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Supporting Early Career Researchers through Loan Repayment Programs

Developing ways to support early career researchers has been a key goal at NIH for many years. As I’ve discussed here in the past, we have a commitment to support new investigators as they become independent scientists. But there are multiple ways NIH supports people as they transition through the various stages of their research career.

One such type of support is our Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs). For over 10 years, the LRPs have repaid the educational debt of investigators who commit to at least two years of nonprofit biomedical or behavioral research. Program participants receive up to $35,000 per year as long as they pursue clinical, pediatric, health disparities or contraception and infertility research as allowed by the LRP legislation. Initial payments are for two years, and participants may apply for one- or two-year renewals as long as they meet eligibility requirements. These programs are competitive, and participants are evaluated on the research they propose through peer review. Twenty-three of our institutes and centers participate, and LRP funds go directly to our participants’ lenders.

The 2012 application cycle has just been completed. Out of 3,100 applicants, 50% received awards.

LRP Applications and Awards 2012

The programs had 706 first-time awardees, and the average debt for each new recipient was approximately $101,000. As you can see from the chart below, most new recipients had $50,000 or more of educational debt.

New LRP Awardees' Educational Debt

While the LRPs support a variety of doctoral-level researchers, my colleagues at NIH and I have long known that educational debt hits especially hard for medical school graduates, who in 2011 had a median student loan debt of $162,000 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Medical doctorate training complements health research, yet only 15% of MDs enter research careers post-training. An intermediate evaluation suggests that the LRPs are meeting their intended goals. Participants stay in research careers longer, apply for and receive more research grants, and are more likely to become independent investigators.

I’m proud to report that since the beginning of the LRPs, over 15,000 awards have been made for an investment of more than $700 million in this next generation of researchers. If you are eligible for these awards, the 2013 application cycle is open now through November 15 at 8 p.m. ET. To apply or learn more about these programs, visit www.lrp.nih.gov.

We’re in the business of supporting the next generation of biomedical researchers and the LRP program continues to serve as an important avenue for doing this and giving scientists a jump start in their careers.

6 thoughts on “Supporting Early Career Researchers through Loan Repayment Programs

  1. This is an excellent program and I applaud the NIH for continuing it. I just have a couple questions related to its success.
    Q1: The ‘intermediate evaluation’ weblink, above, is based on data from 2003-2007. Do you have data on this program since the start of the Great Recession (ie. 2007-onward)? If so, can you post it?
    Q2: The ‘only 15% of MDs….’ weblink is broken. Could you please update the hyperlink address to access this data? Also, is your quantification of MDs restricted to those individuals graduating from US medical schools or does it take into account postdocs. with an MD from foreign countries , that are currently working on biomedical research in the US? If the latter is true, how are you tracking these individuals?
    Q3: It would be helpful to see the number of PhDs vs. MDs that have been awarded this award. Can you add this data as a graph, above?
    Q4: Can you correlate those recipients of this award with those that have been awarded K-awards? It would be interesting to analyze whether those individuals that are already receiving training support from the NIH are also receiving support through this mechanism.
    Q5: You stated that ‘since the beginning of the LRPs, over 15,000 awards have been made….’. Could you elucidate on this and put the number of awards/year on a graph? This would help us understand if NIH’s support for young researchers is increasing, decreasing or has plateaued.
    Q6: Who peer reviews these applications? Is the selection of applicants biased? If not, how do you control for this?

    • The LRP staff is planning an outcome evaluation to commence in 2014 , but in the meantime you might find the yearly data books of interest and able to answer most of your questions. Please visit the LRP reports and statistics page at http://www.lrp.nih.gov/reports_and_statistics/index.aspx for annual information including awards by doctoral degree and applications, awards and success rates.

      In comparison to K awardees, the LRP intermediate evaluation indicated that the LRPs attract applicants earlier in their research career. Like with training and research grants, NIH Institutes and Centers convene panels of senior, seasoned investigators to review these applications.

      Also, thanks for pointing out the link error — some parts of the RePORT website are currently undergoing maintenance. The link should work when this is completed. Updates regarding maintenance are being posted on the RePORT home page: report.nih.gov

  2. What about those of us with PhD’s? While in graduate school we are able to defer our student loan repayments but then once we entered a postdoctoral position the student loan bills enter repayment. For many of us this offsets any of the meager financial gain that comes with the transition from a graduate student to a post-doc. The NIH should dedicate a portion of future LRPs soley for PhDs. MDs do graduate with a ton of student loan debt, however practicing medicine is also extremely lucrative and there is no shortage of demand for practicing doctors, where as job prospects and financial advantages after obtaining a PhD are abysmally low.

  3. What about fellows who will be leaving their current training institution (or don’t have a position yet) for the second year of funding? While I have no plan of doing anything but clinical research, my institution refuses to sign off on my application because if awarded the LRP, I would only have one year left unless I extended my fellowship. How is this typically handled? Does the NIH ‘care’ when applicants plan on changing institutions so long as the research continues to be approved by NIH?

    • Thanks for asking – we’ve updated the answer to your question: This situation occurs frequently, and in these cases we encourage your institution to contact us directly. LRP contracts are between participants and the NIH, so if your employment changes during the contracted period, you may be able to transfer your award. To do this, you must obtain another qualifying research position and submit updated information for NIH review. Each request will be reviewed by the NIH institute or center that funded your award.

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