The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is committed to supporting a sustainable and robust biomedical research workforce equipped to address the difficult challenges and exciting opportunities in this diverse area critical for the health and economic well-being of the nation. Importantly, NIH recognizes that the traditional academic research-intensive PI position is not the only career path where Ph.D. graduate students and postdoctoral scientists can contribute to the biomedical research enterprise. The NIH Common Fund, together with a working group of staff from multiple NIH institutes, designed the “Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training” awards (aka BEST awards) to explore and develop sustainable approaches to broaden graduate and postdoctoral training. BEST Awards are aimed at creating training programs that reflect the range of career options that trainees may ultimately pursue. NIH issued five-year non-renewable awards in 2013 and 2014 to 17 institutions. The awardees have worked together as a consortium to compare strategies, learn from each other, and synergistically catalyze the work of their programs. Over the first four years, the institutions connected monthly through webinars and met annually in Bethesda at the Annual BEST Conference. In October 2018, the group met in its final face-to-face two-day annual meeting and chose to open the meeting to the broader graduate training community. This inclusivity was chosen 1) to disseminate successful strategies and findings of consortium and non-consortium career development leaders and 2) to discuss organizational goals and sustainability issues with experts who have developed and sustained career consortia and education-related organizations.
Almost 100 people were in attendance at the 2018 BEST Annual meeting, representing 50 different organizations, including universities, education-related organizations, NIH, and National Academies of Sciences (NAS). The two-day meeting began with a keynote address from Kay Lund, Director of the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce in the Office of Extramural Research at the NIH and moved on to two four-panel discussions and 15 presentations on career and professional development related topics. There was also a working session, “Blue-Sky visioning,” that was designed to have people form collaborations that would last beyond the meeting. This document summarizes the main messages from all the presenters.
Day 1: Pushing the Needle: Expanding Professional Development in Academia
Keynote Speaker: P. Kay Lund, Ph.D., Director, Division of Biomedical Research Workforce
NIH’s Division of Biomedical Research Workforce provides an ongoing analysis of the biomedical research workforce and the evaluation of NIH policies to enable NIH to sustain and grow the biomedical research workforce at all levels. Dr. Lund set the tone of the meeting: she discussed her career in science and how it brought her to the NIH where she is happy to be a part of the national conversation, enhancing diversity, and matching training to career paths and jobs. She explained the work of her Division in two specific areas: 1) develop, maintain, enhance, and assess NIH policies and programs that support innovative research training, career development, and the diversity of the biomedical research workforce and 2) research and economic analyses related to the biomedical research workforce, associated career options, and the labor market. She also discussed current challenges with internships and who can pay for the trainees’ time during this experience. She spoke about how important rigorous evaluation is for NIH programs and challenged the group to do the same with their own programs. Finally, she broadened into research experiences for clinicians and how this needs to be supported to maintain clinicians in the biomedical research workforce.
Institutions in Action
A primary goal of the BEST Consortium annual meetings is to share the different educational approaches of various institutions. Attendees were invited to submit abstracts, and a committee selected 15 10-minute talks to be presented across four sessions spread throughout the first day of the conference. A 5-minute Q&A followed each talk.
Stephanie Watts, Ph.D., Michigan State University, “Faculty Perceptions and Knowledge of Career Development of Trainees in Biomedical Science: What do we (think we) know?” Dr. Watts presented data from faculty surveys across seven BEST institutions (Boston University, Michigan State University, New York University, University of Colorado Denver|Anschutz Medical Campus, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Rochester, and Vanderbilt University). Although the surveys varied somewhat, the major conclusions were that faculty are aware that many of their trainees will choose non-academic careers and they support the time this will take. While they agreed that their trainees might need additional training for some of these careers, they acknowledge they are not in a position to provide this expertise. This work was recently published and can be accessed here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210189.
