ACTION for September: Send the National Academies your ideas on reforming grad STEM education, and producing independent researchers

ACTION for September: Send the National Academies your ideas on reforming grad STEM education, and producing independent researchers

 

 

 

Two studies, currently underway at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, are soliciting public input as part of their process, and they need to hear from you. You can join in in person/watch live (see 1 below) and you can submit comments online this month (see 2 below).

 

 

1) Come in person, or watch live

 

You can give input in person, or watch the public session of a joint meeting of both studies at UCSF, San Francisco. From the NASEM Board on Higher Education and Workforce:

Thursday, September 14, 2017
1:30 pm – 5:15 pm PDT

University of California, San Francisco
Genentech Hall Auditorium*
600 16th Street
San Francisco, CA

*Please note that meeting space is limited. A webcast will also be available.

This public session of the fourth meeting for the Next Generation Researchers Initiative will feature distinguished scientists, physicians, industry leaders, and scholars who will discuss the barriers and opportunities facing the next generation of independent researchers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. Particular emphasis will be on hearing postdoctoral perspectives and envisioning the future of research.

This meeting will feature and be moderated by:

  • Chair Alan Leshner, PhD, Chief Executive Officer Emeritus, American Association for the Advancement of Science;
  • Chair Ron Daniels, President, the Johns Hopkins University

 

Register Here for the In-Person Meeting

 

Register Here for the Webcast

 

Draft Agenda:

1:30 p.m. – 1:35 p.m. Opening Remarks by Host Keith Yamamoto

1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Panel I: Bold Visions for the Future of Science

Panelists will share their vision on how changes to today’s system of graduate education and early research careers can ensure a future research enterprise that fosters innovation, promotes equity and inclusion, and advances U.S. national interests.

Chair Alan Leshner, PhD, Chief Executive Officer Emeritus, American Association for the Advancement of Science

  • David Asai, PhD, Senior Director for Science Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Elizabeth Baca, MD, MPA, Senior Health Advisor, California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research
  • Michael Richey, PhD, Associate Technical Fellow, Learning Sciences and Engineering Education Research, The Boeing Company
  • Eric Schulze, PhD, Senior Scientist, Memphis Meats

3:00 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. Coffee Break in the Atrium

3:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. Panel II: Perspectives from Postdoctoral Researchers

Panelists will share their research on postdoctoral experiences with a focus on the implications on graduate education and early career researchers.

Chair Ron Daniels, President, The Johns Hopkins University

  • Marina Ramon, PhD, Board of Directors, National Postdoctoral Association
  • Sean McConnell, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Chicago
  • Samantha Hindle, PhD, Assistant Professional Researcher, University of California San Francisco
  • Representation from National Academies’ Committee on The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited

4:45 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. Open discussion with guests

The Committee welcomes additional input from audience members and guests

5:15 p.m. Adjourn Open Session

 

Maps for Genentech Hall:

 

 

 

2) Submit your comments online

 

To help you send in your thoughts on STEM graduate education (Masters and PhDs), and how to create the next generation of independent scientists (with a large focus on postdocs), FoR Board Member Adriana Bankston has provided example answers to the input forms for the two studies described below. Scroll down to see what the form looks like, and whether Adriana’s comments inspire you to think of what is most important to you.

 

It is extremely important that the committees receive as much input as possible, to hear as wide a variety of perspectives and to be made aware of as much of the information available as they can be. Please take some time to fill in these surveys, and pass them along to everyone you know with opinions on these issues!

 

Here are brief descriptions, and instructions for how to solicit input, for each study. Scroll down to see full versions of the input forms, with Adriana Bankston’s text highlighted:

The Next Generation Researchers Initiative

This committee of the National Academies is examining the policy and programmatic steps that the nation can undertake to ensure the successful launch and sustainment of careers among the next generation of researchers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, including the full range of health sciences supported by NIH.

 

You can read the Dear Colleague Letter, visit the Web Portal for public input, and view the summary Response to Prior Recommendations document. The web portal is at www.nas.edu/NextGenDCL and is open for comment until October 1.

 

Disclosure: FoR President Jessica Polka and FoR Executive Director Gary McDowell both sit on this committee. Please submit thoughts to the committee through the form; anything sent directly to individual committee members cannot be used unless you are also prepared to share it with the whole committee. Gary and Jessica have recused themselves from discussions at FoR about ideas for input to this study.

