This workshop has been organized to take a look at graduate training supported by NIGMS in light of current and emerging scientific training needs. The impetus for the workshop comes, in part, from several questions that have been asked repeatedly by our Council, our review panels, and other advisors. How can graduate students be better trained for interdisciplinary and team research? Do the NIGMS training grant areas meet current training needs? Are students getting the skills that they need for the future? Should didactic training be changed?
Below are some more specific questions that the NIGMS staff has prepared to facilitate discussion. These questions are meant to be starting points. We encourage your broad creative thinking about graduate training.
TRAINING NEEDS: What additional scientific skills and outlooks are needed for the future?
IMPLEMENTATION: In academia, what approaches should be developed and/or incorporated into training programs to achieve the needed skills and broad outlook?
NIGMS POLICIES: Are there other ideas for revision or redesign of NIGMS training programs? For example:
TRAINING NEEDS: What additional scientific skills and outlooks are needed for the future?
Do most trainees need better quantitative skills? Members of the working group agreed with unanimity that trainees needed better quantitative skills in concert with that outlined in the Bio2010 Report. Nevertheless, there were several important caveats that emerged during the course of discussion. In defining quantitative needs, there is no single approach or cluster of core competencies that can satisfy all the different NIGMS training programs. For example, while many training programs require that entering students have had math through differential equations and at least one course in probability and statistics, there are Ph. D. or training programs that do not require these skills. As the committee discussed this further, it noted that NIGMS should avoid being prescriptive and instead construct guidelines that allow programs maximum flexibility in addressing how additional relevant quantitative training will be provided. Examples include providing skill sets that range from tools that teach trainees how to probe how molecules work to tools required for parsing large sets of data. Almost all agreed that where appropriate, trainees need to understand how results are generated by machines and computer programs. They need to know and appreciate differences between disciplines to allow better cross-communication. And quantitative training needs to be accompanied by more rigorous training in communication skills, problem identification, and problem-solving. However offered, quantitative training needs to extend beyond that offered to undergraduates and it needs to emphasize the importance of self-learning and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Do we need to enhance trainee exposure to concepts and opportunities relevant to research on human health and disease? Here, the committee felt that most students are already informed and motivated to achieve relevant training in this area. It was pointed out that almost one-third of NIGMS trainees are M.D.-Ph.D. students and therefore are experts in one or more of these areas. Some committee members expressed concern that any increased emphasis on human health and disease would come at the expense of emphasizing the importance and value of non-targeted research that is the hallmark of NIGMS programs and its complementary nature. In addition, the benefits of additional training in areas related to human health and disease would have to be weighed with local degree guidelines and NIGMS mandates for increased training in responsible conduct of research, quantitative skills, and other training program-specific components.
What about training in ethics? Training in this area was viewed as strong but could be improved. One possibility is that programs evaluate mechanisms for providing refresher courses that include supplemental training in areas such as basic publication ethics.
The committee discussed implementation at length and again came to the conclusion that no one size fits all. Nevertheless, there were several ideas noteworthy of further consideration and subsequent communication to program directors. Whenever possible, training should be interactive and demand collaboration on coursework material. It should emphasize problem-solving and training that accommodates all types of learning styles. Journal clubs were viewed as important components and modular approaches to core courses were emphasized as providing a good way to offer an abbreviated learning experience. Core courses should also have, whenever possible, an interdisciplinary emphasis. While it is clear that graduate education needs to offer new learning formats, didactic approaches are still valuable and often necessary.
The committee also recommended that a new system be put in place to provide training and periodic feedback to NIGMS program directors. This could occur through annual (or regular) meetings of program directors. Including all program directors for all NIGMS T32 programs might be problematic. Instead, this might be better handled by conducting smaller meetings with program directors from each specific area of NIGMS-supported training. This regular meeting would provide a venue for different programs to inform each other about what works and what does not work.
The committee also recommended that consideration be given to forming site visit teams composed of four program directors that provide feedback/review to training programs sometime in the middle of their funded cycle. The intent would be to offer critical evaluation and advice in preparation for the next competitive renewal.
Finally, the committee endorsed the notion of developing interactive Web tools and information, presumably in partnership with NIGMS staff. Committee members also endorsed the value of site visits when programs are reviewed and recommended strongly that this occur whenever possible.
NIGMS POLICIES: Are there other ideas for revision or redesign of NIGMS training programs?
The committee felt that the number and types of NIGMS programs were fine as presently listed. The members did feel that the move to interdisciplinary training has been well received and that continued emphasis on “interdisciplinary” is almost passé. They also viewed as positive the continuing evolution of departmental-based graduate programs to thematic training programs that include faculty and students from several different departments.
John Nilson, Ph.D. (Chair)Director & Meyer Distinguished ProfessorSchool of Molecular BiosciencesWashington State UniversityFulmer 639Pullman, WA 99164-4660Tel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Axelsen, M.D.Departments of Pharmacology & Medicine
University of Pennsylvania105 Johnson Pavilion3610 Hamilton WalkPhiladelphia, PA 19104-6084Tel: email@example.com
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Charles D. (Dale) Poulter, Ph.D.Department of ChemistryUniversity of UtahDepartment of Chemistry315 South 1400 East Rm. 2020Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0850Tel: 801-581-6685Poulter@chemistry.utah.edu
Guillermo Romero, Ph.D.Associate ProfessorDepartment of PharmacologyUniversity of PittsburghSchool of MedicineW1345 Biomedical Science TowerPittsburgh, PA 15261Tel: firstname.lastname@example.org
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