Tracey Baas, Ph.D., University of Rochester, “BEST Consortium Roadshow.” One of the goals of the BEST awards is for the awardees to share their successful efforts with the training community. To facilitate this, a group of BEST awardees put together a “Roadshow” of their unique workshops to present at other universities in a train-the-trainer format. Roadshow partners include 11 of the 17 BEST sites (Boston University, Cornell University, Emory University, Michigan State University, University of California – Irvine, University of California – San Francisco, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Rochester Medical Center, Vanderbilt University, and Wayne State University). The Roadshow provides an online catalog of 21 different workshops to choose from (http://www.nihbest.org/best-road-shows/) as well as a downloadable catalog PDF. The activities range from self-assessment workshops to a bootcamp for trainees who wish to find a job as a PI in a research-intensive environment (academics or industry). There is a focus on skill development, science communication, and interviewing.
Melanie Carew, Ph.D., Institution Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Mental Health, “Write Smarter: Feel Better.” The Australian government funds the CRC, and its mission is to facilitate collaborative research partnerships between industry and research organizations. Dr. Carew reported on this cohort study made up of 30 doctoral students from 4 universities across Australia who participated in professional development activities with the goal of improving student mental well-being.
Lisa Kozlowski, Ph.D., Thomas Jefferson University, “Developing Professional Skills: Postdoctoral Scientific Editing and Reviewing.” Dr. Kozlowski shared a pilot program for postdocs interested in improving their editing skills: Postdoctoral Scientific Editing and Reviewing Team (PSERT). Postdocs are trained to be a part of this team and must obtain mentor consent for their participation. They learn not only how to improve their editing and writing skills, but also how to work in a team and manage their time to hit strict deadlines. Anyone at Jefferson, trainee or faculty, can submit a working manuscript, abstract, review, etc., to this group and will receive editorial comments to help improve the writing style. They are considering broadening the program to include help with MS thesis writing.
Kathleen Flint Ehm, Ph.D., Stony Brook University, “Ph.D. Career Ladder Program: A Grassroots Approach to Career Development.” This program was developed by graduate students for graduate students and is a peer mentoring approach to take students through some of the basics of career development: self-assessment, career exploration, and preparation for a job search. They are currently evaluating the program for its effect on student confidence, transferable skills, and job-search competencies. They also measure selected psychosocial variables such as shifts in perceived identity as a function of career; do participants feel their identity is compatible with diverse career pathways? Preliminary data seem to indicate increases in confidence and preparation for their career searches. A postdoc pilot program is underway.
Sharona Gordon, Ph.D., University of Washington, “Hit the Ground Running: A Professional Development Program for Postdoctoral Scholars.” The goals of their program are to 1) define scientific identity, 2) build a community of peer support, 3) practice skills needed to build a successful group, 4) market themselves for success, and 5) contribute to diversity and inclusion of the scientific workforce. This is a cohort program where the postdocs meet once a month for two years to tackle these issues.
Patrick Brandt, Ph.D., the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Lessons Learned: Obstacles and Solutions for Developing an Effective Internship Program.” Dr. Brandt reported on their experiences building their BEST-supported internship program. In the first 4 years, he reported over 90 internships at 43 different sites, mostly in the Research Triangle Park area. The internships can be full- or part-time and are 160 hours long. PI permission is not only required, but they have developed a “Scope of Work” document so all three parties are informed about the expectations of the internship. The trainees are doing most of the legwork setting up the internships although there is still considerable staff effort from UNC. Importantly, they have data supporting their hypothesis that the internships do NOT lengthen the time to degree for graduate students or alter their productivity as measured by publications.
Jaime Rubin, Ph.D., Columbia University, “How Career Development Programming for Graduate Students has Evolved to Satisfy their Changing Interests and Needs.” Dr. Rubin questioned whether, with all the recent emphasis on non-tenure track careers, are we providing the appropriate career development programs, training, and skill sets necessary to succeed to those students and post-doctoral fellows who are planning on continuing in research careers.
David Fruman, Ph.D., University of California – Irvine, “Progress Report: Online workshop on building a professional development program.” Dr. Fruman discussed the Online Workshop Series they are building with UC Irvine’s Division of Continuing Education that will be accessible by anyone online. Their first module, “Why Your University Needs It, Models to Consider, and How to Staff It,” was previewed. Much of the information will be leveraging the NIH BEST website. The intended audience includes Graduate Deans, Associate Deans, and staff members in campus career and professional development offices. We look forward to the launch of this Online Workshop sometime in 2019.
