scientists at any career stage. I hope you and your trainees find the lecture as inspiring as I did.

Namandjé Bumpus on ECI 2017 lecture

During the 2017 NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture, Namandjé Bumpus discussed her research on drug metabolism (left), answered questions about her career path (middle) and met with undergraduate students (right).
Credit: Christa Reynolds and Emily Carlson, NIGMS.

Webinar for Students and Fellows Interested in NIGMS’ Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) Program

UPDATE: The video and slides from the PRAT Program webinar have been posted.

We’re hosting a webinar for potential applicants to the PRAT Program on Tuesday, March 28, from 12:00-1:30 p.m. EDT. PRAT is a three-year program providing outstanding laboratory research experiences in NIH’s Intramural Research Program (IRP), access to NIH’s extensive resources, mentorship, career development activities and networking. The program places special emphasis on training fellows in basic biomedical research areas including cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, computational biology, immunology, neuroscience, technology development and bioinformatics.

The next receipt date for applications is October 3, 2017.  Applicants can be graduate students considering postdoctoral research opportunities or postdoctoral fellows with no more than two years of postdoctoral research experience by the time of appointment to the PRAT program (late summer 2018). All applications require connecting with an investigator in the NIH IRP in advance of writing the application.

To attend the webinar, join the Skype meeting (link no longer available) shortly before 12:00 p.m. EDT and enter the conference ID 8368072. You can also attend by phone by calling 301-480-4255. Slides will be posted on the PRAT website following the event.

We look forward to talking with you about the PRAT Program.

NIH Staff Participating in March 28 Webinar

Jessica Faupel-Badger, Director, NIGMS PRAT Program

Kenneth Gibbs, Program Director, NIGMS

Erika Ginsburg, NCI Authorized Organization Representative/Signing Official

Second Annual Early Career Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students

NIGMS' Early Career Investigator Lecture with speaker Namandjé N. Bumpus, Ph.D.

Last year, we launched the NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture series. Open to everyone in the scientific community, the lectures are directed at undergraduate students to introduce them to cutting-edge science while inspiring them to pursue biomedical research careers. The series also highlights the achievements of some of NIGMS’ early career grantees.

I’m excited to share that the 2017 lecture will be presented by Namandjé Bumpus, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine-division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Namandjé is an NIGMS-funded recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Her lecture, “Drug Metabolism, Pharmacogenetics and the Quest to Personalize HIV Treatment and Prevention,” will take place on the NIH campus on Wednesday, April 5, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT. It will be videocast and archived on the NIH videocasting site.

Continue reading

Webinar for RISE Program Applicants

UPDATE: The slides from the RISE Program Applicants webinar have been posted.

If you’re preparing an institutional RISE grant application, you might have questions about the funding opportunity announcement and data tables required for the upcoming May 25 receipt date. We’ll be available to discuss these topics during a webinar on Thursday, April 6, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EDT. You may send questions before the webinar or post them in the chat box during the event.

To access the webinar, visit the WebEx Meeting page (link no longer available) and enter meeting number 624 498 694 and the password “RISE2017.” If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-877-668-4493 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the meeting number above.

We look forward to talking to you about the RISE program.

NIGMS Staff Participating in April 6 Webinar

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:

Anissa Brown, Program Director

Luis Cubano, Program Director

Shiva Singh, Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch Chief

Office of Scientific Review:

Rebecca Johnson, Scientific Review Officer

Division of Extramural Activities:

Susan South, Grants Management Specialist

Webinar for MARC U-STAR Program Applicants

UPDATE: The slides from the MARC U-STAR program applicants webinar have been posted.

If you’re preparing an institutional MARC U-STAR grant application, you might have questions about the funding opportunity announcement and data tables required for the upcoming May 25 receipt date. We’ll be available to discuss these topics during a webinar on Wednesday, March 22, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. EDT. You may send questions to me before the webinar or post them in the chat box during the event.

To access the webinar, visit the WebEx Meeting page (link no longer available) and enter meeting number 624 460 843 and the password “NIGMS.” If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-877-668-4493 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the meeting number above.

We look forward to talking to you about the MARC U-STAR program.

NIGMS Staff Participating in March 22 Webinar

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:

Sailaja Koduri, Program Director

Luis Cubano, Program Director

Shiva Singh, Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch Chief

Office of Scientific Review:

Rebecca Johnson, Scientific Review Officer

Division of Extramural Activities:

Lori Burge, Grants Management Officer