In July 2013, NIA welcomed its 27th class of early- and mid-career scientists for a week-long, intensive learning experience about the ins and outs of research on aging.
Watch a video of NIA's 2013 Butler-Williams Scholars Program participants Tonya Taylor, Ph.D., Michael Harris-Love, D.Sc., Joseph Dzierzewski, Ph.D., and Carmen Cantemir-Stone, Ph.D., discussing what seeded their interest in aging research, how the summer program might support their future research goals, and much more.
The Summer Institute on Aging Research, now called the Butler-Williams Scholars Program (see more about the name change below), provides hands-on training on how to succeed in the biomedical research workforce, with a particular slant on how to serve underrepresented populations. It offers participants insight into the grants process and a perspective on NIA’s research priorities.
Participants in the program, who represent a variety of interests and backgrounds, have a unique opportunity to interact with leaders in the fields of basic biology on aging, neuroscience, behavioral and social science, and clinical geriatrics and gerontology. They learn from NIA senior staff as well as leading scientists how to design strong research projects and put together competitive grant applications. They also discuss some of the challenges associated with being a professional scientist and finding a work-life balance.
Two important components of the program are the personalized feedback participants receive about their research project proposals and career guidance tailored to each attendee’s experience and research interests. The penultimate experience of the week is a mock study section, during which participants act as grant reviewers discussing the merits of research proposals and determining what projects they would (hypothetically) fund.
2013 Scholars and NIA staff at the NIH
A New Name: Butler-Williams Scholars Program
The 2013 program closed with a special announcement by NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D., that the Summer Institute has been renamed the Butler-Williams Scholars Program. This change was made in tribute to the legacies of NIA’s first two directors—the late Drs. Robert N. Butler and T. Franklin Williams. Both men were devoted to building a rich, diverse pipeline of researchers in aging, advocating for geriatrics as a medical specialty, and urging medical schools to focus on research and teaching related to the healthcare needs of older people.
Dr. Butler, NIA’s founding director from 1974 to 1982, built the framework for a broad research program in basic, clinical, and behavioral and social research that remains the core of NIA’s research efforts to this day. A geriatric psychiatrist, he drew increased public and research attention to Alzheimer’s disease and dementias.
Dr. Williams, who led NIA from 1983 to 1991, established the Summer Institute on Aging Research, recognizing the importance of cultivating new scientists and ideas. During his tenure, he expanded NIA’s reach by launching several groundbreaking programs, including the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers network; the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study; and the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers, which conduct research on diseases and conditions that threaten independent living.
“Both Dr. Butler and Dr. Williams saw the aging of individuals and society as an opportunity for change and sought to reset our thinking of what advancing age can be,” Dr. Hodes said in an NIA press statement. “I am pleased that their names will be permanently linked to this important and forward-looking program.”