Shannon Behrman, Ph.D., iBiology, “Planning Your Scientific Journey: Outcomes from an online professional development course.” Dr. Behrman talked about a free online course from iBiology that is tailored for life science trainees. The goals of this self-paced course are: 1) how to identify scientific questions, 2) how to evaluate and refine your question and experimental approach, 3) how to set research goals, and 4) how to talk to your mentor. The 2017 fall course served 1865 individuals, mostly Ph.D. students and postdocs, and the evaluation surveys from the subset that completed the course were extremely positive. This course and others can be found at https://courses.ibiology.org.
Susan Engelhardt, M.S., Rutgers University, “The iJOBS Shadowing Experience: Walk a Semester in a Professional’s Shoes.” Ms. Engelhardt spoke about the experiential aspect of their BEST-supported iJOBS program, with a focus on job shadowing (or externships), where trainees accepted into the Phase 2 of the iJOBS program are assigned a shadow host involved in the trainees’ desired career track. The matching process between host and trainee is personalized and required 72 hours of interaction over an academic semester, often shared amongst various professionals within the shadow host’s company/organization. Both trainee and shadow host are surveyed post-engagement, and it has proven to be a productive and enlightening experience for all participants.
Marcus Lambert, Ph.D., Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, “Staying the Course: Factors that affect the persistence of underrepresented minority postdocs in academia.” Dr. Lambert presented data from a national survey that showed which factors were important for biomedical postdoctoral scholars as they were deciding whether to pursue an academic career or to leave academia. The most often cited factors for the most productive postdocs, regardless of URM status, to leave academia were job prospects and financial security. URM postdocs uniquely value a supportive group or community and the opportunities to research areas that specifically impact minority populations.
Terri O’Brien, Ph.D., University of California – San Francisco “Career Outcomes Transparency at the Individual Lab Level: Piloting trainee outcomes on UCSF faculty profile webpages.” Dr. O’Brien discussed a pilot project at UCSF where they are expanding the practice of posting career outcomes online for universities and programs to individual PI websites.
Kim Petrie, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University “It’s a Good Thing: Sustaining the progress made by the Vanderbilt ASPIRE Program.” Dr. Petrie shared all the new approaches put in place by their BEST-funded ASPIRE (Augmenting Scholar Preparation and Integration with Research-Related Endeavors) program. They integrated professional development into the first-year curriculum for all their biomedical Ph.D. students, added new professional development programs for their postdocs, increased their outreach to faculty, and engaged both alumni and employers to initiate experiential programs for the trainees. Their approach has been to foster sustainability from the beginning by getting buy-in from trainees, faculty, and upper administration. Some of their partnerships have been on campus to keep costs low, leveraging Vanderbilt relationships as much as possible. Dr. Petrie reiterated a theme heard consistently throughout the meeting: data on trainee attitudes and outcomes are extremely important to assist with faculty buy-in. She presented data showing that participation in their program does not impact trainees’ productivity (measured in publications) or time to degree.
Layne Scherer, Ph.D. and Erin Dolan, Ph.D., National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine “The Science of Mentoring.” Dr. Dolan reported on a NASEM (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) Committee on the Science of Effective mentoring in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine, and Mathematics). The committee is gathering data and is eager to hear from people about their 1) impactful mentors, 2) mentoring resources that are being used or 3) are needed, and 4) what the community wants to know about mentoring. For more information or to share your stories visit: www.nas.edu/mentoring or email email@example.com.
Plenary Session: Leveraging Organizational Influence to Support Culture Change in the Academy
The work of the BEST Consortium, to transform local campus culture via new educational approaches over the past five years, has taken place in the broader context of engagements by national organizations to support change within the broader graduate and postdoctoral education communities. This session highlighted four such organizational efforts, illustrating the role organizations can play to encourage systemic change.
