Rutgers is one of seven institutions in the country selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to receive this year's BEST Award - a $2 million grant designed to expose many of the university's most promising biomedical sciences graduate trainees to career opportunities that go beyond the academic path that they have traditionally taken.
The award funds development of the Rutgers Interdisciplinary Job Opportunities for Biomedical Scientists (iJOBs) program. It includes courses, seminars, shadowing, mentoring and networking activities to better prepare doctoral students and postdoctoral scientists for a broad spectrum of careers within the biomedical science and engineering ecosystem, including those with established companies, government agencies, entrepreneurial ventures and nonprofit institutions.
Traditionally, graduate training in biomedical sciences and engineering at universities throughout the country has focused on preparing students for academic research careers. But, according to the NIH, fewer than half of doctoral candidates in the biomedical sciences now end up in academia - largely because the economics of universities are changing - so NIH instituted the program last year to address that issue and better prepare these students for non-academic careers.
The university's successful application to participate in BEST, which stands for Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training, was submitted jointly by two major Rutgers entities - the Center for Innovative Ventures of Emerging Technologies (CIVET) and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS), a school located in both New Brunswick and Newark that became part of the university in July 2013 as part of Rutgers' integration with most units of the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).
"This is a true triumph enabled by the Rutgers-UMDNJ merger," says Martin Yarmush, the director of CIVET. "Combining top engineering students and pre-and postdoctoral biomedical scientists within one powerhouse institution was a great incentive for NIH to choose us over more than 100 other universities that also competed for the award."
CIVET has been guiding Rutgers researchers, both students and faculty, in translation of their work to practical application and successful commercialization. In support of that goal, the center offers courses, seminars, and personal coaching - provided by a star-studded adjunct faculty of more than 60 experts in various technical, business and legal disciplines - on how to communicate commercial value and tap entrepreneurial resources such as venture capital. It also has successfully competed for multi-year NIH and NCIIA grants to organize and implement clinical immersion programs where biomedical engineers work with health sciences clinical and research faculty to bring innovations from the laboratory into medical practice.
"We have been doing the kind of work that the National Institutes of Health is looking to establish on a broad scale," said Susan Engelhardt, Executive Director of CIVET. "As we implement the iJOBS Program, we will ask partnering industrial and business professionals to define the skills they want in their doctorally trained professionals, and will involve them in the workshops and mentoring programs we create to train these future employees."
The programs that Rutgers develops will also be available to alumni of doctoral programs within the first five years of their professional careers. These programs will be organized into five particular areas of focus:
- Science and health policy: laws and regulations that affect research and society's health care goals
- Industrial development and business management: management skills for the biomedical corporate environment
- Intellectual property management: patent protection and intellectual property licensing for research results
- Clinical and regulatory testing and support: interactions with regulatory agencies and compliance with safety standards
- Health and science data analysis: developing software for research data analysis and validation.
The preparation for potential careers in business is especially revolutionary in the biomedical sciences. Kathleen Scotto, the dean of GSBS, recalls training for her doctorate in the 1980s. "If someone like me had told the person running the lab about wanting to work somewhere other than academia, we would have been told to leave the lab. Careers in industry are now very attractive to people in my field, and industry leaders such as BioNJ and the Healthcare Institute of New Jersey helped Rutgers secure this grant and will be involved throughout in helping to instruct our advanced students."
Shirley Tilghman, then president of Princeton University, co-chaired the NIH panel that recommended in 2012 that graduate education in the biomedical sciences be broadened to include greater exposure to non-academic opportunities. Tilghman, a leading figure in the field of molecular biology, says she is "delighted" that Rutgers is an award recipient. "With its commitment to diversifying the career options of this generation of biomedical science and engineering graduate students and postdoctoral fellows," says Tilghman, "Rutgers will serve both the students' interests and the interests of the country. It will serve as a model for other institutions throughout the country to emulate."
The Principal Investigators of the grant are Martin L. Yarmush, director of CIVET and the Paul and Mary Monroe Chair and Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering; and James H. Millonig, senior associate dean, Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and associate professor of neuroscience and cell biology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS). Other key personnel leading the implementation include Susan Engelhardt, executive director of CIVET; Stephen Garrett, assistant dean of curriculum, GSBS, and associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Janet Alder, director of graduate academic and student affairs, GSBS, and associate professor of neuroscience and cell biology at RWJMS; and François Berthiaume, research coordinator of CIVET and associate professor of biomedical engineering.