T H E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T      M A Y   –  J U N E   1999





Michael: I read with interest the recent (March-April 1999) Catalyst containing the article by Joan [Schwartz] on mentoring and your very thoughtful commentary on the proposed NIH Academy. After thinking a lot about both, I’d like to share some comments with you.

You, and others of us, have emphasized the critical role that mentoring plays in the success of young investigators, and the Guide [Guide to Training and Mentoring in the Intramural Research Program] certainly will be an important asset. In your commentary, you mention the Slavkin report and the need for more scientists from disadvantaged backgrounds "to help guarantee more attention to research problems related to health disparities." Many have spoken and written of the need for more minority scientists as participants in all phases of the fight against minority health disparities, including roles as health care providers, policy makers, administrators, researchers, and educators. In my opinion, this is not a problem that NIH can, or would be expected to, take a lead in solving. Rather, academic institutions across the country need to expand their training of minority scientists in a variety of health disciplines.

You also mentioned the problem we at NIH have in recruiting proportionate numbers of minority scientists for "junior and senior faculty" positions. This is, indeed, our problem, and you cite the Slavkin report’s recommendation of how the proposed Academy would address it. You make a very cogent argument for the Academy, and I agree with it.

You mention all the important activities that might be undertaken by the Academy. However, what is missing, and in my opinion glaringly so, is any reference to another issue that you and I have discussed—how to improve the atmosphere for and success of those minority scientists who come here. How will one influence the performance of senior DIR scientists, specifically the lab chiefs, so that young minority scientists do not face additional impediments to succeeding in the competition for tenure-track spots? What exactly are you proposing to do with the principal investigators other than distributing to them the mentoring Guide?

I am confident that you will not feel that my comments in any way detract from my opinion of the excellent work you are doing towards achieving the goal of increasing the number of minority scientists in the upper levels of the NIH intramural program.

I am not Lewis Thomas, nor am I listening to Mahler at the moment, but these are my late-night musings, for what they are worth.

George Counts, NIAID

Dear George,

I am most grateful for your comments and ideas concerning the NIH Academy concept. One comment, in particular, strikes me as the key to success—changing the attitude of some of our supervisors toward their trainees. The goal of the NIH Academy will be to provide whatever support is needed at NIH to optimize the possibility of success.

As you know, I am establishing a working group of intramural scientists, NIH educators, and administrators who, like yourself, have been dedicated to improving mentoring and training at the NIH. Arlyn Garcia-Perez and Levon Parker have agreed to chair this group. I look forward to our working together on this very exciting and challenging pathway to our NIH Academy.

Michael Gottesman, DDIR


I am responding to two of the items in the "Catalytic Reactions" section of the March–April NIH Catalyst.

First, I would like to see a small NIH graduate school, but only if the NIH infrastructure is adjusted to support such a program. I would suggest that the program be a partnership between one or more universities (for example, Johns Hopkins University), so that essential courses would be taken at that university and tutorial training and research would be conducted at the NIH proper. NIH faculty who participated in this program would be on the university faculty as adjunct or regular members. A number of infrastructural changes would be required to accommodate the introduction of a graduate school. I would suggest that the NIH create extra slots to accommodate these students so that they don’t compete with existing FTEs. Of course, an administrative support staff would have to be created to manage the graduate program. An NIH curriculum focusing on cross-discipline areas of research (that is, driven by a particular research question or clinical entity) would be developed. Where will the courses be taught? Additional space and funding for furniture and computers to accommodate the graduate students would have to be identified and justified.

I would be interested in serving on such a faculty and would be willing to serve on a committee planning the graduate program.

Second, mentoring is a skill, and it’s an important part of the training of junior faculty, fellows, and students. It is also a responsibility that each investigator should take seriously. Mentoring is not a perfect art, and it is possible to improve your mentoring ability as you gain more experience in supervising trainees. Being mentored is one of the most memorable experiences a trainee can have; relationships formed as a result of this experience can be very rewarding and last a lifetime. NIH should offer the possibility of programmatic training in mentoring for interested staff.

Jordan Grafman, NINDS

We are beginning the process of defining a graduate program for NIH that takes advantage of the enormous research talent here, especially in translational research and bioinformatics, and allows us the flexibility to create a new curriculum in areas currently not generally taught in existing graduate programs. The details of the program are not determined, and we will be seeking the expertise and counsel of the entire NIH community and the greater academic community as we design a novel graduate program at NIH. Improved mentoring will be an important goal of this program.

—Michael Gottesman, DDIR



Major objectives of an NIH Academy: Train postdocs in clinical research. No undergraduate or high school training should be provided.

Is there a need for a graduate school: Since we have USUHS across the street, which already is accredited and has infrastructure and staff in place, that should be utilized. A limited PhD program already exists, and they have the room to expand.

Is the emphasis on mentoring appropriate, and should mentoring skills be taught: Yes, it is important. However, the PIs at NIH will not attend training.

Suggestions for improving The NIH Catalyst: Print people’s feedback.


Sure. So long as we get the last word–Ed.



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