Virginia Tech has been named one of 10 academic institutions to receive a first-of-its-kind grant from the National Institutes of Health to help prepare graduate students and postdoctoral scholars for biomedical research careers that could take them beyond conventional academic research. 

The funding will begin Oct. 1, and the 10 institutions will share approximately $3.7 million for the current fiscal year. The awards are for five years.

“NIH recognizes that there are many ways in which biomedical Ph.D. graduates can meaningfully contribute to the biomedical research enterprise,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in announcing the awards. “The future of biomedical research depends upon a sustainable and robust workforce, in which talented, well-trained scientists are best prepared to make significant contributions in academia, industry, government, business, and other venues.”

The Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST) awards are supported through the National Institutes of Health’s Strengthening the Biomedical Research Workforce program. BEST awards will fund bold and innovative approaches to increase student and trainee exposure to multiple research and research-related career options.

“As a university with a long and successful record of preparing students for real-world career opportunities, Virginia Tech is committed to preparing students and fellows in the biomedical sciences for career opportunities in industry and government, as well as academia,” said Mark G. McNamee, senior vice president and provost at Virginia Tech. “This program, with its emphasis on the professional development of biomedical scientists, is exactly in line with the university’s mission.”

“We’re very enthusiastic to be selected as part of this new program along with other leading medical centers and universities,” said Michael Friedlander, associate provost for health sciences at Virginia Tech, who also serves as a co-principal investigator on the grant. “Many of the other awardees are among the top NIH-funded institutions in the country.”

The other awardees include the University of California at San Francisco, with $438 million in annual National Institutes of Health funding; Vanderbilt University Medical Center at $287 million; Emory University at $237 million; the University of California at Davis at $174 million; the University of Colorado at Denver at $166 million; and New York University School of Medicine at $153 million.

As part of the program, awardees will be required to evaluate the success of their approaches, share lessons learned with other awardees, and collaborate with other awardees in disseminating information about effective strategies to the entire biomedical research training community.

“The BEST program is intended to develop best practices for universities nationally,” said Audra Van Wart, director of education and training at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and a co-principal investigator along with Friedlander. “We’re up to the challenge, as this represents a key component of our broader aim of enhancing Virginia Tech’s strengths in biomedical research and training.”

The Virginia Tech program will offer three principal enhancements to graduate and postdoctoral training: a professional development course designed for biomedical trainees; a mini-internship series, from which the students can select multiple short immersion experiences at Virginia Tech or at regional partner organizations; and a nine-month mentorship program focused on overall career development and guidance.

“This award gives us an opportunity to innovate in how we train the nation’s future leaders in biomedical research, preparing them for emerging challenges in interdisciplinary science and a changing workplace,” said Friedlander, who also serves as executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “It’s particularly exciting to be able to integrate the growing emphasis and new initiatives in Virginia Tech’s research, graduate, and postgraduate education and training with the financial support and recognition of the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s premier medical research organization. We’re fortunate to have so many outstanding colleagues on the main Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, and among our partners at Carilion Clinic and throughout the strong technology business community in the Roanoke-Blacksburg corridor. Together, they enable us to take this new approach to training biomedical researchers for a range of careers in industry, academia, and government.”

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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