A workgroup of the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) makes nine specific recommendations to strengthen the institute’s program in research training in a new report entitled “Investing in the Future” released on November 1, 2008.
NIMH’s new Strategic Plan acknowledges that the Institute’s success in the long term relies upon its ability to support future generations of researchers. According to the Plan, “all advances rest on our ability to support and train future generations of mental health scientists.” To obtain critical input about research training that would help guide future Institute efforts, the NAMHC formed a Workgroup on Research Training, which prepared the new report.
Four cross-cutting themes emerged from the workgroup’s deliberations. These are:
- Targeted and flexible funding vehicles are important for attracting, training and retaining trainees who are currently underrepresented in the research workforce and may be one means to accelerate the career progression of the most promising junior investigators.
- To increase state-of-the-art training in areas relevant to the NIMH mission, it is critical that research training experiences be conducted in research intensive environments.
- To maximize training experiences in interdisciplinary research, it is important that research training programs be housed in, and managed by, research intensive institutions rather than by professional scientific organizations that represent a single discipline.
- Enhanced and directed efforts must be made to establish continuity among the various research education, training, and career development programs that the NIMH supports so that gains made in recruitment and training at one stage of the research career path are carried forward.
“Future generations of researchers . . . must be able to use emerging technologies, approaches, and methods as the broad field of mental health research advances and evolves,” the workgroup states in its report. “The Institute’s research training efforts should stimulate creativity and innovation among the supported trainees while ensuring that they are appropriately trained and mentored.”
Nine specific recommendations are intended to enhance existing NIMH research training efforts and investments, and to develop new initiatives that address current and anticipated needs. While several of the workgroup’s recommendations focused on MD/PhDs to reflect the focus of its charge, the workgroup urged the NIMH not to lose sight of the critical need to train and mentor PhD investigators who are likely to continue to comprise the vast majority of the future NIMH workforce. The recommendations are:
- Maintain the NIMH budget for research training and career development. Even after recent, targeted reductions in support for research training and career development, NIMH ranked fourth in fiscal year 2007 in percent of extramural research budget devoted to research training and career development among the NIH Institutes and Centers.
- Build a strong pipeline of trainees who are focused on mental health-relevant research careers.
- Mentoring is an essential component of effective research training. The workgroup recommends that national mentoring networks be developed, with an initial focus on individuals from diverse groups. These networks would assist at critical transitions points along the career path and would be integrated with NIMH-supported research training programs.
- To capitalize on the outstanding interdisciplinary research environments at NIMH-supported centers, expand support for systematic research training and education in these rich environments. In 2007, NIMH supported 49 research centers at an annual cost of $74 million.
- Implement efforts to span critical transition points in the career pipeline. The workgroup recommended two initial efforts, a match-making system and a diversity training merit program, emphasizing individuals from diverse groups.
- Retain MD/PhDs in mental health-related research by expanding research training options during residency and beyond.
- Implement best practices for management of institutional training programs at the NIMH.
- Encourage better program monitoring and assessment, including a comprehensive data collection effort that would allow for better data-driven policy modifications.
- Strengthen dissemination and communication with the extramural research community by the NIMH to facilitate awareness of NIMH-funded training and education programs so that more interested scientists would be aware and participate.
The 19-member workgroup was chaired by Dilip V. Jeste of the University of California, San Diego, and met in three conference calls and three face-to-face meetings between February 2008 and May 2008.