Report from the FOBGAPT Meeting
The Future Of Bioscience Graduate And Postdoctoral Training (FOBGAPT) held its second meeting last week at University of Colorado Denver-Anschutz Medical Campus. This national meeting brings together various stakeholders to address career imbalances and develop models of biomedical training and workforce development. The meeting was attended by almost 200 scientists, including a good representation from the BEST Consortium. Roger Chalkley, Senior Associate Dean for Biomedical Research, Education and Training at Vanderbilt University, attended the meeting and reflects on his experience. The following is presented from a personal perspective and does not reflect the opinions of the BEST Consortium.
The overall strategy of the meeting, after 90 minutes of general overview, was to have a series of 5 breakout (workshop) sessions. The participants were encouraged to attend whichever breakout they were interested in. One could repeat-attend the same workshop, or go to all in turn. We then returned to our favorite workshop for a wrap-up, followed that evening by an overall summary.
The workshop focuses were on (1) Diversity of faculty and senior leadership, which often moved into diversity writ large, (2) Increasing skills of faculty mentorship, (3) Modernizing curriculum, while maintaining current scholarship, (4) Involving the private sector and (5) Data collection.
My report focuses first on the opening talks, and then on my reflections from workshops 1 and 5. Perhaps other BEST attendees can fill in for the other workshops. The opening talks served in general as a strong encouragement for many of the things we have collectively addressed in the BEST consortium.
Alison Gammie , NIH Director of the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity, introduced the new concept of training support for graduate students. This is neither a T32 training grant (which can be narrowly focused) nor fellowship (F31) which lacks the community aspect of the training grants. Instead she described a process wherein the goal is to create a scientist, broadly trained, able to move into almost any scientific endeavor or career. To this end, the breadth of the training is important, mentoring of both student and PI is stressed, diversity is strongly supported, including using holistic admission. Then career training and exposure to a range of job possibilities is valued highly. The training will encourage responsible conduct, focus on experimental design, and emphasize the use of the appropriate level of statistics for the specific experimental needs. One other major component of the future directions to be supported by National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), is in terms of collecting outcomes data and publishing this information broadly on institutional websites. Obviously many of these items of key interest are exactly where we have been going for the last 3 -4 years, and I believe that the BEST partners will find themselves in a very competitive position in terms of applying for these new institutional training awards (not T32s).
Julia Kent, Assistant Vice President of Communications, Advancement and Best Practices at the Council of Graduate Studies (CGS), discussed the role and the interests of the CGS. Obviously the CGS is interested broadly in graduate education and not just biomedical research. However, one point came over load and clear. Namely the CGS has a strong interest in outcomes research and also in this regard is wondering what sort of taxonomy might serve the broader purpose. Again, we are addressing the same questions, and indeed with some answers I believe.
Paula Stephan, who is an economist at Georgia State University, then discussed the career and income aspects of training. Now I understand why economics is described as the “dismal science”. Whenever I hear such talks (even though very elegantly presented), I keep wishing that the data addressed the real biomedical research trainees we have dealt with over the years. Even ten years out, we are told that the holder of a STEM baccalaureate will earn more than the Post Doc. I do not doubt that for engineers (my son recounts how many of his peers are moving into 6 figure jobs on graduating). However, we also hear about BA students living in their parents’ basement!
I attended workshops 1 and 5. The discussions about diversity and inclusion (with bit on mentoring) were stimulating. I think it is fair to say that essentially all of the institutions present at this meeting are anxious to move in this direction. We discussed the difficulties to being the first person in a department and the heavy load that this imparts, implicit bias and many other aspects, which will need to be dealt with before the academy is truly diverse. Nonetheless the discussion is ongoing and improving the mentoring capabilities of the faculty and the sensitivities to diversity are issues, which are getting a great deal of attention at present.
I also attended the sessions on outcomes and data accumulation. It is clear that there is greater interest in this arena than previously, and that programs are realizing that collecting outcomes data over many years after graduation is not that difficult. As indicated in the CGS presentation an applicable taxonomy is valuable, though it really isn’t rocket science. Again my feeling is that the BEST teams are well situated in this regard, and that we should emphasize this point when we have the meeting just before the GREAT Group in September.
Unfortunately I had to leave the meeting before it was completed with the read through of the various ideas presented in the five workshop sessions. Nonetheless I felt encouraged that the BEST programs have done a terrific job, and that their activities are highly in tune with the needs for leadership in the larger biomedical training environment.
I welcome other attendees to post a comment and weigh in with what was important to them.
-Roger Chalkley, D. Phil.