Catalyzing graduate education

In April, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences hosted a symposium called “Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education.” The symposium preceded an article written by NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch and colleagues outlining graduate education issues and featuring potential solutions from innovative programs. ASBMB Education and Professional Development Manager Erica Siebrasse participated in the event.

After the symposium, the NIGMS issued a request for information on strategies for modernizing biomedical graduate education, to which the ASBMB responded. Read more about the information solicited here.

The ASBMB focused on two key issues in its response. First, graduate students need better career training. Although most new Ph.D.s will not obtain tenure-track faculty positions, many programs continue to train exclusively for this path. Students often are not knowledgeable about how to market their broad skill sets, and training to build so-called “soft skills” is not readily available. Furthermore, there is a lack of research about best practices in career-development education for life science graduate students.

The ASBMB recommended that the NIGMS take several steps to address these issues, including detailing specific ways in which the agency can improve scholarship and dissemination of career-development best practices and reach more students beyond institutions with T32 awards.

It is worth noting here that, over the past year, the ASBMB has taken the lead in building new career resources for its graduate and postdoctoral members. You can read about these efforts in this recent ASBMB Today article.

The second issue the ASBMB focused on was the challenge investigators face in maintaining the quality of their training efforts while balancing the necessity to publish and write grants. Because the current model for funding biomedical graduate students is largely reliant on R01s, there is little incentive for mentors to support career-development activities if they are not required to do so by the institution.

The ASBMB recommended that the NIGMS initiate a national discussion about the way we fund biomedical graduate students and postdocs and incentivize the community to build creative and innovative approaches to training.

The ASBMB will continue to advocate for its graduate student and postdoc members through opportunities like this request for information.

Erica Siebrasse is ASBMB’s Education and Professional Development Manager and a former Science Policy Fellow. She can be reached with comments at esiebrasse@asbmb.org.

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