Proceedings of the BEST Practices Workshop

In conjunction with the 2017 AAMC GREAT Group Professional Development Meeting, The National Institutions of Health (NIH) BEST Consortium was pleased to hold the BEST Practices Workshop on September 6-7, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Orlando, Florida. The NIH Common Fund and Burroughs Wellcome Fund sponsored the event.

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 Laura Daniel, Carol Rouzer, Roger Chalkley, and Ambika Mathur

Traditionally, professional and career development programs for biomedical research doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars at academic institutions have tended to focus on preparing trainees for careers primarily in academic research positions. Recent data from the NIH, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and several academic institutions show that nationally only ~25% of biomedical research trainees end up in academic tenure-track faculty positions in research institutions. Another ~25% of trainees stay in academia but are in non-tenure track research positions or administrative positions; the remaining ~50% pursue careers outside academia in areas such as industry, biotechnology, pharmaceutical science, science communication, science policy, and regulatory affairs. Unfortunately, trainees are often not provided with the professional development opportunities to acquire “transferable” skills deemed desirable by employers spanning the various types of employment sectors.

In response to the realization that career opportunities for biomedical research trainees were in rapid flux, the NIH issued a call for proposals in 2013 for institutions to develop programs that expose doctoral and postdoctoral scholars to a range of biomedical research career options and professional development opportunities. The proposals were required to have strong evaluation plans and were to be viewed as “research experiments.” Under the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) initiative, the NIH Common Fund awarded 17 institutions a one-time 5-year grant. Ten of these received the award in 2013, and the remaining seven institutions received the award in 2014. A national consortium of these 17 BEST awardee institutions was formed to facilitate communication and generate collaborative publications describing outcomes. The consortium has been working to advance career and professional development opportunities by addressing issues and identifying challenges. While the programs of all member institutions are unique in the types of programs offered, they all share significant commonalities.

Finally, although we expended a great deal of creativity and effort to strengthen biomedical research careers broadly, it would be a profound misinterpretation to believe that BEST institutions are not dedicated thoroughly in supporting a “traditional” career in academic biomedical research.

All of the BEST programs have developed extensive support for many underpinning aspects of such a career in academic research.

The BEST underlying philosophies:

  • All biomedical research and science careers are equally valued as successful outcomes
  • All programs provide training to develop skills in career planning to enable better career decisions
  • 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 or her future career
  • All programs work to empower trainees to develop their self-awareness and their career development skills

The long-term goals of the Consortium include:

  • Maintain a high level of research skills along with better career-related skills
  • Establish high-caliber offices of professional career development at all training institutions
  • Provide truth-in-advertising during recruiting, so that prospective students know the typical outcomes of graduate training at that institution
  • Gain the recognition and support of mentoring faculty that non-academic careers are valid and valuable
  • Test various training paradigms to determine what works as a resource for career development advisors and disseminate the findings on the BEST website and in publications
  • Increase 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 consortium 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 research training is supplemented with professional development opportunities. This input was designed to lead to a much broader range of career options, which would include careers in academia, and transform faculty mentor attitudes to embrace trainee involvement in professional development activities and to consider these activities as necessary, relevant, or both.

In September 2017, in conjunction with the AAMC GREAT (Association of American Medical Colleges Graduate Research and Education Training) group, and sponsored by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) and NIH, the NIH-funded BEST consortium held a one-day workshop to share best practices and lessons learned with the broader biomedical training community. The consortium offered practical guidance on how to motivate, create, implement, evaluate, and demonstrate the value of a wide range of career and professional development opportunities. To achieve broad impact, the organizers 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 many participants. NIH funds were used to pay for conference space and A/V needs.

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 (Vanderbilt), Patricia Labosky, Rebecca Lenzi (NIH), Ambika Mathur (Wayne State), Fredrick Meyers (UC Davis), Theresa O’Brien (UC San Francisco), Susi Varvayanis (Cornell). The group developed the following purpose statement:

To share best practices and lessons learned with the training community at large, 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 subsequent 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. Program staffing of the career offices
  2. Development of workshops and courses
  3. Internships and experiential learning
  4. Data collection and technology resources

All the BEST institutions have immense expertise in all four topics, and anyone could have served equally well on any panel. Therefore, the topics were randomly distributed amongst the 17 schools and each panel member gave appropriate reports from their BEST activities.

The panelists were asked 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 panelist was also encouraged to report cross-institutional interactions, contributions, and outputs, as well as discussion on minimal cost solutions.

The workshop was to be held over the course of 2 half-days, totaling 8 hours, with a networking reception to close the first day. A total of 202 people registered for the workshop. Hurricane Irma, however, interrupted these plans; instead, participation dropped to 92 attendees, and the schedule was abbreviated to one 6-hour day, followed by a networking reception, to accommodate rescheduled travel plans.

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