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.

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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The Feedback Loop As a Resource for Your Grad Students and Postdocs

This blog is one way that we reach out to the scientific community with information about research and research training policies, funding opportunities, analyses, resources, meetings and other useful news. It’s also a key way in which we get your input on our activities and plans.

When I looked back at some recent posts, I was struck by how many of them are relevant to the graduate students and postdocs in your labs. For example, the post describing our plans to modernize graduate education is a must-read for graduate students, whose ideas and perspective will further inform our efforts. The post on talking to NIH staff about your application and grant provides essential information for postdocs who will soon be independent investigators.

Please encourage your students and postdocs to subscribe to the Feedback Loop as well as to send us their suggestions for topics to cover in future posts.

Outcomes Analysis of the NIGMS Diversity Supplement Program

We recently analyzed outcomes of the NIGMS Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (referred to here as the Diversity Supplement Program or DSP), which provides investigators holding active NIGMS research grants with supplemental funds to support scholars from groups underrepresented in biomedical science. Using a public search approach, we could track a large proportion of participants—but not all—through doctoral training and into various careers. We assessed the educational and career outcomes for undergraduate, graduate student and postdoctoral participants supported by supplements between 1989 and 2006, and we encourage you to explore the report.

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PRAT Program Marks 50th Year with Scientific Symposium

PRAT Symposium Speakers

Steven Paul, Weill Cornell

Jacqueline Crawley, UCSD

Richard Weinshilboum, Mayo Clinic

Katherine Roche, NIH

James Stevens, Eli Lilly

Jennifer Elisseeff, Johns Hopkins

Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, NIH

Elizabeth Grice, U Penn

Robert Ruffolo, Jr., Wyeth (retired)

Henry Bourne, USCF

In the years since the first cohort of postdoctoral fellows entered the NIGMS Pharmacology Research Associate (PRAT) program in 1965, the program’s alumni have become leaders in pharmacology, neuroscience, cell biology and related fields across multiple career sectors, including academia, government and industry. On November 6, we’ll mark the accomplishments of the more than 400 PRAT alumni in a full-day scientific symposium on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.

The symposium will feature presentations by 10 alumni spanning the duration of the program and is free and open to the public, although we encourage you to register to attend. If you can’t be there in person, you can watch the event live or later. If you have comments, anecdotes, historical data or photos from the PRAT program, please let us know by writing a note in the comments box on the meeting registration site or by sending me an e-mail message.

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NIGMS Postdoctoral Fellowship Program at NIH Opens for Applications

The NIGMS Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) program is now accepting applications for its 50th class of fellows, and I encourage you to pass along this fellowship opportunity to graduate students and early postdoctoral scholars who may be interested in applying. The application deadline is March 17, 2015.

NIGMS PRAT fellows conduct research in scientific areas within the Institute’s mission while in an NIH intramural research program (IRP) laboratory. Before applying to the program, applicants must identify a potential preceptor in the NIH IRP and develop a research proposal.

Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States who have or will have a doctoral degree (e.g., Ph.D. or M.D.) and no more than 5 years of postdoctoral research experience by the time the 2015 program begins in the fall. Individuals currently in Ph.D. or other doctoral degree-granting programs may apply as long as they anticipate completing the degree requirements before starting the fellowship program.

NIGMS PRAT fellows receive 3 years of stipend support at levels determined by the NIH IRP guidelines and commensurate with experience. Additional benefits include health insurance, a travel allowance and professional development training activities, including a monthly seminar series designed specifically for the fellows. The professional development opportunities provide a rich forum for the exchange of ideas among this diverse group and are often cited by current fellows and alumni as one of the most valuable aspects of the program.

For more information about the NIGMS PRAT program, including details about applying and identifying potential preceptors, please e-mail me.

SAVE THE DATE – The NIGMS PRAT program will host a 50th anniversary scientific symposium highlighting the accomplishments of its alumni, many of whom have achieved senior leadership positions in academia, government and industry. This event will take place on November 6, 2015, on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.

Funding Opportunities: Administrative Supplements for Equipment; Pathway to Independence Award; Big Data Training

You may be interested in these recent funding opportunity announcements:

NIGMS Program of Administrative Supplements for Equipment

Purpose: Request supplemental funds to existing NIGMS-funded R01, R37, P01, and U01 grants for the purchase of single pieces of equipment whose direct costs are between $50,000 and $250,000
Application due date: March 3, 2015
NIGMS contact: Anthony Carter, 301-594-0943

NIH Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00)

Purpose: Help postdoctoral researchers complete mentored training; transition to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions; and launch competitive, independent research careers
Application due date: Standard dates apply
NIGMS contacts:
Oleg Barski, PPBC, 301-594-3827
Paula Flicker, CBB, 301-594-0828
Michelle Hamlet, GDB, 301-594-0943
Stephen Marcus, BBCB, 301-594-2987
Michael Sesma, TWD, 301-594-3900

Biomedical Big Data Training

  • NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Enhancing Diversity in Biomedical Data Science (R25)

    Purpose: Provide undergraduate students from underrepresented groups hands-on exposure to big data research experiences; obtain professional training and skills in big data science

Letter of intent due date: February 19, 2015
Application due date: March 19, 2015

  • NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Biomedical Data Science Training Coordination Center (U24)
    (RFA-ES-15-004)Purpose: Develop a network of scientists involved in biomedical big data science and produce a discovery index that serves as a primary source for personalized access to publicly available biomedical data science educational resources
  • NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Initiative Research Education: Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Data Management for Biomedical Big Data (R25)
    (RFA-LM-15-001)Purpose: Develop an open, online educational course that covers a comprehensive set of topics related to the management of biomedical big data
  • NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Initiative Research Education: Open Educational Resources for Sharing, Annotating and Curating Biomedical Big Data (R25)(RFA-LM-15-002)

    Purpose: Develop open educational resources that cover concepts, approaches, relevant use cases and requirements for sharing, annotating and curating biomedical big data

Letter of intent due date: February 17, 2015
Application due date: March 17, 2015