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Career training to strengthen biomedical workforce

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Holly Korschun

The $1.8 million NIH BEST award to the Laney Graduate School will prepare graduate students and postdoctoral scholars for a wider variety of careers in the STEM and biomedical research workforce. Emory's Office of Postdoctoral Education and Georgia Tech are principal partners.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Laney Graduate School at Emory University an NIH Director’s Grant of more than $1.8 million over five years to enhance training opportunities for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

Led by Laney Graduate School faculty member Nael McCarty, PhD, Marcus Professor of Cystic Fibrosis in the Department of Pediatrics, Emory School of Medicine, the award will be used to prepare students and scholars for a wider variety of careers in the STEM and biomedical research workforce outside of conventional academic research. Georgia Institute of Technology and the Emory Office of Postdoctoral Education in the School of Medicine are principal partners in this award, as well.

Titled Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST), the awards — the first of their kind — are supported through the NIH Common Fund’s "Strengthening the Biomedical Research Workforce" program. Ten programs received awards out of more than 150 submissions.

The awards program grew out of the NIH Director’s report in 2012 on the biomedical/scientific workforce, which found that many trainees pursue research and research-related careers outside of the traditional academic path that serves as the current training model.

"This award represents a collaboration between two outstanding research universities, and is a unique opportunity to change the way we prepare predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees to meet 21st century workforce needs," says principal investigator Nael McCarty. "Through the Emory-Georgia Tech partnership, we plan to transform the culture of training and create programmatic alternatives and new opportunities for both trainees and the training faculty."

In addition to McCarty, the Emory and Georgia Tech BEST team includes Mary DeLong, PhD, director of Emory’s Office of Postdoctoral Education; Wendy Newstetter, PhD, director of Learning Sciences Research in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University; Lisa Tedesco, PhD, dean of Emory’s Laney Graduate School and professor of behavioral sciences and health education in Rollins School of Public Health; and Keith Wilkinson, PhD, Emory professor of biochemistry and director of the Laney Graduate School’s Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

The program is designed to expose trainees to a wide variety of career pathways in industry, government, business, patent law and other venues and to immerse them into a specific career pathway. It also will better equip faculty at Emory and Georgia Tech to train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for the 21st century workforce.

"This BEST award program will allow us to considerably broaden the exposure and training opportunities for our graduate and professional students. Our goal is to help them utilize their talents in a variety of innovative, satisfying and productive careers and prepare them to contribute as new leaders in addressing the complex issues of our time," says Dean Tedesco.

Within each year of the BEST program, 50 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, half from Emory and half from Georgia Tech, will be admitted to the program for two years, although they and all other trainees will be encouraged to be involved throughout their training. Faculty mentors will include the grant’s lead investigators and advisors of the trainees, as well as leaders of all the biomedical research-based graduate programs from the two universities and other members of the training faculty. Aside from the training labs in the School of Medicine, also included are Laney Graduate School students in the public health sciences, nursing and psychology.

The program will take advantage of the wide variety of institutions in the Atlanta biomedical research community, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and pharmaceutical companies, to implement innovative approaches and activities that broaden and complement traditional research training in the biomedical sciences.

Lessons learned from the program will be used to develop best practices for training the biomedical workforce. Results will be disseminated broadly through publications, symposia at Atlanta-area research institutions, and presentations by faculty and trainees at professional meetings.

The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH institute or center could tackle alone.

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