Proceedings of the BEST Consortium/Burroughs Wellcome Fund Workshop

in conjunction with the

2017 AAMC GREAT Group Professional Development Meeting

September 6-7, 2017

Hyatt Regency Orlando

The NIH BEST Consortium was pleased to hold the BEST Practices Workshop, sponsored by the NIH Common Fund and Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Purpose of the Workshop

The goal of this workshop was to share with the biomedical research training community best practices and lessons learned from the NIH BEST Programs, and offer practical guidance on how to motivate, create, implement, and evaluate career and professional development opportunities for doctoral and postdoctoral scholars.


Website content compiled and edited by Carol Rouzer, Laura Daniel, and Ambika Mathur

Traditionally, professional and career development programs for biomedical doctoral and postdoctoral scholars at academic institutions have tended to focus on preparing trainees for careers solely in academic research positions. Recent data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), and several academic institutions show that nationally only 25% of biomedical trainees end up in academic tenure-track faculty positions in research institutions while 75% pursue careers outside academia in areas such as industry/biotechnology/pharma, science communication, science policy and regulatory affairs, etc. Trainees are also not always provided with the professional development opportunities to acquire “transferable” skills that are deemed desirable by employers transcending across the various types of employment sectors and types.

In response, the NIH issued a call for proposals in 2013 for institutions to develop programs that provide exposure to doctoral and postdoctoral scholars to this range of biomedical career options and professional development opportunities. The programs were required to have strong evaluation plans and were to be viewed as “research experiments” to address these issues. The NIH Common Fund awarded these one-time 5-year grants to 10 insitutions in the first cycle in 2013 and to an additional 7 institutions in a subsequent cycle in 2014 under the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) initiative. A national consortium of these 17 BEST awardee institutions was formed; the consortium institutions have been working to develop career and professional development opportunities addressing these issues and identifying challenges as we move forward. The programs of all member institutions, while each unique in the types of programming offered, also share some commonalities.


Key underlying philosophies:

  • All biomedical research and science careers are equally valued as successful outcomes, and further, that the myth that the tenure-track faculty career in a research institution is the only acceptable outcome must be laid to rest.
  • All programs provide training to develop skills in career planning to enable better career decisions in order to help students avoid the “what now?” moment at the end of training.
  • All attempts must be made to complement and support the faculty advisor – not to supplant that advisor.
  • All programs complement disciplinary research training to benefit both the student’s present research efforts and his/her future career.
  • All programs encourage the active involvement of the trainee.
  • All programs work to empower trainees to develop their self-awareness and their career development skills in order to reduce stress and increase productivity. Survey results from several institutions show that these efforts are highly appreciated by the trainees.


The long-term goals of the Consortium include:

  • Maintaining a high level of research skills along with better career-related skills.
  • Establishing high-caliber offices of professional career development at all research institutions.
  • Providing truth-in-advertising during recruiting so that prospective students know the typical outcomes of graduate training at the institution.
  • Gaining the recognition and support of mentoring faculty that non-academic careers are valid and valuable.
  • Testing various training paradigms to find out what works as a resource for career development advisors and disseminate the findings on the BEST website and in publications.
  • Increasing the confidence of trainees to identify and pursue their career goals, and reduce training time by enabling students to more efficiently direct their efforts.

The goal of the BEST program is to move away from a traditional model in which training is focused primarily on an intended academic career to a new model in which training and research are supplemented with professional development opportunities. This input was designed to lead to a much broader range of career options and transform faculty mentor attitudes to embrace trainee involvement in professional development activities and to consider these activities as necessary and/or relevant. Important goals of the BEST program are to change these attitudes, disseminate the challenges we faced, and inform others of the best practices that emerge from these efforts.

In September 2017, in conjunction with the AAMC GREAT (Association of American Medical Colleges Graduate Research and Education Training) group, and sponsored in part by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF), the NIH-funded BEST consortium was to hold a one-day workshop to share best practices and lessons learned from their programs with the broader biomedical training community, as well as offering practical guidance on how to motivate, create, implement, evaluate, and demonstrate the value of career and professional development opportunities for doctoral and postdoctoral scholars. To achieve broad impact, we invited institutional policymakers, such as graduate school deans (or their relevant delegates), government policymakers, and employers interested in supporting career and professional development opportunities for their biomedical trainees. The goal of this workshop was to have an open dialog on the reality of creating and sustaining career development opportunities for trainees within the limitations of institutional and faculty culture as well as financial and personnel resources. BWF funds were used to provide registration and lodging incentives to a number of participants.


Planning Committee

A planning committee that included representatives from GREAT, BWF, and BEST was established to discuss strategies for such a meeting. Members were Deirdre Brekken, Patricia Cameron, Irena Tartakovsky, Jodi Yellin (GREAT), Victoria McGovern (BWF), Roger Chalkley, D’Anne Duncan, Patricia Labosky, Rebecca Lenzi, Ambika Mathur, Fredrick Meyers, Theresa O’Brien, Susi Varvayanis (BEST). The group developed the following purpose statement:


“To share best practices and lessons learned with the training community at large outside of the NIH BEST Consortium, as well as offer practical guidance on how to motivate, create, implement, evaluate, and demonstrate the value of career and professional development opportunities for doctoral and postdoctoral scholars.”


Workshop Format

The planning committee, with the approval of all 17 BEST consortium institutions, agreed to offer four 90 minute panels/workshops on the following topics, which were deemed to hold the most interest for participants:

(1) Workshop and course development

(2) Internships and experiential learning

(3) Program staffing of the career offices

(4) Strategies and value of data collection, outcomes and practical applications of centralized data collection and technology resources.

The goal was for panelists to present best practices, challenges, opportunities, costs, and sustainability efforts for each of these topics with sufficient time for contributions, discussions, and conversations between workshop attendees. Each session was encouraged to consider cross-institutional interactions, contributions, and outputs, as well as discussion on low and no-cost solutions. A repository of all presentations and meeting materials was to be created and maintained on the BEST website (this has now been accomplished). The workshop was to be held over the course of 2 half-days, totally 8 hours, with a networking reception to close the first day. It was anticipated that 200-250 participants would register for the workshop. Hurricane Irma, however, interrupted these plans; instead, participation dropped to approximately 95 attendees and the schedule was abbreviated to one 6-hour day to accommodate rescheduled travel plans.

The workshop started with an introduction from Roger Chalkley (Vanderbilt University) discussing the background and goals of the meeting (as presented above), followed by the four workshop sessions described below.

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