Broadening Career Training for Scientists

new BEST Consortium ad.pngAccording to a recent ​NIH Biomedical Workforce Working Group report, approximately 20% of PhD graduates will go on to hold tenured or tenure-track positions, while 80% will go on to different career options*.  Nevertheless, the model for training graduate students and postdoctoral fellows has changed little over the last few decades. 
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In response to these findings, the NIH launched a new grant program, the NIH Director’s Biomedical Research Workforce Innovation Award: ​Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST).  Vanderbilt was one of ten universities (of 103 applicants) to receive this five-year, $1.2 million grant.
Vanderbilt’s BEST Award (1DP7OD018423) created the ASPIRE Program, which is co-directed by Roger Chalkley, D. Phil., senior associate dean for Biomedical Research, Education and Training and Kathy Gould, Ph.D., associate dean for Biomedical Sciences, and Kim Petrie, Ph.D., director of Career Development.
The NIH offered an additional round of funding for the "BEST awards" in the spring of 2014, and a second cohort of seven awardee institutions was announced in October 2014.
Concurrent with this announcement , Vanderbilt's BRET office received the NIH administrative supplement to serve as the national headquarters for the BEST Consortium. D'Anne Duncan, Ph.D., BEST Program Manager, serves as a liaison between the NIH and the 17 BEST awardee institutions. To learn more, please visit
The consortium is responsible for organizing the Annual BEST meeting, is designing and implementing a national BEST website and manages monthly awardee teleconferences. All of these activities are designed to facilitate communication among the awardees in order to develop and disseminate best practices around career development for biomedical graduate trainees across the nation. 

BEST awards are intended to support...“bold and innovative approaches to broaden graduate and postdoctoral training, such that training programs reflect the range of career options that trainees ultimately may pursue...This program will establish a new paradigm for graduate and postdoctoral training”  

Goals of ASPIRE
  1. Empower and prepare biomedical sciences trainees to make well-informed career decisions
  2. Broaden experiences of trainees so they transition efficiently to research and research-related careers in nonacademic and academic venues
  3. Integrate career and professional development into PhD training

Questions about the ASPIRE Program can be directed to

* National Institutes of Health (2012) Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group Report (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD).

Allowable Student and Postdoc Activities

Questions about activities students and postdoctoral scholars can participate in?

Frequently Asked Questions from The Office of Management and Budget’s Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (2CFR 200)  (see .400-2 "Dual Role of Students and Postdoctoral Staff" on page 19 of the PDF)


.400-2 Dual Role of Students and Post-Doctoral Staff

The Uniform Guidance states; "For non-Federal entities that educate and engage students in research, the dual role of students as both trainees and employees contributing to the completion of Federal awards for research must be recognized in the application of these principles." Staff in postdoctoral positions engaged in research, while not generally pursuing an additional degree, are expected to be actively engaged in their training and career development under their research appointments as Post-Docs. This dual role is critical in order to provide Post- Docs with sufficient experience and mentoring for them to successfully pursue independent careers in research and related fields.

Does 200.400(f) require recognition of the dual role of postdoctoral staff appointed on research grants as, both trainees and employees, when appointed as a researcher on research grants?

Yes, the Uniform Guidance 200.400(f) requires the recognition of the dual role of all pre and post-doctoral staff, who are appointed to research positions with the intent that the research experience will further their training and support the development of skills critical to pursue careers as independent investigators or other related careers. Neither Pre-Docs or Post-Docs need to be specifically appointed in 'training' positions to require recognition of this dual role. The requirements and expectations of their appointment will support recognition of this dual role per 200.400(f).