Educating the Microbiologist of the Future: The Role of Summer Courses, 2011

Executive Summary

Each summer, scores of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, mid-career faculty, and seasoned researchers gather for “full-immersion” courses presenting microbiology as it is actually practiced. Some of the courses are as short as a week, while others last a month or even six weeks, and the particular topics on which they focus vary widely, reflecting the remarkable breadth of microbiology. What all the courses have in common, however, is their outstanding track record of changing the lives of their participants, and the ripple effect of those changed lives on the progress of the microbial sciences. However, it is difficult to measure the impact of such courses, and no such effort has been systematically undertaken. Nevertheless, it is clear that leading researchers continue to devote substantial time to organizing and teaching such courses, sponsors continue to invest in them, and their alumni not only go on to successful research careers but also return to teach at the courses. All of these facts are a strong indication that the value of advanced summer courses is considerable. Given the significant resources required, and in a time of tight budgets, it is worth considering how these courses can make the best possible use of limited research funds.

The group agreed on the following five take-home messages:

■ Advanced summer courses are uniquely valuable
The courses serve a unique function as capstone courses for the professional development of early career researchers and as critical opportunities for mid and late career scientists who want to explore new directions in their research.

■ Advanced summer courses are resource-intensive by nature
These courses are extremely labor and resource intensive and the capacity for offering them is limited in many respects.

■ Some challenges are common to all the courses
Faculty support, evaluation, alumni follow-up, outreach, faculty recruitment, and fund-raising are challenges faced by all of the courses.

■ Impact can be broadened by modularization
New technologies offer opportunities to broaden the courses’ impact.


■ There are opportunities for synergy and cooperation
The courses have a number of needs in common. It would be worthwhile to consider developing a systematic means of meeting those needs, and sharing information, ideas and best practices among the various courses.

Accordingly, the group proposed the following recommendations:

■ Continue support for such courses
■ Establish a common platform to meet common needs
■ Convene an advisory group to keep track of the mix of courses offered, identify gaps, and facilitate the establishment of new courses
■ Institute an annual meeting of course organizers
■ Take advantage of advances in technology to make course content available to more students

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