The Future of Toxicology Education: Outcomes of the Toxicology Educational Summit

Every member of SOT can be an educator, can be a mentor, and can communicate the value of toxicology.

The statement above reflects the vision of the Education Summit Organizing Team after more than a year of effort to focus future Society of Toxicology (SOT) programs and the actions of individual members.  Recognizing that new paradigms for multidisciplinary, technologically complex, and collaborative approaches in toxicological sciences require shifts in recruitment, training, and retention of scientists are required, SOT hosted fifty thought leaders at the Toxicology Educational Summit in October 2011.  The goal was to assess the challenges and develop recommendations for strengthening toxicology education at undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and professional levels to effectively equip toxicologists for success. 

These recommendations were published in Toxicological Sciences “The Toxicology Education Summit: Building the Future of Toxicology Through Education” and were featured in the roundtable “The Future of Toxicology Education: Outcomes of the Toxicology Educational Summit” at the 2012 SOT Annual Meeting.  Based on stimulating presentations by Jim Bus (SOT past president), Sally Rockey (NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research), Victoria McGovern (The Burroughs Wellcome Fund), and other speakers, the preparatory work of the Education Summit Organizing Team, and in-depth discussion in break out groups, Summit participants tackled tough questions, provided insight on current realities, considered exemplary programs, and developed recommendations for further consideration.  Links to all of the presentations and reports from the Education Summit are available on the Education Summit webpage.

During the roundtable, Education Summit Chair Aaron Barchowsky presented an overview of challenges faced by toxicology, including recognition as an important integrative and viable field of endeavor.  Deliberations and recommendations were grouped into five areas, and members of the Education Summit Organizing team—Gary Carlson, Mary Beth Genter, Stephen Safe, and Courtney Sulentic—provided perspectives.  Insightful comments from the audience ranged from recognition of the valuable current education programs such as the undergraduate program to bring students to the meeting, Toxicology Scholar campus visits, and mentoring activities like Chat with an Expert, to concern about the impact of declining funding on graduate training, suggestions for joint training efforts by industry and academia, and encouragement that SOT continue to position itself as a global resource.

In partnership with other entities—government, professional societies, and foundations—SOT can strive to increase educational opportunities and integrate toxicology principles in diverse curricula.  Quality training and mentoring can support early career toxicologists and ensure a diverse workforce. 

Recommendations

Noting that SOT is already heavily invested in significant education-related activities, the Education Summit Organizing Team, after considering the deliberations of the participants in the Summit, the roundtable participants, and other input, offers the following suggestions for SOT to consider in facilitating training and retraining of toxicologists at all career stages. 

Programs Recommended for Continuation

  1. Continue and EXPAND efforts to communicate the value of toxicology in promoting a safer and healthier world
    • Including with administrators, deans, etc.
  2. Continue support of successful SOT programs that recruit minority and underserved undergraduates into advanced education and careers in toxicology
  3. Continue and MAKE MORE VISIBLE mentoring opportunities at all levels of education and practice 
    • Including mentoring activities such as Chat with an Expert, Poster Tours, Trainee Discussion with the Plenary Speaker, MentorMatch
  4. Sustain visiting scholar programs (ToxScholar Outreach Grant and Global Senior Scholar Exchange Program)
  5. Continue development of undergraduate teaching resource library and consider a parallel resource for graduate education to take advantage of training opportunities in the news (breast implants, melamine); participate in national undergraduate science curriculum reform
  6. Continue support of successful SOT educational programming at all levels from K–12 through continuing education
    • Including at the Regional Chapter level
  7. Continue and expand webinars and online CE courses for ongoing training

 Ideas for New Programs/Initiatives

  1. Work with other professional societies, government, and academia to promote integration of toxicology into diverse curricula Including medical school, training of emergency room physicians, EMS technicians, public health professionals, engineers, chemists
  2. Perform a formal needs assessment to identify gaps in training and needed curricular changes
  3. Define a “Total Toxicologist” and promulgate core competency list (including “soft skills”) and mechanisms to provide the total toxicology tool set and critical impact points for career development
  4. Facilitate academic, industrial, and government partnerships that provide opportunities for toxicology training and reduce skills gap for trainees seeking industry positions
    • Internship opportunities for students and postdocs
    • Sabbatical and/or short-term on-site experiences for faculty or individuals retraining
    • Platform for developing and making available case studies that apply toxicology principles to promote hands-on learning and non-routine problem solving
    • Provide opportunities for management training
      • this would probably not have to be an SOT-led initiative—good opportunity to partner with industry or non-profits
  5. Create a catalog of training opportunities outside of SOT including university and industry transitions (whole animal experimentation, risk assessment, regulatory skills)
  6. Assess the value of increasing meetings/professional development opportunities that include techniques and wet lab experiences

    • Additional approaches for career transitions

      Encourage toxicology training and career transition support globally
  7. Use of endowment funds or industry support to provide small equipment grants for researchers and teachers at smaller institutions  to build research capacity for students
  8. Increase awareness of underutilized NIH funding mechanisms such as supplements to fund minority students or teachers
  9. Develop a plan to access faculty and students at  community colleges for incorporation of toxicology content
  10. Consider ways to encourage toxicology training and career transition support globally
  11. Initiate a focus on communication skills, particularly for graduate students and postdocs
  12. Link Continuing Education (CE) to Contemporary Concepts in Toxicology (CCT) conferences and Regional Chapter meetings

 Concerns

The reduction of federal funding for toxicology research will decrease support for future graduate students and the ability of mentors to train students.

 

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