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

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 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.

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Webinar for RISE Program Applicants

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 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 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

Q&A with NIGMS-Funded PECASE Winners

Each year, NIH nominates outstanding young scientists for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists beginning their independent research careers. The scientists are selected for their innovative research record, potential to continue on this productive route and community service activities. Among this year’s PECASE recipients (nominated in 2014) are two NIGMS grantees, Tufts University’s Aimee Shen Exit icon (who started her career at the University of Vermont) and Montana State University’s Blake Wiedenheft Exit icon (who was the inaugural NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecturer). Both scientists launched their labs with support from our Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions in states with historically low levels of NIH funding.

Photo of Blake Wiedenheft (top) and Aimee Shen (bottom).

Below, they answer questions about their research and community service efforts, offer advice to other early career scientists, and share their experiences with the IDeA program.

What is the focus of your research?

Blake Wiedenheft: Viruses that infect bacteria (i.e., bacteriophages) are the most abundant biological entities on earth. The selective pressures imposed by these pervasive predators have a profound impact on the composition and the behavior of microbial communities in every ecological setting. In my lab, we rely on a combination of techniques from bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry and structural biology to understand the mechanisms that bacteria use to defend themselves from viral infection.

Aimee Shen: My lab studies Clostridium difficile, the leading cause of healthcare-associated infection in the United States. C. difficile forms metabolically dormant cells known as spores that allow the microbe to survive exit from the gastrointestinal tract of a mammalian host. My research is directed at understanding how C. difficile spores form in order to transmit infection and how they germinate and transform into disease-causing cells to initiate infection.

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Notes from the Diversity Program Consortium Annual Meeting

DPC Annual Meeting Program CoverAfter attending the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC) Exit icon annual meeting in mid-October and learning about the progress the consortium has made and its future plans, we’re feeling energized as we begin the third year of this grant. The DPC, supported by the NIH Common Fund and managed by NIGMS, is a cooperative agreement focused on finding the best ways to improve research training and mentoring in the biomedical sciences and on engaging a more diverse field of individuals in biomedical research careers. The consortium includes three interconnected programs: Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC).

The annual meeting brought together over 100 representatives from NIH and each grantee site to discuss DPC achievements, challenges and opportunities. The agenda, organized by the CEC, included two full days of presentations and breakout sessions.

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Your Perspectives: Catalyzing the Modernization of Biomedical Graduate Education

NIGMS actively supports efforts to catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education. We have undertaken a number of initiatives to stimulate this process, including hosting a symposium to showcase innovations in biomedical graduate education and providing administrative supplements to T32 predoctoral training grants to enhance rigor and reproducibility, career development and skills development.

On June 8, 2016, we took another step to encourage such change with the release of a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input on how our institutional predoctoral training grants program can be used to promote innovations in training. The RFI asked members of the community to weigh in on the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, the skills the next generation of graduate students should acquire, barriers to change and strategies to promote change through our institutional predoctoral research training grants.

We received 90 unique responses from stakeholders ranging from students and faculty to institutions and professional societies. Themes represented in the responses were organized around five major categories:

  • Institutional and training-related issues,
  • Skills development,
  • Systemic issues within the research enterprise,
  • Careers, and
  • Administrative and review issues.

Figure 1. Major Categories in Graduate Education RFI Responses. Bar chart showing the number of RFI responses in which one of the major categories was represented. A total of 90 unique responses were received for the RFI.

While NIGMS recognizes that those who responded to the RFI are unlikely to represent a random subset of the individuals and organizations who have a stake in graduate biomedical education, these responses provide insights regarding how members of the extramural community view the current challenges and opportunities in graduate biomedical education. As such, these comments will inform NIGMS’ ongoing efforts to catalyze the modernization of graduate education through a new predoctoral T32 funding announcement, which is currently under development. For more details about the analysis, we encourage you to explore the report.