 

Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century

This Committee is responding to the concern that the current system is inadequately educating graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to prepare them for productive careers in the 21st century. The National Academies has charged this Committee with considering the questions of how well the current graduate education system is equipping students for current and anticipated future needs and what changes should be made to increase its effectiveness.

 

The Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century invites public input here on its Discussion Document and Call for Community Input through September 22, 2017.

 

 

 

Example Input 1: Next Generation Researchers Initiative

I. Level, Sources, and Stability of Research Funding

 

Examples of recommendations that we have heard from stakeholders, or that have been proposed in the literature, and on which the Committee would be interested in the views of the community, include:

 

  • Congress should move to advanced or multi-year appropriations or provide more flexible carry-over authority for the NIH budget.
  • Congress should increase the amount of NIH funding that goes to the NIH Common Fund.
  • The NIH should expand the number of awards provided through the Director’s New Innovator Award Program (DP2).
  • Colleges and universities should revise their criteria for promotion to reduce the emphasis on individual research grant and publication credentials.

 

INPUT:

What comments would you like to share on this issue?

 

Characters used: 225 out of 250.

Research funding should increase to benefit the entire scientific enterprise, and not just particular investigators. It should also reward other contributions besides publications and grants, including service and mentoring.

 

Please describe any recommendations, programs, or initiatives that address this issue.

 

Characters used: 235 out of 250.

I would recommend a more even distribution of funds so that funding is not only accessible to a few select investigators. This would also support early career investigators, enabling them to drive science forward with innovative ideas.

 

II. The Scope of Grant Award and Review

 

Examples of recommendations in these areas that we have heard from stakeholders, or that have been proposed in the literature, and on which the Committee would be interested in the views of the community, are:

 

  • NIH should modulate the duration of its research project grants to move to either longer or shorter awards, perhaps across the board, or for early career investigators in particular.
  • NIH should alter the K99/R00 program to focus it more specifically on creating opportunities for independent and innovative research.
  • NIH should act to limit the number of grant applications per investigator and the turnaround time between submission and decision.

 

INPUT:

What comments would you like to share on this issue?

 

Characters used: 248 out of 250.

Modulating the duration of grants across the board is difficult as it is highly study-dependent. However, I support rewarding innovative research, in particular as performed by early career investigators, to incentivize them to remain in academia.

 

Please describe any recommendations, programs, or initiatives that address this issue.

 

Characters used: 222 out of 250.

I would recommend limiting the number of grants awarded to senior investigators who might already have plenty of funding, and instead allocate more funds to early career investigators who might be just starting their lab.

 

III. Training, Mentoring and Transparency

 

Examples of recommendations that we have heard from stakeholders, or that have been proposed in the literature, and on which the Committee would be interested in the views of the community, are:

 

  • Universities should take action to make available to trainees comprehensive data in areas such as time to degree completion or end of fellowship, salary and benefits, and career outcomes.
  • Universities and NIH should actively implement policies to shift from a reliance on postdoctoral fellows and graduate students to staff scientists in research laboratories, including through an expansion of grant programs for staff scientist support.
  • NIH should shift to a regime where a far greater number of postdoctoral fellows are supported by training grants or fellowships rather than research grants.

 

INPUT:

What comments would you like to share on this issue?

 

Characters used: 241 out of 250.

Greater data transparency could make the single most important difference in changing the scientific enterprise. A reliance on staff scientists may aid in reducing the number of graduate students and postdocs to help advance the enterprise.

 

Please describe any recommendations, programs, or initiatives that address this issue.

 

Characters used: 250 out of 250.

I would recommend that different types of entities, including universities, publish data obtained on their trainee populations. This could also include an analysis of whether staff scientists are helpful in advancing the mission of their institution.

 

IV. Underrepresented Populations

 

Examples of recommendations in these areas that we have heard from stakeholders, or that have been proposed in the literature, and on which the Committee would be interested in the views of the community, are:

 

  • NIH should gather demographic data and outcomes for all trainees supported through RPGs
  • Universities should take action to target the postdoctoral population for improved diversity, in light of evidence that the structure of postdoctoral fellowships is deterring underrepresented populations from pursuing faculty careers.
  • Academic medical centers should take action to reform, centralize and better integrate medical and research postgraduate training for MD-PhDs.

 

INPUT:

What comments would you like to share on this issue?

 

Characters used: 245 out of 250.

A greater support for diversity of the biomedical workforce is required, including more resources and information available to underrepresented populations. A database of fellowships they are eligible for and available contacts might be useful.

