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There are a range of formats for programs that can suit different goals and needs in an RCR program. Here are just a handful of general format types to consider.
A. Short Course or Single Workshop
The length of a program must balance practical concerns with pedagogical theory. While a program that is too short may not have sufficient depth, it is also important to remember that postdocs are busy and their primary responsibility is producing research results. Thus, keeping the program to a manageable length, such as a short course or a weekend workshop, can increase your attendance. Shorter programs like this can be effective if they are devoted to a particular topic – such as preparing a protocol for human subjects review board – or if they are connected to a comprehensive program that grounds the course in a larger context.
Such courses should also attempt to make the information pertinent and engaging to postdocs using the active learning methods. Some suggested techniques:
Some Examples of Courses:
B. Course or Workshop Series
A shorter program often can be more effective if it is part of a longer series. The advantage of a series of programs allows learning over longer periods of time and links individual programs to a broader picture. This could include regular meetings over a year-long course or periodic seminars held over a year or more throughout a postdoc’s career. Creating a series can also create some flexibility for postdocs who may not be able to attend all the workshops. Multiple events may also allow for smaller class sizes, which can foster more individualized instruction that adapts to varying backgrounds and learning styles. Another advantage of having a comprehensive program or series of events can allow for different types of formats to be used, for example discussion groups, lecturing, or peer teaching, which can serve to reinforce the material through these different venues.
C. Occasional Seminar or Brown Bag Discussion
Holding an informal series of events has some of the same advantages of linking shorter programs to a large context with a coherent theme and curriculum. The less formal nature, however, can allow postdocs to attend when time permits and avoids the stigma of merely “checking a box” for a requirement. In particular, brown bag events that take place over lunchtime make use of existing “downtime” for postdocs and so may increase attendance and participation. They also offer the opportunity to integrate RCR topics with other professional development opportunities such as networking with senior faculty.
D. Computer-based or Online Courses
A number of institutions have developed online modules for RCR training. Such online modules can provide a good base for designing a course – and avoiding reinventing the wheel – and they can make the information easily accessible. In practice, they can be useful for teaching a set of policies or rules; however, typically they are not as effective at engaging postdocs in the more subtle aspects of scientific integrity as in-person, interactive learning techniques.
E. Non-Traditional Training Formats
The formats included above highlight only a few of the more common approaches. There are many opportunities for creativity when designing these programs and developers should continue to experiment and think outside the box. For example, talking to postdocs about their interests and needs could reveal new approaches or topics. The RCR education community also continues to innovate so watch for conferences or programs that highlight these ideas and innovations. The ORI website and the RCR INSTRUCTION listserv at NIH are great sources for information, as are the other articles in the NPA RCR Toolkit.
- RCR Orientation for International Postdocs
- Train-the-Trainers sessions for teaching postdocs to teach RCR to graduate students
- Embed in professional and career development activities:
Whatever form your program takes, the NPA can provide technical assistance to help you reach your postdoc audience. Be sure to consult the other articles in the RCR Toolkit, or contact the NPA Project Manager directly. Additional program descriptions are listed on the NPA's RCR for Postdocs page. Also, if you would be interested in sharing the details of your program, the NPA is always looking for additional models to feature in the toolkit. Contact NPA Staff for further details.
Please complete a short feedback questionnaire on the toolkit and tell us how it might be improved!