Action: Articulate more clearly NIGMS’ aims and expectations for high-quality research training.
As part of its core mission, NIGMS supports a substantial amount of graduate-level biomedical and behavioral research training. This training occurs in a variety of academic settings and is funded through a number of competitive grant mechanisms. The goal is to develop independent investigators who have the capacity to pursue and lead the future biomedical and behavioral research efforts needed to further the nation’s health.
The Institute bases its programs on several principles about training:
- It focuses on the development of student abilities,
- It requires individualized planning and attentive implementation,
- It equips students for many kinds of employment opportunities,
- It contributes to enhancing the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce, and
- It is a partnership among NIGMS, trainees, mentors, academic institutions and other stakeholders.
Since Ph.D.-level research training is a student-centered activity, its goals focus on the ideal qualities that should be evident in those soon to receive their degrees. Such students should be curious, intelligent and creative. They should be critical, rational thinkers, capable of organizing and analyzing data. They should have deep knowledge in a specific field and be conversant in related fields. These students should be able to formulate significant, testable scientific questions and be technically proficient. They should have the capacity to listen effectively as well as to write and speak cogently. They should be tolerant of ambiguity and resilient in the face of setbacks. The students should work effectively with people who have different perspectives, priorities or intellectual approaches. Finally, they should know and follow the standards, responsibilities and culture of the scientific community.
Many of these qualities can be significantly developed by attentive mentoring. Therefore, NIGMS expects mentors not only to recognize and channel talent, but also to use thoughtfully chosen activities to develop talent. At the heart of these activities is the Ph.D. research project, which provides the trainee an opportunity to learn the concepts and techniques of a field as well as to develop the habits of mind of a good scientist.
While funding for trainee research is an essential, enabling element of the training environment, funding alone does not ensure success or excellence. Research training, at its best, is an intentional and purposeful activity that is the product of a thoughtful analysis of the background, interests and needs of each student. It also benefits from evaluation. Individual mentors need to continuously evaluate the progress of individual students, and institutions need to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of their graduate-level research training. Such efforts may require the development of new metrics for success.
NIGMS recognizes that the biomedical and behavioral research workforce will not reach its full potential without a substantial increase in its diversity. Therefore, the Institute will continue its efforts to support excellent programs that succeed in creating an environment where individuals from a wide range of backgrounds have the opportunity to pursue Ph.D. training.
While the goal of graduate-level research training is the development of highly skilled, independent researchers, NIGMS also recognizes that the experience and expertise acquired are appropriate for many kinds of employment venues.