Topic: Graduate Education
by Becca Weinberg
Michigan State University
The first thing to do for graduate students is for NIH obtain from previously funded training grants the best strategies to track student outcomes. Then we must require all graduate programs to track students. Specifically, the breakdown by demographic group of applicants, admitted students, graduated students, and employed graduates should be readily available in a public database.
NIH should also phase out institutional training grants to produce PhD scientists. The stakeholders that most benefit from these grants are the institutions that receive them, and they have limited incentive to be accountable to the students that are funded by them. Instead, they should consider individual funding that follows the student (modeled on NSF grants in both stipend levels and flexibility of being submitted prior to enrolling in a particular institution). Alternatively, NIH should consider funding spaces in professional science MS programs that include training in marketable non-academic skills.
Additionally, for trainees to be paid for out of R01 types of funds, there should be a training program document that accompanies the grant (with as least as much detail supplied as for animal welfare regulatory issues.). Just as publications are now tracked by the grants that fund them, students should be tracked by the grants they were funded through.
Optional Comments on the Problem
Graduate programs in biomedical sciences vary tremendously (both within and between institutions), and while good practices do spread, they do so quite slowly. For long-range sustainability, we do need the incentives to produce PhD students to be lower than they are now. The simplest way to do this is probably to mandate stipends, and ones large enough that they compete with technician costs.