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NIH Launches Training Program to Enhance Quantitative Training

1 December 2018 No Comment

Engagement of statistical community sought

    Elizabeth Ginexi

      The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) was created by Congress in 1993 in recognition of the importance of behavioral and social sciences to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) mission. Over more than two decades, the OBSSR has been instrumental in advancing and coordinating the behavioral and social sciences at the NIH.

      The OBSSR Strategic Plan 2017–2021 addresses emerging opportunities and challenges with the potential to transform behavioral and social sciences health research, including the following:

      • Improvement in the flow of basic to applied science through the research-product pipeline
      • Advances in measurement and methodological approaches
      • Improvements in the dissemination and implementation of social and behavioral interventions 

      To address the second priority area, which involves enhancing the research infrastructure and methods in BSSR, the OBSSR and participating institutes are launching the Predoctoral Training in Advanced Data Analytics for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (BSSR) Institutional Research Training Program. The vision of the program is to support the development of a cohort of specialized predoctoral candidates who will possess advanced competencies in data science analytics to apply to an increasingly complex landscape of behavioral and social health-related big data.

      Recent advances in medical informatics, electronic health records, big data analytics, mobile and wearable technologies, social media– and web-generated data, geospatial data, administrative data, and new methods to link data have laid the groundwork for a rich biomedical, behavioral, and social research data environment. The voluminous data environment resulting from diverse data sources will require complex analytical skills to derive rigorous scientific knowledge.

      The methodology courses in many behavioral and social sciences PhD programs have remained essentially unchanged for the last four decades. To prepare candidates for the world of complex data, the core methods course offerings need to be augmented to provide earlier career training exposure to data science and computational approaches applied in other disciplines such as computer science, applied statistics, and engineering. Training programs may be able to most effectively accomplish this by developing highly coordinated inter-departmental program collaborations for their doctoral candidates.

      Applicants are being asked to assemble an interdisciplinary team of scientific mentors to design and direct a training program that includes mentors from relevant BSSR disciplines such as psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, communication studies, or public health along with experts in computational or data science analysis approaches from relevant disciplines such as engineering, computer science, applied mathematics, statistics, or physics. Integration with training in subdisciplines relevant to NIH institutes (e.g., health psychology, medical anthropology, medical sociology, health economics) is strongly encouraged. Applicant programs should take advantage of opportunities to engage multiple departments within a university or multiple institutions within proximity to maximize training opportunities.

      To support the networking opportunities for this new cohort of specialized predoctoral candidates, OBSSR intends to convene and facilitate cross-site exchanges among the investigators and trainees at the awarded sites. The mentors and trainees funded through this funding opportunity announcement will be required to participate in cross-site activities such as periodic training webinars and annual in-person cross-site BSSR Data Analytics Program grantee meetings.

      OBSSR recognizes the importance of scientific stewardship, particularly in developing the scientific talent and skills needed to advance health-related behavioral and social sciences. Training programs that focus on cutting-edge quantitative methods to expand behavioral and social scientists’ capabilities will strengthen BSSR’s ability to meet the scientific challenges of the future. To achieve these goals, the OBSSR seeks engagement with the statistical community. Members of the American Statistical Association may be uniquely positioned to participate as applicants to this funding opportunity announcement and related future announcements, as well as more broadly as facilitators for the interdisciplinary connections required to support a more cumulative and integrated approach to behavioral and social sciences health research.

      Elizabeth Ginexi is a health scientist administrator at the National Institutes of Health Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, where she focuses on the application of innovative research methodologies, measurement, and analytic approaches to advance behavioral and social sciences research. Ginexi is an applied social psychologist with expertise in family- and community-based etiology, prevention, and treatment research; policy interventions to target population-level health behavior; quantitative analysis; and statistical and computational modeling.

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