Moving Further Afield

In recent talks for iBiology Exit icon  and TEDx Exit icon, NIGMS grantee Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado proposes that because so much of biomedical research focuses on only a handful of model organisms we are limiting our knowledge of biology. He suggests that many important discoveries lie waiting in species that have not yet been the subjects of sufficient investigation. This is a topic of interest to us as well; in fact, Dorit Zuk, director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology, is currently leading an internal working group that’s examining the varied landscape of organisms studied by NIGMS grantees and the new scientific questions that could be answered using a diversity of organisms. We’ll be discussing these topics in future posts.

In addition to the number of organisms we study, other aspects of the biomedical research system may be limiting the breadth of our knowledge. For example, does the expectation that junior faculty work on a problem closely related to their postdoctoral research constrain our explorations to “islands” of study, leaving vast areas under- or unexplored?

The forces keeping biomedical junior faculty within their postdoctoral research areas include the expectations of faculty search committees, grant review panels and funding agencies, as well as the promotion policies of academic institutions. Interestingly, in the chemical sciences, junior faculty are usually expected to develop projects that are distinct from their postdoctoral work, which often involves moving into completely new areas of study. Why the sociology of chemistry evolved so differently in this regard from other fields related to biomedical research is an interesting question.

Should the biomedical research enterprise change its expectations to empower junior researchers to move further away from their postdoctoral work when they start their independent research careers? Would this accelerate the pace of discovery? New programs such as the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Awards (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators give us an opportunity to revise our expectations for researchers at the beginning of their independent careers. Would this be desirable? What might we look for in assessing outcomes? If we, as funders, successfully made such a change in expectations, would the rest of the research ecosystem make parallel changes to support efforts by junior scientists to leave their home “islands” and move into new territory?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on these questions.

New Tool for Building Mentor/Mentee Connections

We’re pleased to announce the launch of MyNRMN Exit icon, a free, web-based platform designed to help biomedical researchers and students across the United States connect professionally. MyNRMN is part of the National Research Mentoring Network Exit icon, which NIGMS manages for the NIH Common Fund’s Diversity Program Consortium.

MyNRMN is designed for scientists at every career level. Faculty in more senior roles and established researchers can sign up as mentors. Early career faculty can serve as mentors or be mentees, depending on their needs. Undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs can elect to be peer mentors or sign up to be mentored. The connections you form through MyNRMN might be as simple as asking a question to scheduling formal mentoring sessions.

Some of MyNRMN’s features include:

  • Browsing other registrants’ profiles to connect with people who have similar interests (as on social media sites).
  • Sharing documents and sending direct messages to your connections.
  • Creating a personalized calendar to schedule mentee/mentor meetings, and electing whether you would like to receive text message reminders.
  • Revising and improving your resume with the CV Builder tool (for mentees).

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Special Issue of CBE-Life Sciences Education Advances the Science of Broadening Participation

NIGMS’ longstanding support of and commitment to programs that promote workforce diversity have contributed to significant progress Exit icon, but persistent representation gaps along demographic lines remain in the ranks of both independent investigators and scientific leadership. These gaps lead to the loss of valuable contributors from the talent pool and limit the ability of the biomedical community to identify and address critical scientific and societal concerns. A special issue of CBE-Life Sciences Education Exit icon, published September 1, provides the broader community with a chance to assess the progress made and plan for a future in which we cultivate and harness all available talent.

Attendees at the INBRE-sponsored Mississippi Academy of Sciences annual meeting are featured on the cover of this special issue.

The papers in this issue, which I edited with Pat Marsteller of Emory University, fit four main themes:

  • Innovative and effective interventions or approaches for broadening participation.
  • Mechanistic explanations for why certain approaches have been effective.
  • Novel insights about institutional and systemic factors that influence broadening participation efforts.
  • Syntheses of research and practices that provide a “plan of action” heading forward.

NIGMS leadership, staff and grantees authored 11 of the 35 features, editorials, essays and articles in the special issue. While all of the papers focus on topics of importance to developing a diverse scientific workforce, I wanted to call your attention to a few representative articles:

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