most common response among this cohort was that stipend support needs to be increased. Mentoring was cited by all graduate trainees as a key feature of the programs, although there was consensus among trainees that mentoring is an area in need of improvement. This sentiment was particularly prevalent among R25 Bridges to the Doctorate trainees.
Nineteen program administrators were interviewed regarding graduate-level training programs. All of those interviewed are associated with programs that are well established. When asked to comment on the challenges faced by minority trainees, the following themes figured prominently among program administrator responses: the lack of adequate academic preparation among minority trainees, the pervasiveness of financial hardship, frequent “culture shock” when transitioning to higher-caliber institutions, personal or family problems, and problems integrating or being accepted into one’s research group. In light of these problems, program administrators emphasized that outreach for these programs should begin during the K-12 years and that graduate trainee stipends should be increased so that trainees are not set up for failure.
When asked about the criteria that are used to select trainees for entrance into various programs, administrators emphasized two modes of screening. The first applies traditional graduate school criteria such as high grades, excellent letters of recommendation, and a record of scientific accomplishment at the undergraduate level. The committee refers to this approach to trainee selection as harvesting talent. The second applies nontraditional selection criteria that emphasize a student’s potential, rather than past accomplishments. For example, some programs will accept minority trainees with borderline grades and limited undergraduate scientific achievements as long as the student demonstrates a sincere interest in pursuing biomedical research as a possible career path. The committee refers to this approach to trainee selection as growing talent.
Most program administrators reported that a critical program element is oversight and monitoring of trainee progress, in order to catch problems before they become intractable for trainees and faculty alike. When asked how NIH could improve these programs, the following suggestions were offered: simplify the grant application process, provide greater local flexibility, increase the allowable budget for administrative support, compensate faculty for the time they spend mentoring trainees, provide more legal guidance on affirmative action policies, and finally, implement a trainee tracking system in order to better monitor trainee outcomes.