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June 13, 2019: Establishing Education and Training for the Young Field of Translational Science

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam. If there isn’t a path, make one.

I struggled in college and medical school because the path I wanted to follow didn’t exist. Neuroscience, data science, bioinformatics and many other fields we have today had yet to be born. It’s often true that the fields you train in may not be the ones in which you ultimately work. This adage certainly applies to translational science, which can trace its birthday to December 23, 2011—the date NCATS was created.

Like any young field, translational science is exciting, dynamic and full of opportunity. But those of us who practice it now were trained in some other field—in my case, basic genetics and clinical neurology. So in addition to innovating in the science and operation of translation, NCATS needs to help our field conceptualize the characteristics that define a translational scientist. We also need to implement education and training programs to provide the required knowledge, skills and attitudes to aspiring translational scientists at the undergraduate, graduate, early career and established career levels. NCATS is taking an intentional team-based and experimental approach to translational science education.

Two important developments this week will advance our educational mission. The first is the release of a new NCATS educational video—geared toward current and potential trainees—about translational science. The second is the publication of a consensus paper on the fundamental characteristics of a translational scientist by Translation Together, a global collaboration of translational science organizations working to advance the science and understanding of biomedical translation. NCATS is a partner in Translation Together. The seven traits of a translational scientist that we identified are boundary crosser, team player, process innovator, domain expert, rigorous researcher, skilled communicator and systems thinker. The paper provides a framework for the field’s culture and values. 

Because it is so new, the concept of translational science can be difficult to understand. I invite you to share the video and paper with your friends and colleagues to help raise awareness of translational science and inspire young scientists to pursue a career in this exciting and growing field.

These new products complement the catalog of knowledge and skills offered through the translational research curricula developed by the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program, the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network (RDCRN), NCATS and NIH. NCATS’ CTSA Program has a broad and deep innovative translational education program, which I have written about frequently. But several CTSA Program hubs—including those at Yale, University of Rochester, Mayo Clinic and the University of Wisconsin–Madison—have gone beyond individual competency training to pioneer the development of formalized Ph.D. programs in clinical and translational science. This important step is essential for creating the new academic discipline of translational science that embodies the knowledge, skills, attitudes and culture particular to scholarship in our new field.

Ten years from now, I hope graduating seniors will hear the advice that “the field you ultimately work in may not currently exist, but that doesn’t matter because translational science is the place to be!”

Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences

Last updated on October 12, 2023