 

Please describe any recommendations, programs, or initiatives that address this issue.

 

Characters used: 223 out of 250.

Individual labs could be evaluated based on their commitment to diversity among their lab members, and rewarded for such commitment. Universities should ensure that they also have adequate support outside of the laboratory.

 

Should the Committee on the Next Generation Researchers Initiative consider any additional issue(s)?

Yes

No

Additional issue(s) for consideration:

Issue title: Professional development for early career researchers

 

Describe the relevance of this issue to you:

 

Characters used: 222 out of 250.

Early career researchers need to be taught many skills which they will utilize in their daily job and beyond. Providing them with resources needed to learn these skills would also benefit the scientific community at large.

 

Please describe any recommendations, programs, or initiatives that address this issue:

 

Characters used: 247 out of 250.

Early career researchers could take mandatory courses in leadership, business, management, grant writing and mentoring prior to starting their lab, as well as enroll in a peer-to-peer mentoring program between a junior and a senior faculty member.

General comments:

Anything else you’d like to share with the committee?

 

Characters used: 677 out of 1000.

I would like to emphasize multiple points necessary for career development of junior researchers that the Committee can address:

1) expose them to multiple types of research experiences, such as internships and other programs at the university level in which they can participate in conjunction with their current laboratory studies.

2) provide them with more information about potential fellowships and traineeships which they might be are eligible for, and various ways to assess their level of competitiveness.

3) address particular hurdles faced by international researchers in terms of participating fellowships and traineeships (funding eligibility, language barriers etc).

Example Input 2: Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century

 

Please provide the following:

Title

 

Organization/Affiliation

 

The members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century invite your comments on the following sets of competencies that might serve as core educational elements or goals at both the master’s and Ph.D. levels.

 

CORE EDUCATIONAL ELEMENTS: MASTER’S DEGREES  

 

  1.    Disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge: Master’s students should develop core disciplinary knowledge and the ability to work between disciplines.
  2.    Professional competencies: Master’s students should develop abilities defined by a given profession (e.g. licensing, other credentials).
  3.    Foundational and transferrable skills: Master’s students should develop skills that transcend disciplines and are applicable in any context, such as communications, leadership, and working in teams. These dimensions are especially critical as the lines that traditionally define scientific and engineering disciplines become blurred—and more scientific research and application is characterized by the convergence of disciplines.
  4.    Research: Master’s students should develop the ability to apply the scientific method, understand the application of statistical analysis, gain experience in conducting research and other field studies, and engage in work-based learning and research in a systematic manner.

 

What comments would you like to make on the Core Educational Elements: Master’s Degrees?

All of these elements are critical to training Master’s students for various careers. Thinking of ways to better incorporate them into their professional development is imperative for career success and the success of the entire system.

CORE EDUCATIONAL ELEMENTS: PH.D.

 

  1. Scientific Literacy, Communication, and Professional Skills

 

  1.     Acquire basic trans-disciplinary knowledge sufficient to address a complex problem using multiple conceptual and methodological approaches.
  2.     Develop deep specialized expertise in at least one STEM discipline/approach.
  3.     Acquire an appreciation of the ethics and norms of the scientific enterprise and its relationship to the rest of society, as well as a strong and ethical character and exemplary professional conduct.
  4.     Develop the ability to work in collaborative and team settings involving colleagues from diverse cultural and disciplinary backgrounds.
  5.     Develop management, leadership, financial, and entrepreneurial skills critical to success in any 21st century career.
  6.      Build capacity to communicate the significance and impact of a study or a body of work to all STEM professionals, policymakers, and the public at large.

 

  1. Conduct of Original Research

 

  1.     Identify an important problem and articulate an original research question.
  2.     Design a set of studies, including relevant quantitative and analytic approaches, to explore components of the problem and begin to address the research question.
  3.     Evaluate outcomes of each experiment or study component and select which outcomes to pursue and how.
  4.     Adopt rigorous standards of investigation and acquire mastery of the quantitative and analytic skills required to conduct successful research in the field of study

 

What comments would you like to make on the Core Educational Elements: PH.D?

The elements outlined here are critical to training future PhD scientists. They also highlight the inadequacy of the system in training them to perform rigorous science, share their science outside of the lab, and prepare them for multiple careers.  

 

In addition to the core capabilities described on the previous page, the Committee has been hearing about other offerings that could augment a graduate STEM degree independently of the student’s educational and career goals. These might include mentoring, career exploration, personnel management, cross-cultural competency, budgeting, communication, entrepreneurship, and fundamentals of business development. This raises an array of questions on which the Committee seeks input:

 

​​​​​​How in-depth and of what duration should the additional educational experiences be?

