In an effort to make data associated with doctoral students and post-doctoral graduates in the life sciences more accessible and transparent, nine universities and a cancer research institute decided to take action. They formed the Coalition for Next Generation Life Science, known as the NGLS Coalition, in 2017. Since then, the coalition has grown to include 51 members, including Virginia Tech, via the Graduate School.

The coalition’s primary goal is sharing data and encouraging members and other institutions to make data both more accessible and more transparent. While institutions develop their own coalition-associated pages on their website, the data they share include several common criteria, such as admission and matriculation through programs associated with life sciences; median time to degree and completion; demographic information on students and graduates by gender, underrepresented minority status, and citizenship status; and post-doctoral and career outcomes identified by industry and career type.

Kacy Lawrence, director of assessment and strategic data initiatives at the Graduate School, said Virginia Tech was among the first universities to be invited to join the coalition when it expanded beyond the founding members in October 2018. The goals shared among coalition members include an effort to provide data that help prospective students and graduates make better informed decisions about what institutions they wish to attend, the programs that align best with their goals, and where graduates find jobs or advance their careers.

The challenge to improve data collection, sharing, and transparency has gained momentum during the past two decades, according to the NGLS Coalition website. Institutions faced claims that they trained scientists only for academic institutions and research centers and did not share information about other potential employment opportunities outside the academy. Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw, who has long advocated preparing students for careers within and beyond the academy, said she was pleased Virginia Tech was invited to join the coalition.

“Membership has prompted us to collect and share our data with faculty colleagues as well as current and future graduate students," DePauw said. “I see data accessibility and transparency as helping to inform the decisions graduate students make as they pursue their career aspirations.”

This challenge emerged from a widespread concern that institutions primarily train scientists for academic research careers and that trainees are not aware of the full range of research careers available both inside and outside of academia, contributing to a host of well-documented issues in the biomedical workforce, including growing delays in the launching of independent research careers. With this data, trainees can make better informed choices about their ultimate training and career paths, and institutions can better prepare trainees for the broad array of careers that await them.

“We’re starting to see a better dialogue,” Lawrence said. “We need to be training our Ph.D.s for careers beyond the academy.”

Virginia Tech’s data webpage shares much of the same information as its fellow coalition members, but Lawrence said the university does not have a great deal of information on where students go after they obtain their Ph.Ds. “We really don’t have it, but the programs may be tracking their graduates,” she said. “The push to share this data for the life sciences has led the Graduate School to visualize more data for all of its graduate programs.”

Lawrence said the university also is reviewing various tools that will provide better information on career outcomes for students at all levels.  

DePauw said better data collection and analysis will help Virginia Tech make informed decisions to improve graduate programs across the university, and will enable the university to evaluate its programs in comparison with other leading U.S. universities.

The following Virginia Tech doctoral programs' data is shared on the NGLS Coalition website. The hyperlink takes you to the data page on the Graduate School's By-the-numbers NGLS Coalition page so you can see what the university shares: