You may not have trainees yet, but when you do, you’ll need to start keeping track of them.  At some point, you’ll be asked to serve as a mentor or otherwise be involved with an institutional training grant.  NIH has specific characteristics and outcomes they want to know about your trainees, and they want it in particular formats. It’s more effective to track these from the start, with regular updates, than it is to scramble to complete rosters during the few weeks (or days) you have before the PI wants the tables back.

In the last year, I’ve been in charge of training tables for a K12 and a CTSA KL2 and TL1 program, all of which were funded.  The CTSA grant included more than 60 participating faculty who needed to have information in the training tables.  Here’s what folks like me have to fill out, and how you can help us by just keeping certain information in your records of trainees, and keeping it in a certain format.

Look at this. Doesn’t it make you want to cry?

The current training tables have several pages of very dense, very detailed instructions.  One option for tracking your trainees is to keep copies of these tables for yourself.  This is great if you get a request to send in pre-filled tables, because you don’t have to do anything but forward what you keep for yourself.  However, the information is scattered across multiple tables in combinations that don’t make a lot of intuitive sense.

Another option is to keep everything about your trainees in a spreadsheet or Word table, or even a REDCap database.  This lets you update information easily, keep an abbreviated version in your CV, and quickly respond to requests for information in new combinations or formats.  (Perhaps the PI is putting together a supplemental table to highlight something extraordinary about the program, such as number of Hispanics trainees or proportion who earned K awards within ten years of graduation.)  The NIH tables get redesigned from time to time as well, so this avoids having to reformat all your data when the tables change.

Here’s a template I developed that includes all the information currently being asked about mentors’ trainees.  Fill out all these cells, and there’s nothing a PI can throw at you that you won’t be able to give them.

Citizenship status. Know it. Write it down. Bathe in love from your grants administrators.

What kind of information should you keep?

Well, frankly, if nothing else, please note their citizenship status when they were your trainee.  NIH tracks everything based on “training grant eligibility,” which means US citizen or permanent residentEvery single table in the ones linked above requires knowledge of whether the trainees in it were training grant eligible or not.  This is the most frequently missing information when I collect training table data, and it probably has the greatest effect on how the tables are arranged and filled out.

That aside, to start with, you’ll need to know:

  • Which trainees were predoctoral, broken into current and graduated
  • Which trainees were postdoctoral, broken into current and completed training (frequently this includes early career faculty for whom you’ve served as a mentor, but occasionally the grant’s table czar only wants true postdocs, so it doesn’t hurt to keep these categories separate as well)
  • Which of your trainees continued in research or related careers,* again broken into pre- and postdoc
  • The month and year each trainee started and ended their training with you
  • Their position at the time they started with you (i.e., resident, grad student, postdoc, instructor, assistant professor…) and their home department
  • Their names! Seems obvious, but there’s one table where I can’t double-count trainees.  If you and your colleague both mentor someone and count that person as your trainee, I need to cross-reference the list of names and only count that person once.  NIH likes middle initials, so be sure and get one from your trainees who have middle names.

* Per the instructions: “Research-related positions generally require a doctoral degree and may include activities such as teaching, administering research or higher education programs, science policy, and technology transfer.”

You also need to keep track of the following characteristics:

  • Was/is each trainee supported by any HHS training award (such as a T32, F30, K12, etc.)?
  • Was/is each trainee eligible to be supported by a training grant (this means were they a citizen or permanent resident at the time they were your mentee)?
  • Most recent prior institution and degree, including bachelor’s, master’s, and any kind of doctoral degrees, and the year that degree was earned
  • Any degrees earned while they were your trainee and the year earned
  • Their project title or research interest
  • Demographic information that is only ever reported in aggregate. This should be self-reported by the trainee. (You might just pass around your spreadsheet and have them fill it in.)
    • Race: Current categories are American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Black or African American, White, More Than One Race, and Unknown or Not Reported
    • Ethnicity: Hispanic/Latino or not Hispanic/Latino
    • Gender: Male, Female, Unknown or Not Reported
    • Disability: The official definition is having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; this can include mobility, vision, or hearing impairments, mental or learning disabilities, or conditions such as chronic diseases.
    • Disadvantaged:
      1. Individuals who come from a family with an annual income below established low-income thresholds. These thresholds are based on family size, published by the U.S. Bureau of the Census; adjusted annually for changes in the Consumer Price Index; and adjusted by the Secretary for use in all health professions programs. The Secretary periodically publishes these income levels online.
      2. Individuals who come from an educational environment such as that found in certain rural or inner-city environments that has demonstrably and directly inhibited the individual from obtaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to develop and participate in a research career.

