Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Scientific Careers Research and Development Group

Research Applications

Mentoring for Success: Developing Fundamental Skills for Biomedical Research

Much of our work is focused on testing of alternative or complementary approaches to the development of young scientists beyond primary reliance on classical mentoring.  This project is funded through the NIGMS Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) which provides partial support for the Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) Program.  CLIMB provides a professional development sequence for biomedical PhD students during their first two years of training.  The design and components of CLIMB derive from extensive experience of Dr. McGee leading PhD and MD/PhD training, along with the social science theories being explored through our research. All students who join the five bioscience PhD programs at Northwestern can voluntarily join CLIMB in addition to a small number of students who are funded by the IMSD award.  The overall premise of CLIMB is the importance of ensuring that all early PhD students acquire the essential skills that will determine how they are perceived as scientists along with skills associated with scientific investigation.  The design of CLIMB is built upon systematic coaching to offset the highly variable degree to which research mentors and their research groups teach or model the requisite skills.  CLIMB activities focus on three areas:

  1. The early transition from undergraduate to PhD training in the first part of the first year
  2. Development of highly refined oral communication skills (initiated during the second half of the first year)
  3. Development of highly refined written communication skills (initiated during the second year)

Funded by
R25 GM07930 (PDF)

Many more details about CLIMB can be found at the CLIMB website.

Grant Writers Groups for Early Faculty

There is no skill or activity that more explicitly marks the progression of a scientist from novice to expert, from someone doing research on others' ideas to constructing and studying their own novel ideas, than the preparation of written research proposals.  Many biomedical PhD programs have recognized this essential skill and have integrated it as one of the early milestones of the PhD through inclusion as part of comprehensive or candidacy exams, or as separate exercises.  Beyond this early learning phase, young or early scientists have historically learned the essential skill of writing research grants from mentors.  Some mentors do a superb job of teaching the art and science of proposal writing, but at best they are in the minority and the rest range from providing minimal guidance to none at all.  The presumption has typically been that this is the only way one can learn to write grants, along with the alternative of learning it "by the seat of your pants".  Recognizing the inadequacy of this as a teaching design strategy, a wide array of efforts have been mounted at institutions or through consulting and business arrangements to provide grant writing workshops.  These workshops typically last a few hours to a few days, are largely focused on NIH-style proposals, and many are very well designed.  However, having a conceptual idea of what goes into an NIH-style proposal is very different from actually constructing one.  Furthermore, when one actually tries to write a proposal there is complex interplay between the rhetorical patterns and styles of writing and the scientific thinking and research design itself.  Over the past 12 years, Dr. McGee has developed an alternative approach to teaching the art and science of writing NIH-style research proposals that he has used at various levels of training.  This method has become the cornerstone of faculty development efforts to assist faculty who are in their early career stages to develop research programs at Northwestern University. For a brief description of this process click here.