The level of depth could depend on their particular career path of choice, but a basic level of all of them should be offered to all students as part of their training. They could be one year long with additional training options if desired.

 

Should these offerings be required of all students, or should they be optional? When should they be offered? During or after graduate school?

They should be offered to all students early on in graduate school, as they will need these skills for any career path they choose. Mentors should also be a part of this process to enable them to best support their students to pursue desired careers.

 

​​​​​​What are the types of offerings that institutions, employers, professional societies, and other stakeholders should provide to help students acquire the skills to equip them for 21st century careers? To what degree will students and employers find value in emerging credentials offered online and by non-traditional models?

Seminars and workshops discussing these topics with an opportunity to put the skills learned into practice (for example in an internship) might be more helpful to students and more valued by  employers as opposed to the non-traditional models.

 

Many say that attitudinal and behavioral changes regarding career pathways for STEM graduates among virtually all concerned stakeholders (e.g. students, faculty, institutional leadership, funding agencies, etc.) are necessary to ensure that graduate STEM education is effective and relevant going forward. Given that each group operates within a different context and with its own unique set of incentives and rewards, how might those incentives be adjusted to better align the behavior of various groups to achieving the goals of 21st century graduate education?

The ultimate goal should be to produce professionals who can use their knowledge to positively contribute to society. All stakeholders should consider how they can best contribute to this goal, which will ultimately likely benefit them as well.

 

How can the system most effectively increase the diversity of U.S. STEM graduate student and faculty populations?

It could change the policies used during the admissions process, create more opportunities for diverse populations of students to attend the university, and hold multiple events on campus to celebrate diversity for both students and faculty.

 

How can the system increase completion rates for all students?

Improve the system used to track their progress during their training, give them opportunities to discuss potential barriers to completion with mentors and counselors, and encourage them to think of goals beyond graduation to look forward to.

 

There appears to be great concern about the issue of time-to-degree. What level of priority should time-to-degree receive, and how should it be addressed?

This should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There should be a general rule of the desired time to completion in a particular program, but reasons for completion in a different length of time should be discussed with individual students.

 

Since the needs for graduate STEM education will continue to evolve and change over time, what kind of monitoring system can be established to ensure continuous improvement in terms of meeting the needs of diverse stakeholders? What metrics would be used to evaluate progress?

Different metrics may be used by particular stakeholders, but many are broader and part of a larger process – for example, the ability to think independently, be dependable, work in a team and complete a significant task within a given deadline.

 

How might students gain sufficient familiarity with the range of careers available for STEM Ph.D. recipients so that they can make more informed decisions as their education progresses? Should the core of graduate education be in some way adjusted to align better with the perceived needs of the range of future employers? Would internships in non-academic settings or opportunities to formally mentor other students be appropriate? If so, should those internships and mentoring opportunities be offered during or after graduate school?

The uniformity of graduate education needs to change. “PhD tracks” may enable students to enroll in multiple classes and have other more hands-on experiences during their first year enabling them to choose a “track” to pursue in their PhD.

 

The systematic collection and publication of reliable career placement data are sporadic across graduate schools and individual departments, although the Committee is aware that efforts are underway to remedy this situation. How can we best encourage uniform transparency about career outcomes for prospective students and other stakeholders at the level of individual graduate schools and departments? What would be the impact of publication of these data on prospective students and graduate schools?

Encouraging a few well-known universities or scientific societies to publish their data may incentivize others to do the same. The impact would be improved training programs that might better prepare graduates for different career paths.

 

General Comments:

Anything else you’d like to share?

A few other points that I would like the Committee to consider are:

1) the incentives and rewards that would influence various stakeholders to change graduate education in a certain way – do these exist? if not, what should they be? how can we encourage all stakeholders to play a role in modernizing graduate education?

2) what type of barriers do various stakeholders encounter to changing the current system of graduate education. For example, are they not participating because the system works for them? or is it because they are too deeply ingrained in the day to day life of an academic to see the broader issues with the system itself?

3) how do we best train scientists to perform research in a rigorous fashion, in particular in today’s hypercompetitive environment of academia?

4) how do we best equip mentors to train their graduate students for non-academic careers?

 

This is the end of the post. Thanks for reading this far, and thanks for submitting input and making your voice heard!

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