education. A partnership between NSF and NIH could help ensure the seamless development of a talent pool that could address biomedical research topics or other topics that require a fundamental grounding in math and science.
However, since the advances in genomics have been recent—and the challenge of incorporating genetic research with behavior and social factors is even more recent—it is likely that there are many current researchers who have gaps in their scientific training. Therefore, by and large, the recommendations offered here are directed to NIH and aimed at the college level and beyond.
NIH is the major source of funding for researchers in the biomedical and behavioral arenas and is poised to contribute to the training of a cadre of researchers who could address the issues described in this report. As the pace setter for the biomedical research enterprise, NIH is central to the infrastructure issues for this research, especially in the realm of education and training.
NIH provided about $704 million in 2004 in support of research training through the National Research Service Act (NRSA) (NIH, 2004b). It is generally agreed that postdoctoral training received in conjunction with research grants serves at least as many—and perhaps twice as many—as postdoctoral training through the NRSA (NRC, 2000). Since NIH is the dominant source of funding for the training of researchers in these fields, the NIH policies are fundamental to the ability of the United States to advance research on transdisciplinary issues such as those addressed in this report.
The need for transdisciplinary research to address the study of gene-environment interactions was discussed earlier. As a beginning approach to fostering the development of transdisciplinary research on the impact of interactions among social, behavioral, and genetic factors on health, the committee believes that NIH should consider holding a conference for interested individuals. Such a conference would assist universities in sharing their best practices in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and would foster the exchange of knowledge and practices. It will be challenging, but important, to ensure that participants in such a conference share specific strategies that others could adopt or modify; the conference should not simply provide another forum devoted to encouraging the goal of collaboration.
Also, since the challenge of educating across boundaries is not exclusive to health, it might be timely for the NSF or a private foundation (e.g., the Pew Charitable Trust) to bring together educators from many fields that have developed interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary programs specifically in order to educate across boundaries and help students learn how to work in transdisciplinary teams. The Science Education Partnership Awards