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2019 AAMC Innovations in Research and Research Education Award

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The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) announces four recipients of the 2019 AAMC Innovations in Research and Research Education Award. This is the eighth annual award developed in collaboration with the GREAT Group and GRAND leadership. The GREAT (Graduate Research, Education, and Training) Group is the AAMC’s professional development group for the faculty and administrative leaders of biomedical PhD, MD-PhD, and postdoctoral programs. The GRAND (Group on Research Advancement and Development) leadership is the AAMC’s professional development group for research deans, deans of clinical research, and other research leaders at academic medical centers.

The primary goal of this year’s awards program is to highlight Innovations to Support the Next Generation of Researchers to Launch and Maintain Scientific Careers. This includes programs that provide support for trainees and for early- and mid-career researchers. The four awarded projects were selected by a panel of leaders in biomedical research, education, and training from AAMC-member institutions as well as AAMC staff. Entries were judged on creativity, impact, and feasibility of replication of the innovation.

First Prize Winner

Academic Career Readiness Assessment
University of California, San Francisco – Laurence Clement, PhD

Second Prize Winner

Data Science Essentials
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine – Ashley Brady, PhD

Third Prize Winners, Tied

Vice Presidents Clinical and Translational (VPCAT) Research Scholars Program
University of Utah School of Medicine – Michael Rubin, MD, PhD, MS

Integrating Career and Professional Development in the PhD Curriculum
University of Massachusetts Medical School – Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD

The abstracts of the awardees are included below:

Awardee Abstracts

Academic Career Readiness Assessment

Laurence Clement, PhD; Jennie Dorman, PhD University of California, San Francisco
Richard McGee, PhD Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

There is a continuing call for tools and approaches to assist young biomedical scientists with making informed and accurate decisions about career preferences. Also, there is evidence of insufficient mentoring for under-represented minority and female trainees. To diversify the academic career workforce, we must focus interventions on the trainee-to-faculty transition. To maximize access to career guidance for all trainees, we have developed an instrument that not only demystifies the faculty hiring process at all types of institutions but provides trainees with an opportunity to determine how well they are progressing toward their faculty career goals. The Academic Career Readiness Assessment (ACRA) was developed using an evidence-based approach, using a qualitative study of hiring practices across three categories of institutions: research, research-teaching, and teaching-only institutions. It has been used widely in workshops and individual advising sessions at our institution and around the country and has led to the development of rubrics and curriculum components designed to bridge the gap in training provided by research faculty mentors. ACRA is currently being used as a research tool to assess disparities in the preparation of diverse trainees at UCSF, and for a large-scale study of predictors of academic success at a national level.

Data Science Essentials

Ashley Brady, PhD; Kim Petrie, PhD; Kathleen Gould, PhDVanderbilt University School of Medicine

The demand for well-trained data scientists continues to expand as companies increasingly rely on the mining and interpretation of vast amounts of data to drive discovery and innovation. PhD level biomedical scientists are particularly well-positioned to fill this gap in the workforce by leveraging their skills in data analysis and problem solving, especially within companies that value their biosciences domain expertise. We developed a three-part initiative in partnership with the Nashville Software School to significantly enhance the readiness and confidence of biomedical trainees to pursue data science careers. Data Science Essentials combined (1) project-based didactic exposure to data science with (2) communication training and (3) case sessions presented by data science professionals. 20 PhD students and postdoctoral fellows participated in this module. Pre- and post-test online evaluations indicated a significant improvement in participants’ understanding of data science principles following the introductory didactic section. Furthermore, participants reported overwhelmingly that the program was a valuable use of their time and helped them make important career decisions. Overall, this is an effective approach to enhance the readiness and confidence of biomedical trainees to pursue data science careers.

Vice Presidents Clinical and Translational (VPCAT) Research Scholars Program

Michael Rubin, MD, PhD, MS; Heather Keenan, MD, PhD, MPHUniversity of Utah School of Medicine
Carrie L. Byington, MD Texas A&M University Health Science Center

Physician-scientists and scientists in all the health professions are vital members of the US biomedical workforce, but their numbers in academic health centers are declining. Mentorship has been identified as a key component in retaining faculty members in academic health centers. Our innovation is a holistic institutional mentoring program to support junior faculty members engaged in clinical and translational science at the University of Utah. The Vice President's Clinical and Translational (VPCAT) Research Scholars Program leverages the resources of our institution to augment departmental resources in support of junior faculty investigators using a multi-level mentoring matrix model that includes self, scientific, peer, senior, and staff mentorship. During the two-year program, scholars receive training in leadership, grant writing, and research career development designed to create empowered principal investigators. Of our 128 graduates, 79% have received extramural awards, 84% remain at the University of Utah, and 98% remain in academic medicine. The VPCAT program has also been associated with increased inclusion of women and under-represented minorities in the institutional research enterprise. The VPCAT program is an example of institutional collaboration and coordination of resources that can be applied to other academic health centers in order to support and sustain the biomedical workforce.

Integrating Career and Professional Development in the PhD Curriculum

Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD; Mary Ellen Lane, PhD; Phillip Zamore, PhD; Anthony Carruthers, PhD;
Spencer Fenn, PhD; Anthony Imbalzano, PhD; Morgan Thompson, PhD; David Weaver, PhD
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Heather Yonutas, PhD Voyager Therapeutics
Sonia Hall, PhD Genetics Society of America

Graduate students often delay career planning until late stages of training, and studies suggest that many move into postdoctoral training as a “default” rather than as an informed step necessary for their desired career. Reliance on research mentoring structures to provide professional development and career-related guidance exacerbate inequities in the system, benefiting students whose research mentors provide exceptional career mentoring and students who already understand the unsaid culture of science. Where opt-in career and professional development programs are offered, students often delay or choose not to participate, in part because the rigors of PhD training seem to value research productivity over career preparation. To address these challenges, we innovated a new approach: integrating career and professional development directly into and across the span of PhD training, as part of the required curriculum for all basic biomedical sciences PhD students.

Our curricular approach represents a fundamental shift in how career development is structured—from one-time, opt-in workshops, to lessons that build over time as part of the required curriculum. We designed curricular elements to maximize impact for both career development and thesis research productivity, with minimal student time commitment. As a result, the curriculum includes elements that are, in and of themselves, innovations--including career-themed learning communities and #MicroSim job simulations. Annual surveys have identified changes in student and faculty attitudes and actions indicative of culture change. Long-term outcomes will be assessed as the first cohorts graduate over the next few years.

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