Report from the FOBGAPT Meeting

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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.


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  • Janet Alder

    I too enjoyed the FOBGAPT2 meeting and appreciated how interactive the workshops were. Most of the workshops consisted of brain storming in small groups and then reporting out ideas to the other groups. Some of the workshops repeated the same topics for each of the 5 sessions and others were iterative, moving from subtopic to subtopic. However, in all cases, no two discussions were identical and new ideas were generated each session. I learned a lot not only from my BEST colleagues but also from the many other universities that are at the cutting edge of educational reform and career development.

    Workshop 3 on how to modernize curricula and training while maintaining research and scholarship tenets helped me realize that while we cover most of the core competencies we brainstormed in our graduate training, we need to formalize our list of competencies with faculty and student input and post them publicly. At orientation this fall we plan on telling the new students where they will learn the competencies en route to their PhD so they have the timeline, expectations and vocabulary in their minds. Being aware of these competencies from the outset will help the students identify their transferable skills and give them an edge when applying for jobs. Two competencies Rutgers biomedical programs are embracing is a newly adopted requirement for a quantitative course for all students to gain computational skills and a new elective in Communicating Science. Since the goal is for competencies to be integrated into the curriculum rather than adding on new courses, we will explore learning strategies and help our faculty modify their curricula. We also need to define expected outcomes and develop evaluations for whether the competencies have been met. Many of our BEST colleagues have similar approaches.

    Workshop 2 on mentoring was also interesting to me since we struggle figuring out how to help faculty learn to be better mentors. The consensus was that this training needs to start at onboarding or even at the postdoc stage. It was agreed upon that the administration should require mentoring workshops and have mentoring success be part of the annual faculty evaluation process to stress its importance. At Rutgers we currently require all students and mentors to sign the AAMC Compact between Biomedical Graduate Students and Their Advisors. One way that we are planning on improving our mentoring of faculty as mentors is to have all newly-hired faculty run the small group discussions for our Responsible Conduct of Research course. One of the topics we cover in our RCR course is mentor-mentee relationships and the case studies in our RCR course present mentors with different scenarios and personalities that they might need to deal with.

    There was also much discussion about career development programs including internships and tracking outcomes. I think our BEST programs were all able to contribute to those topics and share our lessons learned. I look forward to the September BEST meeting to continue that conversation.

    Janet Alder, PhD
    Rutgers University iJOBS

  • Tami Hutto

    This was quite the conference. Normally you go, sit, and listen. This time, the session leaders were doing most of the listening and note taking. There were a lot of people who attended this event that have been thinking about, and innovating, PhD training broadly for years, and others who recently have gotten into it for a variety of reasons. As a staff member who designs and implements a lot of professional development and mentor training, I got a lot of ideas, and actually validation from my attendance. The validation part, for me, was that there is no one “right” way to do any of this. Instead, it is up to us take advantage of the collective wisdom of colleagues and groups like this to learn and talk through challenges and opportunities, but then bring it back and have conversations with faculty and students to tailor training to our own structures and needs.

    I’ll share just one main thing I enjoyed talking and learning about. It is about how we define success, from the “modernizing curricula” workshop. There was a lot of talk about what is the right way to implement training and also, how will we know if we did it right? We talked about some elements of how to define successful training initiatives….

    Ideally they are:
    1) CALIBRATED for the appropriate training level – first year of grad school vs 4th year. Context matters!
    2) MEASURED- having clear explicit goals and ways to measure them is so important, not just for us to know if trainees absorbed the info, but to give trainees clear expectations about what they should be learning. This is regardless of whether the learning takes place in a workshop or in a one-one-one mentoring relationship. There was a lot of talk about using rubrics to assess skills/knowledge- but what I want to stress is that these rubrics should not just be designed then readily implemented. Students and faculty should provide input and receive training/guidance on why this is important and how to give/receive feedback. These conversations should be productive and are critical to the development of both students AND faculty. Feedback and rubrics without context, can lead to unintended consequences and/or missed learning opportunities.
    3) USED- training should be something that is useful, relevant, and timely. It should also be something that students want to use and see value in
    4) FEEDBACK- collecting formative feedback to inform the content/training delivery will always make your programming better. It takes some time, but well worth it. Learning what students want, such as more hands on activities, pre-readings (you read that right!), or longer sessions to talk informally with each other is the “magic sauce” that will make all the difference in trainee attendance and motivation. Sometimes its all about being explicit and paying attention to the little things that lead to a successful training experience.

    Overall, there are a lot of opportunities and things to be in this space….and that is an exciting place to be 😉

    Tami Hutto, MSPP
    Emory and Georgia Tech
    Atlanta BEST Program

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