integrate their knowledge of the behavioral and social sciences with advances in the brain sciences (and related fields such as brain imaging, biochemistry, and pharmacology), public health, and medicine.
Transforming research training in the behavioral and social sciences into a more interdisciplinary activity is likely to require a concerted effort by the NIH and changes in several facets of its research training programs. Rather than recommend a single approach, we suggest that the agency consider the following options for achieving this goal:
Gradually shift the focus of its predoctoral programs from single-discipline to interdisciplinary training.
Increase the opportunities for postdoctoral training through interdisciplinary training grants.
Involve more NIH institutes in behavioral and social science research training, either independently or in joint activities with the institutes that already support the bulk of this training.
Monitor more closely the implementation of the 1997 policy change for M.D.-Ph.D. programs, to ensure that more students are provided opportunities to pursue studies in the behavioral and social sciences related to medicine.
Recommendation 3-4. Support for NRSA training grants and fellowships at the predoctoral and postdoctorals level should be gradually increased. At the predoctoral level, the NIH should seek to provide at least 50 percent of its research training support through training grants and fellowships.
The committee believes that training grants and fellowships are more conducive to interdisciplinary research training and career development than are research assistantships and is concerned by the relative shift away from NRSA training mechanisms toward research assistantships to support students and postdoctorates in the biomedical and behavioral sciences that has occurred since 1975. Therefore, we recommend a gradual expansion in the numbers of students and postdoctorates supported by NRSA training grants and fellowships, but only if accompanied by a change in the pattern of NIH support: more training funded via NRSA mechanisms and less training supported by research grants.
NIH should carefully monitor the effects of this change on the conduct of research and research training and should consider options to assist graduate departments in restricting the expansion of Ph.D. programs, including (1) encouraging universities to provide all entering graduate students with some form of financial support, such as a traineeship, that would allow them an opportunity for broad multidisciplinary education, (2) requiring graduate students to pass qualifying exams before working as research assistants on federally funded projects, and (3) limiting the number of years graduate students and postdoctorates may be employed in temporary appointments with federal funds.
Recommendation 3-5. The NIH should continue its efforts to identify and support programs that encourage and prepare underrepresented minority students for careers in behavioral and social science research.
Although the number of underrepresented minority men and women earning Ph.D.s in the behavioral and social sciences has increased substantially in recent years, the NIH should take steps to ensure that these trends continue and accelerate.