Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for MSU Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) Program

What students are eligible to participate in BEST?

MSU BEST trainees will include domestic PhD students and postdoctoral fellows from the BioMolecular Science Program (BMS) Gateway program and the College of Engineering. The BMS Gateway offers admission to 6 graduate programs: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell and Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Physiology. As part of the BMS Gateway, students share several first-year experiences and are exposed to research in a variety of biomolecular disciplines.

Each year, we anticipate building the BEST community with 12-14 graduate students and 3-5 Post Docs.

What is a trainee’s commitment to MSU BEST?

Ideally, trainees join BEST once they formally join a lab for a PhD or postdoc experience, and would remain in BEST for their whole career at MSU. At a minimum, trainees should be a part of BEST for two years. Year 1 is focused on developing skills, building a community of BEST trainees, and narrowing professional interests. Year 2 (and beyond) is designed to provide externship and professional experiences.

Why is two years considered a minimum time to be involved in BEST?

These two years are the greatest concentration of BEST activities. In year one, attendees are expected to attend ten workshops (weekends and evenings) and work online in Career Success (30-40 hours over the year). At the end of year one, an MSU BEST Individual Development Plan (IDP) is built. In year two, the trainee will spend time in two (2) career experience internships, work on communication skills and team building skills. Finally, NIH requires all participants to take NIH designed surveys. For graduate students, these are entrance, interim and exit surveys while at MSU. For postdocs, these include entrance and exit surveys.

What is the intent of the workshops?

These will be given monthly in the first year of a trainee’s engagement with BEST. The first set of workshops set the foundational skills for BEST after an orientation: Wellness, Communication and Teamwork. The second set has a speaker from campus who also serves as a career experience/internship provider and will address the five arenas in which MSU can demonstrate the utility and application of an advanced degree in biomedical science: Innovation, Legal, Regulatory, Government and Academia. The year’s workshops will close with a session on building an MSU IDP.

Two career experiences are to be undertaken by the trainee; how much time will this take?

This was left intentionally flexible, given that different experiences may take different types of time commitments. We are encouraging the mentor and career experience provider to stay in close communication with the student as this occurs, such that all parties are happy with the decisions made. We envision that this experience could be, at the most, an afternoon a week for a semester, or more concentrated into a shorter time period if the learning of intent experience requires this. It could also be shorter, such as attending legislative meetings at Michigan’s State Capitol, work during the summer for a week in mentoring undergraduate research project at Lansing Community College. The bottom line is that the experience should be more than “job shadowing” to facilitate genuine engagement in a project.

The workshop experience in Year 1 of the BEST Experience is designed to expose students to each of the five (5) areas available to students. After the first year, students should be able to identify two (2) areas they would like to experience.

What other activities does BEST require?

There are two events we hope all individuals involved will attend. The first is a yearly retreat, very much like what other programs across our campus do. The second is an end of the year presentation. Surveys, given electronically, are also a part of BEST. This is mandatory and NIH will give out their own surveys. MSU is working on tailoring these surveys for use in our institution; MSU surveys will not be ready to give until the 2015 academic year. The trainee, mentor and the career research providers will be required to take these surveys, as this formulates the basis of the experiment for determining whether being a BEST scholar improves outcomes for our trainees. These surveys will continue through 2040 as NIH wants to do long term follow up for where BEST trainees go.

Will MSU BEST Extend the time to completion (PhD or Postdoc)?

It should not. Our overarching goal is that a clear direction from early in one’s career can help make your path straighter, and thus it would be ideal to show that we may reduce the time to completion. This is even though the student will commit time in the first two years to BEST; this is considered an investment paid upfront in a career that can be more readily embraced.

How can advisors or lab PIs recoup losses (research and financial) for having a trainee spend time outside of the laboratory?

We recognize that a student, through their time in BEST, WILL spend time outside of the lab on BEST. We strive to minimize this time. In recognition of the generosity of the mentor in continuing to pay the student’s stipend and tuition during this time, mentors will receive a one-time $2000 grant from the VPRGS office to help their research effort. We also recognize that for some students, engagement in meaningful activities outside the lab can help them concentrate and focus their lab efforts in a more efficient way, as well as bring in new ideas and solutions to add energy to their lab work. Every effort is made to ensure that engagement in BEST provides a rich experience for students that pays dividends in many areas of their professional and scholarly lives.

Is the time a trainee spends ‘allowable’ if they currently work in a funded position that is 100% dedicated to research?

Yes. Below is the recent clarification by the Office of Management and Budget which states that being a trainee will require activities consistent with this position, and this is allowable.

OMB Clarifies Guidance on the Dual Role of Student and Postdoctoral Researchers
Notice Number:
Key Dates
Release Date: October 10, 2014
Related Announcements
Issued by
National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a clarification related to the role of graduate student and postdoctoral researchers engaged in federally funded research projects on August 29, 2014. The clarification appears within a set of Frequently Asked Questions related to the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (Uniform Guidance) which appear in the Code of Federal Regulations at 2 CFR 200. The provisions of the Uniform Guidance will be in place for all federal awards beginning on December 26, 2014.

The clarification covers section 200.400-2 and states: The Uniform Guidance states; ”For non-Federal entities that educate and engage students in research, the dual role of students as both trainees and employees contributing to the completion of Federal awards for research must be recognized in the application of these principles.” Staff in postdoctoral positions engaged in research, while not generally pursuing an additional degree, are expected to be actively engaged in their training and career development under their research appointments as Post-Docs. This dual role is critical in order to provide Post-Docs with sufficient experience and mentoring for them to successfully pursue independent careers in research and related fields.

Does 200.400(f) require recognition of the dual role of postdoctoral staff appointed on research grants as, both trainees and employees, when appointed as a researcher on research grants?

Yes, the Uniform Guidance 200.400(f) requires the recognition of the dual role of all pre- and post-doctoral staff, who are appointed to research positions with the intent that the research experience will further their training and support the development of skills critical to pursue careers as independent investigators or other related careers. Neither Pre-Docs nor Post-Docs need to be specifically appointed in ‘training’ positions to require recognition of this dual role. The requirements and expectations of their appointment will support recognition of this dual role per 200.400(f).