Background: In October 2017, NIGMS released a new predoctoral T32 training program funding opportunity announcement to “encourage changes in biomedical graduate training that allow it to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the research enterprise, which is increasingly complex, quantitative, interdisciplinary, and collaborative” (NIGMS Feedback Loop Blog). NIH’s acknowledgement that current practices are not effectively and efficiently preparing trainees for high impact health-related research careers has catalyzed a national interest in reform via development of modern and innovative approaches to training.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)’s 2018 GREAT (Graduate Research, Education, and Training) Group Meeting was an opportunity for Office of Biomedical Graduate Education (OBGE) leadership to engage with thought leaders at top biomedical research institutions who are working to establish the evidence-based training reforms expected in the new T32 training environment. A sea change is underway, and the OBGE is not alone in striving to evolve the biomedical graduate training mission to ensure both research excellence and a diversification of career outcomes for our trainees. Rigorous research training and an enhanced focus on the development of robust technical, operational, and professional skill sets will prepare Duke SoM PhDs to impact scientific discovery and progress at the highest level.
Some Key Themes - AAMC GREAT Group 2018 Meeting:
Diverse, Inclusive, and Supportive Training Environments: Institutions are committed to hiring and recruiting strategies that enhance diversity among faculty and trainees. To be successful, we need to ensure diverse student populations can thrive in inclusive and equitable learning environments, and develop programs and resources to support and guide students as they navigate and manage the stresses and pressures of biomedical PhD training.
Curriculum Reform: Significant attention is being focused on the need to modernize the curriculum, to most effectively prepare students to engage in interdisciplinary science. Other themes included the need to integrate Rigor and Reproducibility training throughout the PhD training experience, incorporate quantitative and computational approaches, training in statistical methods, experimental design, data analysis and interpretation. In response to the NIH T32 FOA, there is a basic need to develop evaluation or assessment processes to determine whether curriculum and associated programs are meeting training mission objectives.
Professional Skills Development: As science becomes increasingly interdisciplinary and biomedical sciences PhDs continue to enter the workforce in a diversity of careers, training in leadership, management, communication, collaboration, teaching, teamwork, cultural competence, and other areas needs to be integrated into the broader training curriculum.
Career Development: The 17 “NIH Director’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST)” Award recipient institutions presented on their substantial progress at the AAMC GREAT Group Meeting. BEST Awards were one-time, non-renewable, 5-year awards and awardees are now nearing the end of their funding periods. Recipients were expected to develop effective career and professional development pedagogy and share best practices widely. From www.nihbest.org: “The NIH BEST Programs have a research agenda and are conducting a series of experiments to identify new and innovative approaches to broaden career and professional development for graduate and postdoctoral training. These training programs are designed to reflect the range of available career options required for a strong biomedical, behavioral, social and clinical research enterprise.” We can expect to continue to learn from the BEST program as more data become available in the near future.
Outcomes Data: NIH-funded training programs are expected to make training and career outcomes publicly available. This transparency can inform applicant decisions regarding the level at which trainees at a particular institution are prepared to enter diverse careers. Additionally, the data give applicants and trainees a comprehensive sense of available careers in the biomedical workforce landscape. In 2017, Duke joined together with nine other leading research institutions committed to increased outcomes data transparency to form the Coalition for Next Generation Life Sciences. Duke Life Sciences PhD program data can be publicly viewed here.
Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions: A growing number of institutions no longer require or accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in support of PhD applications, reflecting the national discussion of the poor utility of the GRE in predicting future success in graduate school as well as concerns regarding biases against groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. Holistic application review processes and implicit bias training for faculty admission committees can help mitigate these concerns, ensure bias is minimized during application review, and balanced consideration is given to all facets of an applicant’s candidacy – toward a goal of creating a diverse and inclusive community of trainees poised for success in the biomedical research enterprise.
Mentorship: As biomedical research training evolves, faculty commitment to mentorship and productive mentor/mentee relationships is paramount. Federally funded training programs must ensure faculty members are trained on how to effectively mentor trainees, promote diverse and inclusive training environments, conduct research ethically and responsibly, and display records of rigorous and reproducible scientific research. Discussions on how to most effectively meet this institutional need are underway and will likely come with an expansion of the faculty training efforts currently in place in the Office of Research Mentoring.