NIGMS Aims and Expectations for Research Training
Societal Benefits of a Diverse Workforce
Allocation of NIGMS Training Resources
Individual Development Plans
Since we issued our strategic plan for research training in 2011, we have carefully considered how to implement the actions specified in the plan. Two key steps have been to match each action item with the driving need(s) behind it and to identify implementation activities.
This document is the result of that effort. It should be considered a blueprint, not a checklist, for optimizing the research training partnership between NIGMS and academia. As we proceed to address the action items, we will provide the scientific community and other stakeholders with detailed guidance and instructions, as well as opportunities for ongoing input and feedback.
Judith H. Greenberg, Ph.D.Acting Director, NIGMSFebruary 2, 2012
Action: Articulate more clearly NIGMS’ aims and expectations for high-quality research training.
NIGMS-sponsored research training occurs in a variety of academic settings through numerous competitive grant mechanisms. Excellent research training focuses on the development of student abilities through individualized planning and attentive implementation. Successful NIGMS-supported research training achieves the dual goals of equipping students for many kinds of employment opportunities as well as enhancing the diversity of the biomedical research workforce.
Action: Examine and adjust the allocation of NIGMS training resources across and within scientific areas and institutions.
The current practice of allocating slots to NIGMS-funded training programs builds on historical precedent, among other factors. Slot number is partly a function of the age of an awarded program: Older and broader programs generally have more slots than newer ones. Especially in the present, flat-budget funding climate, NIGMS must increase programmatic flexibility to support and establish new and growing areas of training, permit more equitable distribution of slots and allow for greater representation of institutions that obtain funding for training programs.
NIGMS will consider adopting these measures:
Action: Promote the identification and exchange of effective methods to continually improve all research training activities.
NIGMS believes that the best source of ideas about improving research training will come from the community itself. As research mentors work attentively with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, they are best suited to identify opportunities for improvements in all research training, whether it is supported by research grants, by training grants or by teaching assistantships.
Action: Monitor and evaluate NIGMS’ training activities, and adjust as needed to achieve desired goals and outcomes.
Evaluation that uses systematic data collection and analysis is a critical tool for assessing program effectiveness. NIGMS uses assessments and evaluations to enhance program performance, improve decision-making and maintain responsible stewardship of public funds.
Action: Strongly encourage the use of individual development plans (IDPs) on all NIGMS-sponsored training and research awards.
Action: Establish guidelines for, and strongly encourage, training plans for all R01s and other research grant applications that request support for graduate students or postdoctoral trainees.
These two actions address the same goal: better oversight and monitoring of the professional development of students and postdoctoral scholars supported with NIGMS funds. Importantly, as NIH considers these same issues in its agency-wide discussions of research and research training policy, NIGMS will contribute information to support those deliberations, as well as participate directly in the discussions.
Action: Encourage institutions and faculty to identify and adopt evidence-based practices so that students receive the mentorship necessary to develop essential career skills.
A wide variety of activities and resources currently exist to encourage and enable quality mentoring. For example, many national scientific societies provide mentoring workshops and have developed online and print resources. Many academic institutions are developing peer-mentoring programs for faculty and students as well as programs on how to mentor effectively.
Action: Encourage institutions and their faculty to accelerate time to scientific independence for all trainees.
While it can be argued that graduate programs could shorten the average time required for trainees to complete graduate work by providing more attentive monitoring and mentoring, there are many countervailing forces in play. Biomedical research has become more interdisciplinary and quantitative, and there is a flood of new knowledge and techniques for trainees to grasp.
For developing implementation plans, NIGMS has assumed that the average age of entrance into doctoral programs has not significantly increased and that the primary reason for the increasing time to independence stems from time spent in postdoctoral training. Since NIH cannot directly influence the aggregate performance of the academic job market, NIGMS will focus its attention on establishing (or re-emphasizing) a number of principles/practices concerning the nature of the postdoctoral experience.
Although recipients of a graduate degree in the biomedical sciences constitute a quite diverse population, NIGMS focused its discussion of time to scientific independence on trainees who pursue academic research. The key metric to target is the average age at which a Ph.D. investigator gets his/her first NIH-funded R01 grant.
Action: Promote inclusion of a variety of perspectives, backgrounds and approaches among faculty and trainees.
Excellent research training requires the participation and interaction of different types of people based on race, ethnicity and gender. However, research training diversity should be considered more broadly and holistically, to promote collaboration, team-building and leadership, as well as the development of interdisciplinary scientific expertise. Because significant cultural change may be needed for wide adoption of this philosophy, any implementation actions in this area require consultation with stakeholders, including trainees (for example, through focus groups).
Action: Encourage exposure to multiple career path options for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees.
Action: Increase collaboration with societies, professional associations and other organizations to build awareness of the breadth of scientific career options and opportunities.
These two action items speak to the need to increase awareness about multiple career paths for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. NIGMS recognizes that professional societies and institutions already do a great deal toward furthering exposure of trainees to multiple career paths.
Action: Champion and articulate the societal benefits of a diverse biomedical and behavioral workforce that mirrors the diversity of the U.S. population.
NIGMS remains committed to biomedical workforce diversity that fosters innovation and enhances team creativity. By nature, however, diversity is an institutional rather than an individual quality.
Action: Establish and apply high standards for institutions to actively recruit, effectively mentor and diligently nurture students through the completion of their programs.
Current representation of members of certain racial and ethnic groups, as well as of people with disabilities, in predoctoral programs is far below their representation in the baccalaureate pool. Similarly, their representation in postdoctoral programs is much less than their representation in the pool of recent Ph.D.s. Successful recruiting and mentoring efforts directed toward underrepresented students must be proactive and go beyond what has been effective for represented students.
Action: Assure that potential trainees are evaluated in an unbiased and inclusive manner.
Because increasing diversity requires a collaborative effort among funding agencies, institutions, and trainees, continual emphasis on the value of diversity in training programs for people from backgrounds currently underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral research is paramount.
Action: Encourage institutions to examine their own demographic data on trainees.
Differential outcomes among trainees should serve as a warning sign for institutions to carefully assess the quality and effectiveness of their research training efforts. Toward eliminating, or at least significantly reducing, observed differences, institutional strategies should be trainee-focused.
This page last reviewed on
5/28/2015 8:28 AM
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