Responding to concerns voiced by his advisory committee and the larger scientific community, Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has decided not to continue with plans to create a graduate school at the NIH.
Although the response to Varmus's proposal was generally favorable (see "Scientists Block NIH Plan to Grant Ph.D.s"), some questioned NIH's ability to provide the broad range of courses necessary in a degree-granting program. Others wondered if the NIH graduate school would only add to the already swollen ranks of under-employed Ph.D.s.
In the end, "no one argument" carried the day, says NIH deputy director for intramural research Michael Gottesman, "but taken together, we decided not to do it." But, "we are still very committed to making [NIH's] resources available to graduate students," he adds.
Currently NIH has 145 graduate students on campus from 44 different universities. These visiting graduate students complete their coursework at their home institution, do their thesis research with a group at NIH, and then return home to defend their thesis and receive their degrees. While this arrangement generally works quite well, says Simeon Taylor, chief of the Diabetes Branch and director of George Washington University's graduate program at NIH, "It's a hit-or-miss thing," which may leave some students feeling isolated and unsupported. To address this problem and "enrich the students micro-environment," Taylor suggests providing "students with more of a social network and formal advising."
Gottesman agrees, and has begun conversations with graduate students and NIH researchers to identify concrete ways to implement these goals. To that end, he has scheduled an NIH town meeting on September 15.