Faculty perceptions and knowledge of career development of trainees in biomedical science: What do we (think we) know?
The Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program is an NIH-funded effort testing the impact of career development interventions (e.g. internships, workshops, classes) on biomedical trainees (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows). BEST Programs seek to increase trainees’ knowledge, skills and confidence to explore and pursue expanded career options, as well as to increase training in new skills that enable multiple career pathways. Faculty mentors are vital to a trainee’s professional development, but data about how faculty members of biomedical trainees view the value of, and the time spent on, career development are lacking. Seven BEST institutions investigated this issue by conducting faculty surveys during their BEST experiment. The survey intent was to understand faculty perceptions around professional and career development for their trainees. Two different, complementary surveys were employed, one designed by Michigan State University (MSU) and the other by Vanderbilt University. Faculty (592) across five institutions responded to the MSU survey; 225 faculty members from two institutions responded to the Vanderbilt University survey. Participating faculty were largely tenure track and male; approximately 1/3 had spent time in a professional position outside of academia. Respondents felt a sense of urgency in introducing broad career activities for trainees given a recognized shortage of tenure track positions. They reported believing career development needs are different between a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow, and they indicated that they actively mentor trainees in career development. However, faculty were uncertain as to whether they actually have the knowledge or training to do so effectively. Faculty perceived that trainees themselves lack a knowledge base of skills that are of interest to non-academic employers. Thus, there is a need for exposure and training in such skills. Faculty stated unequivocally that institutional support for career development is important and needed. BEST Programs were considered beneficial to trainees, but the awareness of local BEST Programs and the national BEST Consortium was low at the time surveys were employed at some institutions. It is our hope that the work presented here will increase the awareness of the BEST national effort and the need for further career development for biomedical trainees.