NIGMS Workshop on Future Training of Biomedical Research Scientists

NIH, Bethesda, Maryland

Start Date: 11/12/1998 8:00 AM

End Date: 11/12/1998 5:00 PM

A one-day workshop was held at NIH on November 12, 1998. Thirteen participants (see the roster below) with varied expertise and institutional affiliations discussed current and future training needs as well as the optimal mechanisms available to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) for addressing those needs. A summary follows of the issues identified and possible approaches to addressing them.

Quantitative Skills of Graduate Students

Research is evolving toward an era where the melding of biology with the disciplines of physics, mathematics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering is essential. A virtually unanimous concern was expressed that undergraduate students are entering graduate programs with inadequate training in--and knowledge of--the quantitative sciences. There is a need for graduate programs to identify and recruit students with greater competence in quantitative disciplines and for NIGMS to encourage a greater emphasis on quantitative skills in its training grant-supported programs.

Several ideas were raised to foster the quantitative training of graduate students:

  • added emphasis on recruiting students with such skills into NIGMS-supported training programs;
  • additional courses at entry or integrated into the graduate curriculum;
  • intensive internships in appropriate laboratories during graduate training; and
  • NIGMS should be on record as recognizing the need for students to be better trained in the quantitative disciplines and encouraging institutional efforts at the undergraduate level to achieve this goal.


There was general agreement that an increased NIGMS focus is needed on training efforts in bioinformatics. There was discussion about the best mechanism to achieve this goal, such as new and distinct training programs vs. efforts that could be integrated into the rubric of current training programs. The issue of whether training in bioinformatics should be directed to the predoctoral and/or postdoctoral levels also was addressed, but it was not resolved.

One approach to predoctoral training in bioinformatics would be a new training program. However, most participants were of the opinion that only a few institutions at present could mount distinct, high-quality training programs in bioinformatics. Another approach to enhanced training in bioinformatics at the predoctoral level would be the use of supplements to existing training grants. Supplements would facilitate the recruitment of a new and different pool of students, the inclusion of additional faculty mentors, and the promotion of enriched curriculum and research opportunities. The use of supplements also would require an understanding by the current training grant program director of what training in bioinformatics entails. It was recognized that institutional postdoctoral training programs in bioinformatics would be easier to phase in and out, as the need required, as opposed to establishing new predoctoral training programs specifically in bioinformatics. A new NIGMS program announcement ( PA-98-082, Fellowships in Quantitative Biology) already is available for support of individual postdoctoral fellows in quantitative disciplines, including bioinformatics. However, NIGMS should address, in its NRSA training program announcement, how bioinformatics could be included and fostered in its institutional training programs.

Master's-Level Training

Several workshop participants identified a need for a professional master's-level degree in biomedical engineering and computer sciences. The goal would be to prepare students to function as part of a research team that requires expertise in these areas. It was recognized that competence in these areas may not require a full Ph.D. training program, and that skilled master's-level researchers would be in demand at both academic and industrial institutions. While there is no regular mechanism for NIH and NIGMS to directly support non-Ph.D. NRSA training programs, it may be possible to cooperate with other organizations in encouraging master's-level training in these areas. As part of the overall vision of NIGMS training, there also may be value in acknowledging the merit and frequency of master's-level training in these disciplines.

Human Physiology and Disease

There was a brief discussion of "molecular medicine" as an area where a team approach is needed to study complex biological problems in human physiology and disease. It should be possible for NIGMS to incorporate training in molecular medicine and physiology into existing training programs, including Systems and Integrative Biology.

Time to Degree

The increasing time to a Ph.D. degree was recognized as a problem. Some concern also was expressed that efforts to incorporate more quantitative disciplines into existing training programs could prolong the already long time to degree, unless education in the quantitative sciences at the undergraduate level is emphasized. NIGMS should explicitly encourage training programs to minimize the time to degree.

Postdoctoral Training

Some concerns were expressed as to the quality of postdoctoral training at academic institutions. While no extra formalism is needed, NIGMS should consider ways of encouraging the quality of the institutional postdoctoral training experience.


Overall, there was general agreement that the existing NIGMS training programs are, for the most part, meeting changing training demands. There is little apparent need to formally restructure existing training programs or add new ones. The one exception may be in the area of bioinformatics, where available options should be explored further. However, it is essential that the NIGMS training programs be highly flexible, and that this flexibility be adequately communicated in the NIGMS NRSA training program announcement. Other issues, such as limiting the time to degree and encouraging the recruitment and training of students with excellence in quantitative skills, also should be explicitly recognized and addressed in the NIGMS NRSA training program announcement. The NIGMS training goals and mission also should be restated clearly.


John Perkins, Ph.D. (chair)
Dean, Southwest Graduate School
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
5323 Harry Hines Boulevard
Dallas, TX 75235-9004
Tel: 214-648-2174
Fax: 214-648-2102

David A. Clayton, Ph.D.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
4000 Jones Bridge Road
Chevy Chase, MD 20815-6789
Tel: 301-215-8807
Fax: 301-215-8828

Thomas O. Fox, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School
T-MEC 435
260 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Tel: 617-432-2405
Fax: 617-432-2099

David I. Friedman, M.D.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
University of Michigan
5641 Medical Science Bldg II
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0620
Tel: 734-763-3142
Fax: 734-764-3562

Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Research
D3300 MCN
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Nashville, TN 37232-2104
Tel: 615-343-8846
Fax: 615-343-7286

Paul Matsudaira, Ph.D.
Whitehead Institute
9 Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
Tel: 617-258-5188
Fax: 617-258-7226

Carol M. Newton, M.D., Ph.D.
Department of Biomathematics
10833 Le Conte Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90095-176620
Tel: 310-825-5800
Fax: 310-825-8685

Salvatore Pizzo, M.D., Ph.D.
Duke University Medical Center
Department of Pathology
P.O. Box 3712
Durham, NC 27710
Tel: 919-684-3528
Fax: 919-684-8689

C. Dale Poulter, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry
University of Utah
315 S 1400 E DOCK
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
Tel: 801-581-6685
Fax: 801-581-4391

Franklyn G. Prendergast, M.D., Ph.D.
Mayo Foundation
200 First Street SW
Rochester, MN 55905
Tel: 507-284-3753
Fax: 507-284-9349

Lawrence Schramm, Ph.D.
Biomedical Engineering
Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine
Room 606 Traylor Building
Baltimore, MD 21205
Tel: 410-955-3026
Fax: 410-955-9826

Michael S. Teitelbaum, Ph.D.
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
630 5 th Avenue
Suite 2550
New York, NY 10111-0242
Tel: 212-649-1649
Fax: 212-757-5117

Todd O. Yeates, Ph.D.
202 Molecular Biology Institute
University of California, Los Angeles
Box 951570
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1570
Tel: 310-206-4866
Fax: 310-206-3914