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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Webinar for Bridges Applicants

UPDATE: The slides from the Bridges Webinar and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions have been posted.

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

We’re offering a webinar for Bridges applicants (link no longer available) on Thursday, August 18, from 1:15-2:45 p.m. EDT. You may send questions to us (Mercedes Rubio or Patrick H. Brown) before the webinar or post them 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 1-888-390-0690 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the participant passcode 6253723.

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

NIGMS Staff Participating in August 18 Webinar

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:

Alison Gammie, Director

Shiva Singh, Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch Chief

Mercedes Rubio, Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program Director

Patrick H. Brown, Bridges to the Doctorate Program Director

Sailaja Koduri, Program Director

Office of Scientific Review:

Brian Pike, Acting Chief

Rebecca Johnson, Scientific Review Officer

Division of Extramural Activities:

Justin Rosenzweig, Grants Management Specialist

Outcomes Analysis of the NIGMS Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) Program

We recently analyzed the career outcomes of scholars who participated in the NIGMS IRACDA program. A goal of this program is to provide a diverse pool of postdoctoral scholars with research and professional skills needed to be successful in academic careers. The program combines a mentored postdoctoral research experience with an opportunity to develop additional academic and teaching skills, including a teaching practicum at a partner institution that enrolls a substantial number of students from underrepresented groups. Since its inception in 1999, 25 research-intensive institutions have received IRACDA awards, which have supported more than 600 scholars.

Our assessment focused on the 450 alumni who completed their training through November 2014. Important findings include:

  • IRACDA scholars are diverse: 63% are female, and 53% identify as a race/ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic.
  • Approximately 73% of IRACDA alumni are in academic faculty positions at a range of institutions (see Figure 1).
  • Among the scholars in faculty positions, 35% are at research-intensive institutions, 25% are at primarily undergraduate institutions and the remaining percent are at associate- and master’s degree-granting institutions. In addition, 25% of the IRACDA alumni in academic positions are faculty at a designated minority-serving institution.

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Give Input on Strategies for Modernizing Biomedical Graduate Education

We’ve been examining how best to support the modernization of graduate education at the national level to ensure that trainees gain the skills, abilities and knowledge they need to be successful in the biomedical research workforce.

We’re involved in a variety of efforts. For example, we and other NIH institutes and centers provided support for the development of training modules on rigor and reproducibility. We encouraged graduate programs at institutions that receive predoctoral T32 support from us to make their alumni career outcomes publicly available to prospective and current students. We’ve also offered administrative supplements to predoctoral T32 training grants to support innovative approaches in the areas of rigor and reproducibility, career outcomes and graduate education. In April, we held a symposium covering these and other topics in graduate education. Finally, we plan to write a new predoctoral T32 funding announcement.

We’re now soliciting input from the biomedical research community and other interested groups in response to a new request for information (RFI) on strategies for modernizing biomedical graduate education. We’d like to know your thoughts on:

  • Current strengths, weaknesses and challenges in graduate biomedical education.
  • Changes that could enhance graduate education to ensure that scientists of tomorrow have the skills, abilities and knowledge they need to advance biomedical research as efficiently and effectively as possible.
  • Major barriers to achieving these changes and potential strategies to overcome them.
  • Key skills that graduate students should develop in order to become outstanding biomedical scientists and the best approaches for developing those skills.
  • Potential approaches to modernizing graduate education through the existing NIGMS institutional predoctoral training grants.
  • Anything else you feel is important for us to consider.

Responses can be submitted via an online form Exit icon and can be anonymous. They can also be emailed to modernPhD@mail.nih.gov. The due date for responses is August 5, 2016.

New Early Career Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students

Blake WiedenheftI’m very pleased to announce a new annual lecture to highlight the achievements of some of NIGMS’ early career grantees.

The first NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture will be given by Blake Wiedenheft, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Montana State University who does research on the CRISPR gene-editing system. His talk, “Bacteria, Their Viruses, and How They Taught Us to Perform Genome Surgery,” will take place on Wednesday, April 13 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT on the NIH campus. The lecture will be videocast and archived on the NIH Videocasting site.

Although open to everyone in the scientific community, this and future talks in the series will be geared toward undergraduate students. After describing their research, speakers will discuss their career paths during a 30-minute question-and-answer session.

We’re hopeful that these lectures will help inform participants about cutting-edge areas of science and inspire them to pursue biomedical research careers. I encourage you to tell your students about this opportunity to ask Blake career-related questions. They can send their questions by email to Jilliene Drayton before Monday, April 11, or tweet them with the hashtag #ecilecture.

Editor’s Note: An archived video of the lecture, including the question-and-answer session, is on the NIH Videocasting and Podcasting site.

Webinar for MARC U-STAR Program Applicants

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

If you are preparing an institutional MARC U-STAR grant application, you might have questions about the funding opportunity announcement, data tables and FORMS-D package required for the upcoming May 25 receipt date. We will be available to discuss these topics during a webinar on Thursday, April 7, from 3:15-4:45 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 622 362 803 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 April 7 Webinar

Alison Gammie, Director, Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

Shiva Singh, Chief, Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch, Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

Richard Okita, Program Director, Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry

Sailaja Koduri, Scientific Review Officer (on detail from NCATS), Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

Mona Trempe, Scientific Review Officer, Office of Scientific Review

Justin Rosenzweig, Grants Management Specialist, Division of Extramural Activities

 

Educational Outcomes of the NIGMS Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) Program

UPDATE: The MARC U-Star report includes an addendum on the demographics of the program’s alumni.

We recently analyzed the educational outcomes of trainees who participated in the NIGMS MARC U-STAR program. The goal of the program is to enhance the pool of students from underrepresented groups earning baccalaureate and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical research fields. MARC U-STAR is part of a larger effort at NIGMS to support the development of a highly skilled, creative and diverse biomedical research workforce. This study was designed to identify the educational outcomes of over 9,000 MARC U-STAR alumni appointed at 114 institutions between 1986 and 2013.

MARC U-STAR grants are awarded to undergraduate institutions. Each grant supports a continuous 2-year program for the junior and senior (or final two) years of college that provides the trainees with academic enhancement, research training and professional skills development. In addition to these on-campus enhancements, MARC U-STAR institutions are expected to provide each trainee with a summer research experience at a research-intensive institution. The recently released Funding Opportunity Announcement describes the expectation that a majority of MARC U-STAR alumni nationwide will matriculate in a research doctorate program.

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NIGMS Symposium on Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education

NIGMS is actively involved in efforts to catalyze the modernization of graduate education. As part of our work on this issue, we will host a symposium at NIH on Monday, April 11, where we will convene stakeholders from the biomedical graduate education community to continue the momentum for positive change and showcase innovative approaches in Ph.D. training. You can register to attend in person or watch the meeting live or later.

The agenda for the morning session includes an overview of the current landscape from the perspective of various stakeholders (students, institutions and employers) followed by a discussion on implementing change and assessing the effectiveness of educational innovations. The afternoon session will highlight experiments in various areas of graduate education such as curriculum redesign, quantitative skills enhancement, rigor and reproducibility, diversity and inclusion, and career and professional development. We will hear about why and how these experiments were implemented, their outcomes to date and aspects that could be exported to other institutions.

We hope you can join us for what promises to be a broad and stimulating discussion.