Training the Next Generation of Behavior Scientists for Digital Health Research
Cynthia Castro-Sweet, PhD, Digital Health Council (DHC) Member; Heather Cole-Lewis, PhD, DHC chair
The Society of Behavioral Medicine’s (SBM) DHC recently interviewed Dr. Carly Goldstein, Assistant Professor, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University; Dr. Danielle Jake-Schoffman, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UMass Medical School; and Stephanie Goldstein, Doctoral Student, Drexel University, about their perspectives on training for the future of digital health research.
DHC: What do you see as current gaps in digital health training?
Dr. Jake-Schoffman: While many people discuss the value of “team science”, there are few opportunities to practice this in training. Courses or research opportunities where behavioral scientists can gain practical experience on interdisciplinary teams, and more courses in emerging study designs such as optimization frameworks (e.g., Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time-bound (SMART), multiphase optimization strategy (MOST)) would be valuable.
DHC: What resources have you found particularly useful?
Dr. Goldstein: I attend every digital health talk I can at SBM’s 39th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions and Obesity Week. Our field gets hyper-focused on a single health condition when our work should be more translational. I sought out expert mentors at my institution and elsewhere to shape my training and development. Their mentorship has been critical to my career!
DHC: How have professional connections added value to your training?
Stephanie Goldstein: Professional relationships are especially important as the landscapes of technologies and research methods change so quickly. It is helpful to receive guidance from multiple individuals on a particular research or professional issue. They can help facilitate cross-disciplinary contacts for students who may be in programs that are siloed.
DHC: What advice would you offer to trainees in digital health?
Dr. Goldstein: 1) identify numerous mentors to guide your career; 2) apply for grants that allow collaboration with industry like dissertation awards and Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR); 3) develop relationships with industry partners and collaborators within and outside your field; 4) think critically about the technology you use and the technology that is marketed to you; 5) concentrate on doing good science rather than following the most exciting new development.
Stephanie Goldstein: Trainees must be incredibly self-motivated and confident in their goals/needs. Until more integrated programs are developed, folks will likely have to train in a piecemeal fashion. Build a path that contains teams of mentors/collaborators (rather than any one individual). If desired training is unavailable, reach out to your network (or create a network!) to advocate for your needs and see how you can make it a reality. The field greatly benefits from individuals realizing there is an unmet need and rising to meet it.
DHC: Are there any pitfalls to avoid?
Dr. Goldstein: Many digital health collaborators have just as little experience working with academics as we have with them; it is critical to choose your collaborators wisely.
Dr. Jake-Schoffman: Continue to pursue diverse training, even if your specific interests lie in technologies.
Stephanie Goldstein: The fear of taking the time to learn something new can be a major pitfall. A goal of mine is to find the right balance between feasibility (e.g., what I have the time/resources to learn) and challenge.
DHC: How can SBM advance training in digital health?
Dr. Jake-Schoffman: There is still a large training gap for professionals who what to pursue careers outside of academia. It will be critical to continue to offer trainings and panel discussions to explore the best way to bridge this gap, and perhaps offer a formal mentoring program to match industry professionals with behavior science trainees.