Tobin Smith, M.P.S., Vice President for Policy, Association of American Universities (AAU). “The AAU Ph.D. Education Initiative: Leveraging Change.” The AAU is an organization of 62 elite research universities, with specific criteria for membership, making it a powerful organization for motivating change. The association helps shape higher education. Mr. Smith introduced the AAU’s Ph.D. Education Initiative, launched in late 2017. Their goal is to promote more student-centered doctoral education at AAU universities by making diverse Ph.D. career pathways visible, valued, and viable. The initiative is based on lessons learned from the AAU’s recent Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative; a central action of the Initiative will be to pilot transformative approaches to graduate education via a small cohort of AAU member institutions. These institutions will 1) map their institutional landscape as it relates to supporting diverse career pathways and next develop and implement an action plan to increase career pathway support, 2) develop an infrastructure and policies to capture and make public Ph.D. program and career outcome data, and 3) share information by participating in cross-cohort activities and disseminating effective strategies.
Julia Kent, Ph.D., Vice President, Best Practices and Strategic Initiatives at Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). “Using Data to Change Perceptions of Ph.D. Careers.” CGS is a national organization dedicated to the advancement of graduate education and research. Dr. Kent discussed CGS, detailing their membership, and their program, “Ph.D. Career Pathways.” Funded by NSF and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program has provided support to 33 institutions to collect data on the career outcomes of their trainees. These institutions are joined by an additional group of unfunded affiliates implementing two surveys and reporting aggregate data to CGS. Specific to individuals with Biological and Health Sciences Ph.D.s, a majority of alumni participants reported that their Ph.D. prepared them well for their current job. Interestingly, this was the case regardless of whether the individual was still in the academy. Even more interesting, for individuals further out from their Ph.D. training (15 years out vs. 8 or 3 years out) there was no statistically significant difference in positive responses to this question among those in academic versus non-academic careers. Alumni overwhelmingly agreed they would follow the same path in getting a Ph.D. again, and mostly in the same field. Again, individuals 15 years out were more positive than more recent alumni. This felt like positive and affirmative news for the training community.
David Asai, Ph.D., Senior Director for Science Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). “HHMI Gilliam graduate initiative.” HHMI is a philanthropic organization that supports basic biomedical scientists and educators. HHMI invests in people because it is people who will make creative and innovative scientific breakthroughs. The HHMI Gilliam graduate fellows initiative supports exceptional graduate students committed to increasing diversity among scientists prepared to assume leadership roles, particularly as college and university faculty. Awards are made to student-adviser pairs: both partners must be strong with the student demonstrating high promise for future scientific leadership and the adviser showing a strong commitment to developing an inclusive training environment. All Gilliam dissertation advisers are required to participate in a year-long series of on-line and in-person activities (~30 hours total) aimed at improving their mentoring skills. The training is designed and conducted by experts including Angela Byars-Winston (U Wisconsin), Christine Pfund (U Wisconsin), Sherilynn Black (Duke University), and Bruce Birren (Broad Institute). In post-workshop surveys, the advisers reported growth in their own cultural competencies and their ability to work across cultural differences and a commitment to changing their mentoring approaches.
James Sterling, Ph.D., Professor Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), and Director of Postdoctoral Professional Masters Program (PPM), Faculty Director of the Professional Science Masters (PSM) National Office. The KGI was founded in 1997; they offer application based postgraduate degrees in life and health sciences to students wishing to pursue a career in science. Dr. Sterling discussed two of the programs he directs at KGI. One program, the PSM, is often a desirable alternative to a Ph.D. for many students. It can prepare an individual for a research-intensive position in industry (or elsewhere). These programs combine technical training with professional training designed to develop skills an individual will need in the workplace. The other program, PPM, is for students who have earned their Ph.D. and M.D. and would like to acquire the business and leadership skills needed to pursue management positions in the life sciences industry or to embark on entrepreneurial ventures.
Day 2: Maintaining Momentum: The Role of Collaboration and Community
Plenary Session. Creating Sustainable Organizations: Sustainability and lessons learned from the national stage
As the BEST Consortium nears the end of its 5-year NIH funding period, the Consortium is considering its next steps for the future. This session highlighted four initiatives at various stages of evolution, with discussion focusing on organizational goals, structure, and sustainability.
Kim Petrie, Ph.D., Graduate Career Consortium (GCC) Executive Board Secretary, Assistant Dean for Biomedical Career Development, Vanderbilt University. Dr. Petrie discussed the mission of the GCC, which is to lead the advancement of the graduate-level career and professional development community. Nearly 400 GCC members provide career and professional development for doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars at over 150 universities and research institutes across the United States and Canada. The GCC hosts an annual conference and seven regional meetings to share innovations in graduate career development and discuss collaborative best practices with employers, graduate programs, and institutional partners. In 2017, the GCC launched Imagine Ph.D., a free online IDP and career planning tool based on myIDP and tailored for the needs of Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences. In May of 2017, the GCC executive board adopted a Five-Year Strategic Plan, 2017 – 2021.
Jodi Yellin, Ph.D., Director of Science Policy, American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). “Creating a Community to Support Biomedical Research Training and Career Development.” The AAMC is dedicated to transforming health care in four primary mission areas: innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care, groundbreaking medical research, and building a culture of diversity and inclusion. In 1996, to help improve the quality of Ph.D. and postdoctoral education in biomedical science, the then AAMC Executive Council established the Group on Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT Group). Membership in this body includes the faculty and administrative leaders of the Ph.D., M.D.-Ph.D., and postdoctoral education programs. During this session, Dr. Yellin described the AAMC as an institutional member-based organization, a service organization, and a think tank. She detailed many of the different professional development groups in the AAMC and then focused on the one most relevant to the audience’s mission: the GREAT Group. She described the different ways the GREAT group interfaces with the community it serves: the annual meeting, various workshops, the email listserve, and other resources.
Anthony Boccanfuso, Ph.D., President of University-Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP). UIDP is a project-oriented, institutional membership organization where representatives identify issues impacting university-industry (U-I) relations and opportunities to develop new approaches to working together. Dr. Boccanfuso described that the UIDP was convened by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2006 and in 2015, it became a 501(c)3 organization based in Columbia, SC. Their purpose is to facilitate appropriate and long-term partnerships between academics and industry. They identify and support the goals of each partner and help negotiate terms to ensure the timely conduct of research and the development of research results. Most UIDP activities fall into one of the following categories: contracting and regulatory issues, strategic approaches to collaboration, and workforce development. The organization holds two conferences with on-demand events initiated from opportunities that may arise. They also put on educational training events in conjunction with conferences, webinars, and workshops. The keys to success of UIDP are very focused and directed to action: 1) identify a need for existence, 2) be market driven, 3) develop a sustainability plan, 4) leverage existing relationships, 5) minimize overhead, and 6) make sure someone is in charge, otherwise no one will be.
Cynthia Fuhrmann, Ph.D., Assistant Dean, Career and Professional Development, University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). Dr. Fuhrmann discussed an initiative to establish a national center for advancing the career development of scientists. The project arose via the Summit on Sustaining the Biomedical Research Enterprise, held by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2016. This initiative aims to build a center that would connect stakeholders across the landscape of the field and act as a centralized resource for curricula, tools, and instruments focused on career development for Ph.D. scientists. The goals would be to disseminate curated collections of career and professional development models, build capacity for research and evaluation of training approaches, and support advocacy for career development.
Blue-Sky Visioning Exercise: Imagining the future
As the tenure of the BEST awards comes to a close, important questions remain: how to sustain the momentum this group has built, and how to continue to reach across the national training community to make changes in this area? The Blue Sky Visioning exercise was an interactive session on Day 2 (facilitated by Beka Layton, Ph.D., from UNC); participants created ten Massively Audacious Goals (MAGs) directed at improving graduate education and professional development. As part of the Blue Sky Visioning framework each goal was written in the present tense to create a “zone of creative tension,” which generates inspiration and momentum toward achieving a MAG.
