NIGMS Aims and Expectations for Research Training

Action: Articulate more clearly NIGMS’ aims andexpectations for high-quality research training.

As part of its core mission, NIGMS supports a substantial amountof graduate-level biomedical and behavioral research training. Thistraining occurs in a variety of academic settings and is fundedthrough a number of competitive grant mechanisms. The goal is todevelop independent investigators who have the capacity to pursueand lead the future biomedical and behavioral research effortsneeded to further the nation’s health.

The Institute bases its programs on several principles abouttraining:

  • It focuses on the development of student abilities,
  • It requires individualized planning and attentiveimplementation,
  • It equips students for many kinds of employment opportunities,
  • It contributes to enhancing the diversity of the biomedical andbehavioral research workforce, and
  • It is a partnership among NIGMS, trainees, mentors, academicinstitutions and other stakeholders.

Since Ph.D.-level research training is a student-centeredactivity, its goals focus on the ideal qualities that should beevident in those soon to receive their degrees. Such studentsshould be curious, intelligent and creative. They should becritical, rational thinkers, capable of organizing and analyzingdata. They should have deep knowledge in a specific field and beconversant in related fields. These students should be able toformulate significant, testable scientific questions and betechnically proficient. They should have the capacity to listeneffectively as well as to write and speak cogently. They should betolerant of ambiguity and resilient in the face of setbacks. Thestudents should work effectively with people who have differentperspectives, priorities or intellectual approaches. Finally, theyshould know and follow the standards, responsibilities and cultureof the scientific community.

Many of these qualities can be significantly developed byattentive mentoring. Therefore, NIGMS expects mentors not onlyto recognize and channel talent, but also to use thoughtfullychosen activities to develop talent. At the heart of theseactivities is the Ph.D. research project, which provides thetrainee an opportunity to learn the concepts and techniques of afield as well as to develop the habits of mind of a goodscientist.

While funding for trainee research is an essential, enablingelement of the training environment, funding alone does not ensuresuccess or excellence. Research training, at its best, is anintentional and purposeful activity that is the product of athoughtful analysis of the background, interests and needs of eachstudent. It also benefits from evaluation. Individual mentors needto continuously evaluate the progress of individual students, andinstitutions need to continuously evaluate the effectiveness oftheir graduate-level research training. Such efforts may requirethe development of new metrics for success.

NIGMS recognizes that the biomedical and behavioral researchworkforce will not reach its full potential without a substantialincrease in its diversity. Therefore, the Institute will continue its effortsto support excellent programs that succeed in creating anenvironment where individuals from a wide range of backgrounds havethe opportunity to pursue Ph.D. training.

While the goal of graduate-level research training is thedevelopment of highly skilled, independent researchers, NIGMS alsorecognizes that the experience and expertise acquired areappropriate for many kinds of employment venues.