Research Culture: Actionable recommendations from trainees to improve science training

  1. Stephanie M Davis
  2. Harinder Singh
  3. Cara M Weismann
  4. Adriana Bankston
  5. Fátima Sancheznieto  Is a corresponding author
  1. Future of Research, United States
  2. Graduate Professional Success in STEM, University of California, Irvine, United States
  3. School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin Madison, United States
1 table


Table 1

Seven concrete actions for department leadership with examples.

1. Supplemental Mentorship
Departments should require at least one other mentor figure beyond the main supervisor, or the creation of a mentorship committee for graduate students and postdocs.The University of Michigan has recently piloted a mentorship committee program for postdocs (M. Swanson, personal communication, May 2020).
2. Peer Support
Departments should facilitate peer cohorts for social support and peer mentorship, particularly where training start times are not synchronized, such as for postdocs.The Department of Sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham provides all incoming graduate students with peer mentors. While UW-Madison and Brigham and Women's Hospital have postdoc peer mentorship opportunities, these are not incorporated into training/departmental programming.
3. Required Mentor Training
Departments should require mentor training not merely as a compliance exercise, but as an investment into the professional development of their faculty, staff, and senior trainees.All basic science graduate science programs at UCSF require faculty to participate "in at least one mentorship development activity of their choosing each year they have a student in their lab."
4. Exit Surveys
Departments should require anonymous exit surveys from all trainees and staff, publishing aggregate data to ensure the transparent reporting of a department’s climate; diversity and inclusion efforts; bullying and harassment; and trainee mental health.To date, 53 schools have signed onto the NGLS coalition to "collect and publish data using common standards on their life science training programs." We highlight the University of Northern Colorado for publishing thorough information on student satisfaction with the program, research advisor, and factors associated with choosing their field of study.
5. Clear Guidelines and Timelines
Departments should provide graduate students and postdocs with clear guidelines and timelines, beyond grad student qualifying exams; the timing of career stage advancement should not solely depend on the main supervisor or thesis committee.Universities in the United Kingdom, such as Oxford and UCL, have PhD thesis submission deadlines of 3–4 years. Albert Einstein College of Medicine has a committee that “reviews the progress of all students who have been in the program for five years or longer and requests an Exit Strategy from [them]".
6. Standard and Transparent Salary and Benefits
Departments should provide trainees with benefits and salaries adjusted for the local cost of living, along with transparent and standardized benchmarks for raises based on years of training.To our knowledge, the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education is the only place in the United States that enforces standardized benefits and salary floors, adjusted for years of experience, for both PhDs and postdocs.
7. Career and Professional Development Resources
Departments should require trainees to participate in career and professional development training and workshops of their choice, allowing for exploration of careers beyond academia.While many schools provide career development opportunities, we highlight the Graduate School of Biomedical Science at UMass Medical School for their career development curriculum built into the PhD training program.

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  1. Stephanie M Davis
  2. Harinder Singh
  3. Cara M Weismann
  4. Adriana Bankston
  5. Fátima Sancheznieto
Research Culture: Actionable recommendations from trainees to improve science training
eLife 9:e59806.