Letter to the Editor

In the course of preparing a genetics core curriculum for the Genetics Interest Group, we became aware of a lack of integrated educational opportunities in several basic areas of genetics. We set to work devising an appropriate curriculum at NIH, and in the process, realized that, despite the fact that NIH has many scientists who would be well-qualified to teach these courses, it may be very difficult to induce them to do so because of the way teaching is viewed at NIH.

Specifically, tenure-track researchers and postdoctoral fellows, often the most enthusiastic teachers, are strongly discouraged from seeking or accepting teaching responsibilities. This is because they are evaluated almost solely on productivity, that is, publications. Tenure decisions depend entirely on research performance, and teaching commitments are not taken into account. Those at NIH who teach must do so under the auspices of an "outside activity," regardless of whether there is reimbursement for the time and effort spent. Teaching is not considered part of their professional responsibilities.

For a core curriculum in genetics to be successful, NIH must recognize that teaching is a valid scientific and career endeavor. Individuals who choose to participate in teaching, and thereby benefit the entire NIH genetics community, should not be penalized when the time comes to evaluate their scientific accomplishments. If the proposed curriculum is to become a reality, those who teach it should have some evidence that the NIH administration supports this view. This could come in the form of removing teaching at NIH from its classification as an "outside activity." It may also be desirable to establish some way to recognize outstanding teachers for their contribution to the NIH community.

Members of the Education Subcommittee Genetics Interest Group:
Sherri J. Bale, Ph.D., NIAMS
Miles B. Brennan, Ph.D., NIMH
Michael J. Lichten, Ph.D., NCI
Dilys M. Parry, Ph.D., NCI
Sharon Suchy, Ph.D., NCHGR
Nancy Trun, Ph.D., NCI

I heartily support your recommendation regarding course work in genetics at NIH.
The recognition of teaching as a valid function of NIH personnel is also important to me. NIH now has legal training authorities, so our staff must be teachers as well as researchers. I certainly consider teaching contributions positively when tenure decisions are being made.

With respect to teaching being an "outside activity," this should only be the case when compensation is sought from an outside source, such as FAES. According to my legal counsel, teaching intramural colleagues and students on campus and other scientists, students, and teachers off campus should be part of one's official duty if it is done without compensation, without an official appointment from the school, without unduly interfering with other NIH responsibilities and clearly within the scope of NIH's usual training and administrative authorities. The decision about whether a teaching situation meets those requirements is usually made by a supervisor and, ultimately, by a director of an institute, center, or division. I have tried to encourage such activities by example, through the Office of Education, and by persuasion. If you know of instances in which teaching activities have been unreasonably restricted, I would be willing to try to exercise my persuasive powers.

Michael Gottesman,
Deputy Director for Intramural Research

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