2001 and 2002 ASM Summer Institute Results

Participants at the 2001 Summer Institute discuss their work.

In 2001, the ASM Committee on Graduate Education proposed an annual institute for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists to learn about and practice skills that are often overlooked during their formal training. While students have numerous opportunities to conduct scientific research, developing skills in grant preparations, communications, and teaching are frequently lacking or inconsistent. To address these shortcomings in graduate education, the committee began sponsoring the Summer Institute (SI) for Preparation of Careers in Microbiology.

Twenty-one pioneers joined five committee members in August 2001 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for six intensive days of closely guided instruction and practice in five key areas important for choosing and preparing for a career as a microbiologist. The areas are grant preparation, scientific presentations, effective teaching, career opportunities, and scientific ethics. One year later, the committee conducted follow-up interviews to assess the pioneers' development. The table on p. 567 summarizes the participants in the 2001 and 2002 Summer Institutes.

Grant preparation. About 40% of the SI training is dedicated to understanding the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant-making process and learning how to prepare a competitive proposal. This requires preparation of a 20-page proposal before attending the Institute, an onerous requirement but one of the most valued experiences for all participants. During the Institute, participants share their work in a series of simulated review sessions, modeled after an NIH study section. While members of the ASM Committee on Graduate Education serve as coaches and referees, each student serves as a reviewer, and all proposals are critiqued. About 40% of the 2001 SI respondents indicated that they revised their proposals and 33% submitted it for funding after the Institute. One respondent stated, "The SI helped me significantly in the area of grant writing. After the Institute, I rewrote the proposal that I wrote for the SI and submitted it to NIH. Although it was not funded on the first attempt, I feel extremely lucky to have gone through the whole process from start to finish where the livelihood of my own lab didn't depend upon getting the grant. It was so valuable to do all of the work myself, and to also get the comments back from the reviewers. What a tremendous learning experience. I never would have had that experience if I hadn't attended the SI."

Scientific presentations and communications. Before attending the Institute, participants prepare a 10-minute oral presentation and accompanying visuals. The culminating activity occurs when participants present their research, learning from one another through highly interactive and carefully coached sessions. In the follow-up interviews, everyone reported to have revised and presented their work. One wrote, "I have given many presentations, all of which have been met with high praise. I think what I learned at the SI led me to winning second place student presentation at the ASM Virginia Branch Meeting in November 2001." Another participant said, "I am planning to apply for postdoctoral funding very soon. I gave an oral presentation at an international Chlamydia meeting this summer and I used the skills we learned at the Institute. It went really well and right after my presentation I got four postdoc offers!"

Career opportunities. Students have limited opportunities to learn about the diversity of careers in microbiology in their formal training. For many, the Institute is the first place to learn about different career opportunities. About two-thirds of respondents in the follow-up interviews indicated that they considered a new career that they hadn't known about prior to attending the Institute. "The Institute certainly exposed me to the diversity of career opportunities. The experiences shared by the many speakers set me thinking about which path to follow and the way to do it. The candid discussions of starting salaries and what to ask for in your interview were most informative. I have a much clearer idea of how to proceed when I finish my degree," reported one participant.

Learning about different career options benefits undergraduate as well as graduate students participating in the SI. "The speakers on different careers were most beneficial to me. It was helpful to see all the options, not only for me, but also for undergraduate students whom I may influence," says one participant.

Effective teaching. Most participants will pursue academic careers; however, they will be at very different types of institutions mentoring and teaching students with diverse learning needs. Thus, about 10% of the training is focused on effective teaching strategies. Many of the survey respondents incorporated new approaches to teaching as a result of the Institute. "Beyond the discussions about career choices, I think our teaching discussions were most beneficial to me. I have since earned a distinguished TA award at the University of Maryland, one of two within our department. I have also been asked to serve on a university-wide panel of three experienced TAs for all incoming TAs this fall. Because I love teaching, this type of recognition is important for me," one reported.

Another wrote, "As a result of the Institute, I have chosen a different path for my life. In September, I will start teaching at a private high school. The skills I learned in the teaching workshops really helped me during the interview process for this job and helped me to have the confidence that I really can do it." She continues, "I know the Institute did not talk about this as a career option, but I still feel it helped me in choosing a path of life that I would like to do first. I say first because I also realized that this may just be my first stop along an evolving career pathway."

Perhaps the most talked-about benefits of the SI are the genuine openness and contacts that one encounters. As expressed by one participant, "The most important aspect I gained from the ASM SI was the personal contacts made. It gave me the confidence to network with individuals in my research field. It taught me all the information they never taught us in graduate school."

The 3rd Summer Institute will be held 3-6 August 2003 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.