Monday, March 8, 2010

"Success" in research training - NIGMS Question 1

1. What constitutes "success" in biomedical research training from the perspectives of an individual trainee, an institution, and society?

From the perspective of the individual, institution, and society, successful research training at the Ph.D. and postdoctoral level should prepare trainees to successfully lead research projects. Thus, trainees should develop and practice all aspects of the research process: project conception, design, and funding (including grant writing); experimental technique (ideally multiple techniques), data collection, and analysis; and interpretation, publication, and presentation of results. Many of these steps in the research process require critical evaluation of the relevant literature. In practice, research training is not complete without safety training, an emphasis on ethics, and knowledge of the rules governing research (such as government and institutional regulations). Trainees should be mentored in all of these skills, and should be given the opportunity to practice and develop these skills during their training.

The requirements for training at the Ph.D. and postdoctoral level are distinct from training for undergraduates or technicians. Undergraduates and technicians may only need training in the technical aspects of research, e.g. experimental techniques, data collection, and analysis. Many undergraduates and technicians may also benefit from the other aspects of training, but Ph.D. and postdoctoral level training demand the other aspects in order to educate trainees to the level of research project leadership.

Having research training completed in the most efficient manner is highly desirable. Efficient training makes a trainee capable of better work faster, which makes for more efficient use of funding, and more efficient use of the trainees time and opportunity costs incurred while training. Efficient training requires a careful and customized balance between guidance and independence. Too much guidance and a trainee may not learn to perform tasks independently; not enough guidance and a trainee may flounder unnecessarily. The efficiency of training is critical to creating excellent scientists without wasting time and money.

Finally, successful training also should include guidance for obtaining a post-training position. Guidance should give the trainee awareness of the types of positions for which they qualify, should help the trainee establish a professional network during training, and should provide evaluations of the trainee to help them choose the right post-graduate positions to pursue. Training should also ideally yield fair metrics for employers to use in judging trainees fit for post-training positions.

In summary, successful research training for Ph.D. and postdoctoral trainees should efficiently guide them through the practice of all aspects of the research process, and should also guide them in choosing their ideal post-training position.

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