Investing in the Future: National Institute of General Medical Sciences Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training 2011
Key Themes and Specific Actions
Theme III: Breadth and Flexibility Enable Research Training to Keep Pace with the Opportunities and Demands of Contemporary Science and Provide the Foundation for a Variety of Scientific Career Paths
The NIGMS mandate is to support the training of the biomedical and behavioral researchers of tomorrow. But one clear and overarching theme that has emerged throughout the development of this plan is the need to change the perception of what constitutes a successful training outcome. The idea that success is limited to academic research careers must be modified and broadened to include those careers in industry, government, education, communications, law and other sectors that require sophisticated research skills. Because these nonacademic career opportunities exist and are attractive to many trainees, NIGMS believes that research training must be both broad and flexible. NIGMS also recognizes the value of training experiences that foster an ability to work effectively in a range of research settings. Creating a vibrant learning culture for diverse students and work styles is an effort that rewards all participants.
Actions related to this theme address the understanding that students and postdoctoral scholars benefit from exposure to diverse people and s ituations throughout training to promote professional success.
Action: Promote inclusion of a variety of perspectives, backgrounds and approaches among faculty and trainees. Solving problems of importance in biomedical and behavioral science requires bringing together people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, scientific expertise, working styles and perspectives. NIGMS believes that research institutions should teach the skills that foster interactions that will prepare trainees to cross disciplinary boundaries and promote maximal collaboration.
Action: Encourage exposure to multiple career path options for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. NIGMS endorses the value of institutional programs and activities that highlight a variety of careers. The Institute encourages faculty and institutional staff to explore the availability of short- and long-term exposures to a range of scientific careers so that trainees can fully appreciate the breadth of opportunities available to those trained for research.
Action: Increase collaboration with societies, professional associations and other organizations to build awareness of the breadth of scientific career options and opportunities. NIGMS encourages collaborations and partnerships with industry, professional organizations and community organizations that sponsor formal and informal learning about the array of career opportunities in biomedical and behavioral science. Many existing, high-quality resources on science careers include publications, Web sites, speaker’s bureaus, fellowships and teachertraining programs.
Mentoring: Ancient Art, Current Necessity
The relevance and importance of mentoring date back to ancient times. In his epic poem The Odyssey, the Greek poet Homer described Mentor as a “wise and trusted counselor” charged by Ithaca’s King Odysseus to care for his belongings when he left to fight the Trojan War.
The value of good mentorship has stood the test of time, and indeed, mentoring spans virtually all endeavors and professions. It has been a mainstay of research training since the first experimentalists took apprentices under their wing. But today, the best research training goes well beyond this traditional apprenticeship model. Modern science is increasingly a team endeavor that weaves together ideas and approaches from multiple disciplines. It is not uncommon, and it is often encouraged, for trainees to seek multiple mentors who can provide guidance on various aspects of career development.
Nevertheless, not everyone is born a gifted teacher. Effective mentoring may not come naturally to all scientists who operate a laboratory staffed with personnel at various levels of experience and ability. Many professional organizations and scientific societies have published mentoring guides that highlight evidence-based practices, and most scientific conferences host sessions devoted to the value and art of excellent mentorship.
An effective mentor serves many roles: faculty advisor, career counselor, skills consultant and role model. The relationship is a blend of personal and professional, but the underlying core elements include trust, respect, understanding and empathy.