The Blue Sky Visioning framework was developed using evidence-based goal-setting methods from the Positive Psychology movement founded by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. Developed by Psychologist Ben Dean, Ph.D., and Master Coach Anne Durand, MCC, the Blue Sky Visioning model acts as a way to envision a possible future, create intention, and set goals that would support one’s imagined future reality. Mastermind groups create opportunities for goal refinement, revision, and discussion; support goal attainment and accountability; and provide social, informational, and motivational resources to group members whenever they are unsure of next steps. Mastermind group participants will continue to develop and utilize backward design tools, including flowcharts, timelines, and SMART goals to help achieve their MAGs.
Participants self-selected to join Mastermind groups working on topics of interest. Each Mastermind group was asked to commit to one year of group planning and accountability meetings to spur change in small (or big!) waves. Mastermind groups formed during the BEST Annual meeting were open to all workshop registrants. Each Mastermind group may grow as interest develops and members may elect to invite or include additional members. Group members determine meeting frequency, define goals for the group, hold each other accountable, and motivate each other toward success. Backward planning will be used to continually refine and develop the goals to lead steps that the group can take now. Deliverables are at the discretion of each group and could include developing collaborations; interviewing stakeholders to better understand the issues; creating workshops for scientific meetings; or generating written products such as policy statements, editorials, or blogs.
Each group will decide which steps they should focus on to; the aim is to determine what they can accomplish in one year that would progress the long-term goal of the MAG. The process is intended to develop micro-networks to move toward a better vision of the future. Also, for challenges that may initially seem insurmountable taking even one step more than before, is considered success.
To share a sense of the selected priorities the MAGs developed during the meeting were concentrated in 10 overarching MAGs:
Mastermind Groups and the Massively Audacious Goals
- Group 1. “All faculty have mentor training, receive continuing education regularly, and develop mentoring statements which are proudly displayed. Departmental ratings and achievements around mentoring are recognized and rewarded.”
- Group 2. “All graduate students are independently and centrally funded. Student funding is independent of research funding.”
- Group 3. “All trainees have experiential training as part of their curricula. This integration is supported by a National Experiential Learning Center driven by needs and input from trainees.”
- Group 4. “We have a highly developed capacity for evidence-based decision-making in educational practices for career development using rigorous evaluation practices.”
- Group 5. “Funding is decoupled from research. Training is independent of funding sources. “
- Group 6. “Nationwide Ph.D. curricula include professional development starting the first year.”
- Group 7. “Graduate Recruitment, enrollment, & curriculum development are based on input from all stakeholders, and short- and long-term workforce needs!”
- Group 8. “In all aspects of wellness, trainees are fully supported during their training and after.”
- Group 9. “All grad students and postdocs have the support and resources that are needed to explore and pursue all careers. Faculty and institutional leadership buy-in to the importance of this mission.”
- Group 10. “Scientists look like the US, and all individuals are welcomed and celebrated. Leadership is as diverse as the workforce.”
Because each Mastermind group functions as an autonomous driver of the selected goal, truly, the sky is the limit. Following the conclusion of the meeting, all participants were able to opt-in to any of the 10 Mastermind groups. To date (January 2019), at least six active Mastermind groups have met (groups with similar interests opted to combine). Groups will report in at six months and one year to share what they have developed. We look forward to being inspired when they do!
As the BEST project-funding period is coming to a close, we hope that this final meeting created collaborations that will continue to develop in the future. The expanded conversation amongst all stakeholders will continue in many venues, and we look forward to the work that will drive this national conversation and support systemic. The follow-up conversations from our Master Minds groups already hold great promise for change.
The BEST consortium acknowledges that their work is not finished, and in many ways has only just begun. Members of BEST will still be highly active in organizations like the GCC and the AAMC GREAT Group, reinforcing collaborations and sharing information. The group is committed to developing and publishing the results of this grand experiment in the months and years to come and sharing what can be learned from our data. We hope that this catalytic NIH program has indeed had a positive and disruptive influence on the training community and look forward to continued progress in the years to come.
 Originally termed “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” – adapted to Massively Audacious Goals.
 If interested in joining a Mastermind group contact firstname.lastname@example.org.