Interdisciplinary Health Research Training: Behavior, Environment, and Biology

Environmental Health Perspectives, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Interdisciplinary Health Research Training: Behavior, Environment, and Biology


This request for applications (RFA) is developed as an NIH Roadmap initiative (described at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/). All NIH institutes and centers participate in Roadmap initiatives. This RFA will be administered by the National institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on behalf of the NIH.

The institutes, centers, and offices of the NIH invite applications for Interdisciplinary Health Research Training: Behavior, Environment, and Biology. This institutional, postdoctoral National Research Service Award (NRSA) will support the establishment of programs that provide formal coursework and research training in a new interdisciplinary field to individuals holding advanced degrees in a different discipline. These training programs are required to include a behavioral or social science discipline, and we are especially interested in programs that integrate the behavioral and/or social sciences with the more traditional biomedical sciences. We encourage the development of programs that accept postdoctoral trainees with varied research backgrounds and provide multiple tracks of research training that enhance each trainee's development of new, interdisciplinary knowledge and skills, while supporting opportunities for trainee interaction and research integration across the research tracks.

The overall goal of NRSA training programs is to ensure that highly trained scientists will be available in adequate numbers and in appropriate scientific areas to carry out the biomedical and behavioral health research agenda of the United States. Many of our most pressing health problems involve disease processes that are influenced by biological, behavioral, and social environment factors. The purpose of this NRSA program is to help ensure the development of a cadre of scientists with the requisite skills and knowledge to integrate multiple scientific approaches and to work in interdisciplinary research teams to solve these complex health problems.

The NIH is engaged in a series of activities collectively known as the "NIH Roadmap" whose goal--in keeping with the NIH mission of uncovering new knowledge about the prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease and disability--is to accelerate both the pace of discovery in these key areas and the translation of therapies from bench to bedside. In the course of developing the NIH Roadmap, it has become clear that increasingly, scientific advances are being made at the interfaces of traditional disciplines, and that approaches to science are becoming more integrative.

This requires a cooperative effort, typically in the form of investigators from diverse research backgrounds working collectively across traditional disciplinary boundaries to answer scientific questions and achieve specific end points. This also requires a workforce capable of crossing disciplinary boundaries and leading and participating in integrative and team approaches to complex health problems. Building research teams for the future has therefore emerged as one of the major themes in Roadmap implementation.

The NIH is particularly interested in developing a new interdisciplinary research workforce. An interdisciplinary approach is distinguished from a multidisciplinary approach in that a multidisciplinary approach brings experts from diverse disciplines to address collectively a common complex problem, each from his or her unique perspective. By contrast, an interdisciplinary approach is what results from the melding of two or more disciplines to create a new (interdisciplinary) science. Biophysics, biostatistics, bioinformatics, bioengineering, social neuroscience, biodemography, behavioral economics, and psychoneuroimmunology are just some of the examples of existing interdisciplinary sciences. The NIH recognizes the value and enormous contributions that existing interdisciplinary approaches have made and continue to make to our understanding of health, disease, and disability. …

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