lar field must be presented with a realistic opportunity to extend their skills into new or changing fields. To assist established faculty in broadening their skills, NIH could revisit the senior fellowship (F33) concept to determine whether it might be used as a mechanism to provide salary support for a defined release period (e.g., 30 percent to 50 percent). This support could be specifically used in structured education for disciplines involved in researching the impact of interactions among social, behavioral, and genetic factors on health. The award also would need to provide a modest institutional stipend. An advantage of this approach would be that researchers would be encouraged to seek out existing expertise in fields that they themselves were lacking. NIH would not have to identify the fields or the individuals, but, instead, would provide support if researchers in one field (e.g., social sciences) were to propose a structured study in another field (e.g., genetics). Although it is appealing to envision a new cohort of researchers who are trained from the earliest stages in transdisciplinary research, such a process requires time to develop. This kind of program could be part of a “toolbox” of approaches that would help to support the need for the continuous extension of abilities in these complex and changing fields.
A more limited approach to extending skills could occur through the short course approach. In this way, NIH could assist researchers at all stages in broadening their skills by supporting a short course that focuses on studying the impact of interactions among social, behavioral, and genetic factors on health. Mechanisms exist (e.g., the T35) for this, but care is needed to ensure that such a course takes advantage of lessons learned from similar activities. It would be important for the short course to address the theoretical, statistical, and ethical aspects of this work and to ensure that participants are already strong in one (or more) of the arenas. In other words, such a short course should not be narrowly constructed in ways that would allow all of the students to be geneticists seeking to learn about social factors or, as another example, to be sociologists seeking to understand genetics. NIH has had experience in providing support in the past to areas of focus such as population behavior and Alzheimer’s disease (Bachrach and Abeles, 2004). The importance of bringing together investigators to collaborate on the study of the impact of social, behavioral, and genetic influences on health is no less compelling.
It certainly can be argued that education that prepares researchers to work across fields needs to start early—perhaps at the undergraduate level. Universities have considerable latitude in how they construct courses and degree programs in order to allow, for example, social scientists to be exposed genetics and biologists to be exposed to cultural studies. Some universities offer degrees that explicitly encourage students to draw from more than one field. NIH has provided limited programs for under-graduates—typically those that encourage undergraduate programs to sup-