Training Program Recommendations
Purpose and Background
The overall goal of the NIAMS research training and career development award program is to ensure that a diverse and highly trained workforce is available to assume leadership roles related to biomedical research in our mission areas. The NIAMS supports several training mechanisms throughout the career path including the T32, F31, F32, K01, K02, K08, K23, K24, K25, and the K99/R00. For more information on these mechanisms, including the program announcements that contain review guidelines, please see: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Funding/Funding_Opportunities/activity_codes.asp.
In September 2007, the NIAMS released the results of an evaluation examining the T32, F32, K01, and K08 mechanisms supported by the Institute. These awards were selected both because they represent a high proportion of the total dollars awarded, and because there was sufficient information available about recipients to assess their career progress over time. The study, carried out by a working group of outside experts and chaired by David Wofsy, M.D., concluded that each of the funding programs has generally been successful in maintaining the pipeline of young researchers in areas relevant to NIAMS. However, in the interest of improving the training programs, the working group provided ten recommendations. To access the entire evaluation report that includes the working group's recommendations and their definition of success, please see: http://www.niams.nih.gov/News_and_Events/Meetings_and_Events/Reports/
Session Goals and Key Questions
During this session, we focused on potential approaches for implementing recommendation 8 (see below) which was determined to be of high priority because it could be implemented relatively quickly and make a difference within an upcoming review cycle. In particular, it provides an opportunity to make meaningful changes to the review criteria for training grants in order to encourage applicants to engage in more diverse and innovative training experiences. Such training, including interdisciplinary mentorship and workshops on grant writing and program management, may better prepare recipients to succeed as independent investigators. While the T32 guidelines already mention an NIH-wide desire for trainees to acquire these types of experiences, the guidelines for the F and K awards are not as specific.
Recommendation 8 - Structure the criteria for success in grant review to encourage and reward integrated and interdepartmental approaches, foster innovation, and support interdisciplinary mentorship in applications. Reinforce the value of grant writing and management in program curriculum.
- What is the best approach for communicating to applicants and reviewers the criteria that NIAMS would consider to be representative of an innovative training experience? What should those specific criteria be?
Looking further into the issues surrounding recommendation 8, comments from the reviewers of training applications in the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Special Grants Review Committee have indicated the need to address challenges in how applications are reviewed. For example, reviewers have often expressed uncertainty regarding the criteria for success when evaluating the past progress of T32 programs. With respect to the K awards, reviewers often have difficulty evaluating the training potential and eligibility, as well as determining whether to discourage poorly qualified applicants from re-applying.
- What are the outcomes that the NIAMS should look for from the T32 programs and trainees?
- Given the nature of the T32 mechanism, what information can NIAMS request of applicants that would allow reviewers to more easily evaluate the past progress of type 2 proposals?
- What policies could NIAMS consider to help resolve the challenges in reviewing K award applications? How should these policies be communicated to the scientific community?
The T32 by far receives the most funding among the training mechanisms supported by the NIAMS. However, the recent NIAMS training evaluation indicated that the percentage of T32 trainees that were successful in obtaining R01 funding was much lower than individuals who have received other training awards. Shifting the Institute's focus from institutional to individual awards may encourage trainees to be more proactive in developing their research and career plans.
- Does the NIAMS rely too heavily on the T32 mechanism for training the research leaders of the future?
- Should some emphasis be shifted to mechanisms such as the K awards that are provided directly to the trainee? If so, how could NIAMS shift resources from institutional to individual awards while minimizing the burden to the extramural community?