BEST Response to National Academies of Sciences
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century invited the public to comment on graduate education, “with the aim of identifying policies, programs and practices that could better meet the diverse education and career needs of graduate students in coming years”. The BEST Consortium submitted the following feedback to the committee on August 2, 2017.
Dear Dr. Scherer,
The BEST (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) Consortium would like to include collective feedback to inform the NAS study “Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century”.
In particular, we would like to offer our input for the committee’s task of identifying, “strategies to improve the alignment of graduate education courses, curricula, labs and fellowship/traineeship experiences for students with the needs of prospective employers–and the reality of the workforce landscape–which include not only colleges and universities but also industry, government at all levels, non-profit organizations, and others.“
The BEST Consortium is an effort by 17 institutions to explore ways of supporting and improving biomedical career development for this modern reality. As only a small fraction of biomedical PhDs will take on a tenure-track research faculty position, BEST training programs are developing innovative approaches to inform and prepare students and postdocs for a range of career options. These developments are funded by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund, and are experimental in nature. Each of the NIH BEST Programs has a research agenda and is conducting a series of experiments to identify new and innovative approaches to broaden career and professional development training for pre and postdoctoral fellows. These training programs are designed to reflect the range of available career options required for a strong biomedical, behavioral, social and clinical research enterprise.
BEST programs are testing the hypothesis that innovative training paradigms used to encourage early career planning, exploration, and exposure to scientific research and science-related careers will improve and broaden biomedical PhD and postdoctoral career education and decisions. Ultimately, the knowledge and exposure to a range of career options in science or science related professions will allow for a more prepared transition to successful, long-term career employment to preserve a strong and competitive U.S. biomedical research workforce. An increased understanding of the wide range of available careers and the disappearance of the notion that the best and only acceptable career option is a tenure track faculty position will surely ease some of the stress on our trainees. At the same time, all programs of the BEST Consortium emphasize training in areas that will also increase the competitiveness for a faculty position if the trainee so desires.
The BEST Consortium includes a diverse set of institutions (small, large, public, private) offering programming to graduate students and postdocs. We are testing a variety of different training formats, from integrating career training into the required curriculum to offering supplemental workshops, job shadowing, and internship opportunities with employers.
The BEST Consortium has committed to sharing information and best practices to maximize its outreach and success. Rigorous evaluation at the institutional level and across the consortium will assess both positive and unintended outcomes affecting trainees and institutions. We have begun to disseminate various findings and approaches to the larger training community. This effort is ongoing and we encourage the Committee and the larger training community to continue to stay engaged in conversations with BEST institutions to learn about future data driven decisions at both the institutional and national level.
The BEST Consortium has synthesized lessons from its members in an effort to improve career development for all involved in biomedical training. The Consortium has put forth some lessons here:
- Faculty Engagement is critical. The BEST Consortium recognizes faculty engagement and support as critical determinants for success of developing and sustaining programs. Most programs have developed approaches to inform and enlist support from faculty, such as informational meetings and focus groups; assessing faculty needs; faculty approval for student and postdoctoral scholar participation; and faculty participation in BEST program curriculum development and mentoring. We believe the most effective way of garnering faculty buy-in is through data-driven evaluation of trainee outcomes. We have found that many faculty are not opposed to BEST activities. Indeed, they appreciate that BEST program staff and faculty can provide much support in areas in which faculty are not normally comfortable or educated.
- Truth in Advertising is important. The Consortium is committed to advertising outcomes of their trainees to prospective trainees. It is no longer acceptable to lead all trainees (graduate student or postdoc) to believe they will acquire tenure track positions. See below for examples from BEST Institutions.
- Career/Professional Development is a focused and thoughtful exercise. Trainees need to take responsibility for their career development in parallel to their scientific coursework and labwork. Training programs should help trainees take responsibility by integrating career and professional development into the training paradigm. Faculty should actively encourage their trainees to participate fully in career and professional development activities rather than viewing career development as an optional “add-on” that detracts from research training. Multiple schools now have evidence that productivity (measured in the form of publications and time to degree) is enhanced by the addition of career and professional development activities.
We will be happy to help to ensure that the NAS Committee is kept apprised of our findings and to help connect you to individual BEST program members as a resource for your committee and your report.
The BEST Consortium
Boston University School of Medicine
Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology
Michigan State University
New York University School of Medicine
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of Chicago
University of Colorado Denver|Anschutz Medical Campus
University of Masschusetts Medical School
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
University of Rochester
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University