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1 Introduction In September, 2010, the National Research Council (NRC) released A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States1, (referred to here as the Assessment), a report that described an extensive database containing data and rankings from more than 5,000 doctoral programs, 982 of which were in the biomedical sciences. A list of the biomedical sciences fields covered in the Assessment and the number of programs included in each field is shown in Table 1-1. An Excel table with data for each program is available with this report from The National Academies Press, www.nap.edu. TABLE 1-1 Fields in the Biomedical Sciences in the Assessment of Research- Doctorate Programs and Number of Programs Included in Each Field Number of Field Name Programs Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology 157 Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering 74 Cell and Developmental Biology 120 Genetics and Genomics 66 Immunology and Infectious Disease 68 Integrated Biological and Biomedical Sciences 113 Microbiology 71 Neuroscience and Neurobiology 93 Nutrition 45 Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Environmental Health 117 Physiology 58 The Assessment reported data on characteristics of doctoral programs for the 2005-2006 academic year. When the Assessment was released, much attention focused on the rankings, and the use of the study as a data source was largely ignored. Further, those analyses that appeared in the Assessment were primarily for broad fields—it was left to users to choose which data they found useful for benchmarking and to conduct those studies on their own. In this context, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked the National Research Council to explore the data for the biomedical sciences to answer specific questions relevant to 1 National Research Council, 2011. A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. The report and accompanying data table can be found at www.nap.edu/rdp. A corrected data table was published on April 29, 2011. 9
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10 RESEARCH –DOCTORATE PROGRAMS IN THE BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES doctoral training in those fields (see Box 1-1 for the full statement of task). NIH is the major federal agency to fund biomedical training of both doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars in the United States. Funding for institutional and individual training grants exceeds $700 million per year. In 2005, 5,707 predoctoral fellows and trainees in biomedical sciences were supported by National Research Services Awards (NSRAs). This constituted approximately 20 percent of the eligible2 biomedical science students in the Assessment. Box 1-1 Statement of Task A panel of the Committee on An Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs (BHEW-Q- 03-01-A) will examine data from the 2010 assessment with specific reference to the biomedical sciences. The panel will report on findings for each of the biomedical sciences fields with respect to variation in the characteristics of doctoral programs, specifically time to degree, completion rates, program size, diversity, and research productivity. Comparisons will be made among Ph.D. programs in the same field housed in medical schools and in faculties of arts and sciences. Some of the questions to be addressed are: 1) In fields such as biochemistry, where programs are housed in both medical schools and in arts and sciences faculties, are there apparent differences in time to degree and completion rates? 2) What correlations exist between student time to degree and completion rates and other characteristics of the programs, e.g., a) What is the correlation between students’ time to degree and the publication rates of faculty in their program? b) What is the correlation between GRE scores and student time to degree and completion rates? c) Do programs that offer additional student activities, such as writing workshops, career seminars, etc., have longer times to degree, on average? 3) What are the correlations between the diversity of a program’s faculty and the diversity of its students, both with regard to underrepresented minorities and women? 4) A large number of programs in the biomedical sciences classified themselves as “Integrated biological science” programs and span the biomedical sciences. Are these programs different in observed characteristics from the programs in which students specialize in a specific area from the outset of doctoral study? Other issues may be raised by the panel on which the study data can throw light. The panel will issue a consensus study report with findings but with no recommendations. 2 International students, about 30% of total enrollment in the biomedical sciences, are not eligible for funding on NRSA grants.
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SUMMARY 11 A description of the sources of the data and a brief discussion of their limitations are provided in Chapter 2, along with definitions of the specific variables from the Assessment used in this study. A statistical summary of the variables by field can be found in Appendix E. Chapter 3 discusses the panel’s approach to the examination of pairwise correlations and analyzes correlations of median time to degree and completion rates with measures of faculty research productivity, GRE scores, and the average number of Ph.D.’s per year. It also describes the correlations between the percent of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty and URM students in a program, and between the percent of women faculty and women students. Correlations for each variable for all 11 fields are provided in Appendix D. Chapter 4 provides a profile of time to degree, completion rates, and patterns of funding in the biomedical sciences as a whole, as well as the sources of student funding in the biomedical sciences compared with the broad fields of engineering and physical and mathematical sciences. Chapter 5 delves more deeply into the possible connections between the number and percent of students from underrepresented minority groups and other characteristics of doctoral programs, including the number of training grant awards, the size of the program, the number of URM faculty, faculty research productivity, and the percent of URM students in the field as a whole. Chapters 6 and 7 use the Assessment data to explore some topics not explicitly mentioned in the statement of task. In Chapter 6 the panel examines a specific field, neuroscience and neurobiology, in greater depth, drawing on the results of the survey of doctoral students conducted in this and four other sample fields in the Assessment. Chapter 7 describes the participation of postdoctoral fellows in each of the 11 biomedical science fields, including the percent of faculty with postdoctoral experience, the number of postdoctorates in each field, and the average number of postdoctoral fellows based on the research quality of the program. The panel was unable to shed much light on three of the questions in the statement of task. Differences between programs in the same field housed in medical schools and in arts and sciences schools, and differences between programs in integrated biological and biomedical sciences and other fields, are discussed briefly in Chapter 8. In both cases, however, the data that the institutions provided for the Assessment were not specific enough to draw these types of distinctions among individual programs. Also, the panel did not conduct an analysis of the possible correlation between student activities such as writing workshops and career seminars and median time to degree. Preliminary examination of the overall data on student activities made it clear that these types of activities are offered in most doctoral programs, so correlations with other variables like time to degree will be small. In its deliberations, the panel—which consisted of experts in training policy, graduate education in the biomedical sciences, and statistics—was frequently tempted to delve into the explanations of the findings or expand the findings into recommendations. The committee’s analysis and findings, however, were limited by the collected data and the fact that NIH did not ask for causal analysis. Even with these limitations, the findings illustrate the type of insights that can be gained through use of this very rich source of data on doctoral programs in the biomedical sciences, as well as pointing out possible directions for future research.
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