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Educating the Microbiologist of the Future: The Role of Summer Courses

  • Author: Ann Reid
  • Citation: Ann Reid. 2011. Educating the microbiologist of the future: the role of summer courses. American Academy of Microbiology
  • Publication Date : August 2011
  • Category: General Microbiology
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In a rapidly evolving field, recruitment and education is critical, and microbiology is no exception. Intensive summer courses staffed by some of the most brilliant minds in microbiology, have proven to be a popular and effective way to hone early and mid-career microbiologist’s skills. The courses are particularly successful at equipping researchers for careers in emerging fields at the intersection of existing disciplines. Based on a colloquium held in January 2011, this report details the contribution of full immersion summer courses to the education of the microbiologists of the future. The report describes the broad and lasting impact of the current courses and defines common challenges that they all face. The recommendations in the report suggest ways to leverage the value and increase the impact of these courses, and propose developing a framework to allow course directors to communicate best practices and develop shared approaches to common challenges. The report affirms the value of these courses in developing the next generation of outstanding microbiologists.

Executive Summary

Each summer, scores of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, mid-career faculty, and seasoned researchers gather for “full-immersion” courses presenting microbiology as it is actually practiced. Some of the courses are as short as a week, while others last a month or even six weeks, and the particular topics on which they focus vary widely, reflecting the remarkable breadth of microbiology. What all the courses have in common, however, is their outstanding track record of changing the lives of their participants, and the ripple effect of those changed lives on the progress of the microbial sciences. However, it is difficult to measure the impact of such courses, and no such effort has been systematically undertaken. Nevertheless, it is clear that leading researchers continue to devote substantial time to organizing and teaching such courses, sponsors continue to invest in them, and their alumni not only go on to successful research careers but also return to teach at the courses. All of these facts are a strong indication that the value of advanced summer courses is considerable. Given the significant resources required, and in a time of tight budgets, it is worth considering how these courses can make the best possible use of limited research funds.

The group agreed on the following five take-home messages:

  • Advanced summer courses are uniquely valuable

    The courses serve a unique function as capstone courses for the professional development of early career researchers and as critical opportunities for mid and late career scientists who want to explore new directions in their research.
  • Advanced summer courses are resource-intensive by nature

    These courses are extremely labor and resource intensive and the capacity for offering them is limited in many respects.
  • Some challenges are common to all the courses

    Faculty support, evaluation, alumni follow-up, outreach, faculty recruitment, and fund-raising are challenges faced by all of the courses.
  • Impact can be broadened by modularization

    New technologies offer opportunities to broaden the courses’ impact.
  • There are opportunities for synergy and cooperation

    The courses have a number of needs in common. It would be worthwhile to consider developing a systematic means of meeting those needs, and sharing information, ideas and best practices among the various courses.

Accordingly, the group proposed the following recommendations:

  • Continue support for such courses
  • Establish a common platform to meet common needs
  • Convene an advisory group to keep track of the mix of courses offered, identify gaps, and facilitate the establishment of new courses
  • Institute an annual meeting of course organizers
  • Take advantage of advances in technology to make course content available to more students

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