Publications

Yes, you now need to keep track of every paper every trainee ever published that was based on work done in your lab.  Start now and it’s much less painful than doing it for dozens of trainees years down the road.

  • Different PIs will want different citation styles, so keep your records in the style most comfortable to you. I promise you will not be the only participating faculty member whose publication records have to be reformatted into the style of choice.
  • Remember that every publication accepted after April 2007 that used any NIH grant money for the research involved must have a PMCID to be listed. Getting PMCIDs is beyond the scope of this blog, but go here to learn how you get one.
  • Please, please bold the trainee’s name in the citation. And if you have multiple trainees on one paper, I beg you to copy that bad boy into the record of every one of those trainees rather than assuming one suffices for all.  I have to make a separate row for each trainee on the publications table, so this helps me keep things straight.
  • If a trainee didn’t have any publications from their time in your lab, or is too new to have publications, state “No Publications,” followed by one of these official NIH reasons: New Entrant, Leave of Absence, Change of Research Supervisor, Left Program, or Other.
  • Technically we’re only supposed to report publications for training grant-eligible trainees (US citizen or permanent resident), but on my grants we usually create a supplemental table for publications by non-citizens. It’s worth it to keep track of them all.  Because you have also recorded their citizenship status, you or the staff member compiling the tables can easily figure out who should go where.

These are optional, because they are only reported for applicants to a training program rather than all mentees, but they can be incredibly helpful if this is a new program being proposed and the “applicant pool” consists of the mentors’ trainees:

  • For predocs, their undergrad GPA and months of prior full-time research experience
  • For postdocs, their number of publications and number of first-author publications before they became your trainee
  • For both, what funding they were on each year of their training, including which NIH institute the grant came from. For example, an NHLBI T32 gets listed as “HL T32.”  You can also put down that they were supported by your R01 or startup funds, foundation grants, RA positions, scholarships, or other funding.

Outcomes

PLEASE KEEP TRACK OF WHAT YOUR TRAINEES DO WHEN THEY LEAVE YOU.  Not only do the tables require certain information, but you or whoever’s writing the grant can brag about them in the text!  At minimum, keep track of and update:

  • Their current position, institution, and department (or equivalent for industry jobs)
  • Whether they can currently be classified as “research-intensive,” “research-related,” “further training,” or “other”

This goes into the optional but very helpful bin above: External grant funding they have received since they left you, especially grants where they are PI, but also ones where they’re a Co-I or another role.  The current format requires the year received, role on the grant, and, for NIH, the institute.  It looks like this: HL K23/PI/2014. Or GM R01/Co-I/2017. Or CA P01/Staff Scientist/2013.

Outcomes will need updating at least once a year.  Make sure you get a working email address for your trainees when they leave you!

Use this template and make it easy!

This sounds like a lot, I know.  (Believe me, after compiling it for 60+ faculty in the year when the training tables changed formats and asked for a lot of new information, I know.)  But much of it can be done when the trainee enters your lab, and then you don’t need to do much to it besides a once a year email.  Staff can also do much of the work, especially if you need to catch up on data from past trainees.  And when you submit your tables?  Ask for a copy of them back with all the formatting and filling in of blanks the PI’s staff did.  This will save you a lot of time for the next request.

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