NIGMS Redefines Graduate Training

During his interview with ASCB President Jodi Nunnari,1 Jon Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), gave her a hint of the upcoming changes to the NIGMS training program. In describing the changes, Lorsch said “We’re focused on improving the diversity of training, both in terms of the people doing the science, and the trainees themselves. Changing the focus of the didactic portion of the curriculum away from a kind of fact-based teaching model to one in which we are focusing on the range of skills that are needed to be an outstanding scientist.”

When NIGMS first published its proposal to make changes to the current training programs, the announcement said that the goal was to modernize the existing system and train future scientists for a completely different biomedical research enterprise in the United States. 

The initial Funding Opportunity Announcement focused on five points:

  • Emphasize the development of a diverse pool of exceptionally well-trained scientists; 
  • Focus on skills development, rigor and reproducibility, inclusive and supportive training environments, and responsible conduct;
  • Address conflicts in the incentive structure of the research enterprise that adversely impact biomedical graduate education;
  • Encourage the use and dissemination of evidence-based, innovative educational and mentoring practices;
  • Emphasize improvements in career preparation (broadly defined), and dissemination of career outcomes on publicly available sites.
  • NIGMS is not looking for applications that only add additional activities to existing programs, Lorsch explained. Instead, the institute will be expecting transformational ideas. In Lorsch’s interview with ASCB, he said, “We’re not asking programs to just tack new stuff on in the way they might have done for some requirements in the past. We want them to relook at everything they’re doing and rework it. If someone wants to teach skills instead of facts, don’t just put a skills course in. Get rid of your facts course and replace it with a skills course or get rid of most of the facts courses.” 

1Nunnari J (2018). Toward a MIRAtocracy: An interview with NIGMS director Jon Lorsch. ASCB Newsletter 41(3), 7–11. The full interview can be seen at

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: