The 2017 Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD) Program Directors’ Meeting , 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.
- Alison Gammie, director of NIGMS’ TWD division, outlined the new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement (FOA) in her presentation [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 [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 [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 [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 include mobile laboratories that bring science to rural communities, professional development for teachers and media-based projects like the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs .
To view more of the presentations and to access abstracts for the poster sessions, please visit the 2017 TWD Program Directors’ Meeting resources page .
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.
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 and can be anonymous. They can also be emailed to modernPhD@mail.nih.gov. The due date for responses is August 5, 2016.
NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch addresses attendees at the symposium, which is available on videocast
On April 11, more than 150 people from across the country (plus many via videocast) participated in the NIGMS Symposium on Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education. The goals of the meeting were to convene stakeholders to continue the momentum for positive change within the biomedical graduate education community and to showcase innovative experiments and approaches in Ph.D. training.
The morning session featured presentations highlighting the training expectations of graduate students, institutional approaches to reshaping graduate education programs and attributes employers look for when hiring early career scientists. These talks converged on the theme of ensuring that graduate education equips Ph.D. students with the scientific and professional skills they need to be successful in their careers.
After a presentation focusing on assessing the effectiveness of educational innovations, the speakers in the afternoon session described a variety of experiments in graduate education that are currently under way in various settings. The nine innovations featured in this session were augmented by an additional 32 posters presented during the lunch period.
NIGMS Staff Participating in the February 8 Webinar
Jon Lorsch, Director, NIGMS
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
Kris Willis, Program Director, Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology
Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer
UPDATE: To join this meeting, visit Webinar on Administrative Supplements to T32 Grants, PA-16-060 and click “OK.” The site is compatible with mobile devices. For a voice-only presentation, call 1-888-469-2151 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and enter the access code 8911526.
We’ll field your questions about the recently announced Availability of Administrative Supplements to NIGMS Predoctoral Training Grants during a webinar on Monday, Feb. 8, from 3:15-4:15 p.m. EST. Details about how to access the webinar online will be available soon. You can send questions to me ahead of time.
Since announcing this funding opportunity, we’ve received many inquiries. The following points address most of the common questions:
- The supplement is designed to provide support for the development and implementation of curricular activities aimed at providing graduate students with a strong foundation in research design and methods in areas related to conducting reproducible and rigorous research.
- To be eligible, your training grant must be active through at least June 30, 2018. Thus, training grants that might have received outstanding priority scores and are expected to be renewed effective July 1, 2016, are NOT eligible.
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.
We recently analyzed the educational and career outcomes of scholars who participated in the NIGMS Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). The goal of this program, which we started in 2000, is to prepare recent baccalaureate graduates from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences for entry into—and completion of—rigorous Ph.D. training programs. PREP is part of a larger effort at NIGMS to support the development of a highly skilled, creative and diverse biomedical research workforce.
PREP grants are awarded to research-intensive institutions. Each grant supports five to 10 scholars who spend 75 percent of their time as apprentice scientists pursuing a mentored discovery research project and the remainder engaged in academic and professional development activities. These include a program of study to enhance their academic record and workshops to improve their writing and presentation skills.
Our assessment of PREP outcomes is based on various educational and career metrics for PREP scholars supported from 2001 to 2014 through 41 institutional programs. For more details about the analysis, read the report.
Last week, I wrote to NIGMS-funded T32 program directors to encourage them to inform students about trainee career outcomes. Because this topic is also relevant to the broader community, I’d like to share the message here.
Dear NIGMS T32 Training Grant Program Director:
At the June 2015 meeting of NIGMS training, workforce development, and diversity program directors , Peter Preusch, Dick Okita and I discussed the importance of making post-training career outcomes available to current and prospective students. The goal of collecting and sharing data on Ph.D. career outcomes is consistent with recommendations of the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH. This topic has also been addressed by the Association of American Medical Colleges , the Council of Graduate Schools and a recent Molecular Biology of the Cell article.
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.