At the Advisory Committee to the Director’s meeting today and yesterday, NIH director Francis Collins, NIH deputy director Lawrence Tabak, and I presented some exciting new initiatives in support of the future of biomedical research.
As I’ve blogged about before, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) formed three working groups to address three important topics in science — harnessing the power of biomedical data and informatics, achieving diversity in the biomedical research workforce, and developing a competitive and sustainable biomedical research workforce. In June, these working groups presented their recommendations, and at the ACD meeting yesterday and this morning, we proposed how NIH would implement them.
Two new initiatives would support the management, analysis and integration of large-scale data and informatics. The Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative seeks to facilitate broad use of biomedical big data through new data sharing policies, catalogs of datasets, and enhanced training for early career scientists entering the new world of big data. The NIH InfrastructurePlus initiative will advance high-performance computing, agile hosting and data storage, and modernization of the NIH network, among other approaches.
In response to the diversity working group recommendations, NIH proposed launching several initiatives to meet the great and important challenge of increasing diversity in the biomedical workforce. Two of the programs focus on enhancing mentoring. For example, a new NIH program called BUilding Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) provides rigorous mentored research experiences for undergraduate students, resources to help faculty train highly effective mentors, and more. NIH also proposed establishing the National Research Mentoring Network to connect students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty with experienced mentors — in-person and virtually — as well as provide relevant workshops and training opportunities in grantsmanship. The BUILD program and NRMN will form a consortium to link trainees and investigators from groups that have been underrepresented in science to majority investigators.
In addition to these programs, NIH would test multiple interventions to assess and mitigate the effects of implicit bias in peer review, including diversity awareness training for both scientific review officers and members of review panels.
To spearhead these efforts, NIH would recruit a chief diversity officer to not only coordinate diversity initiatives, but to oversee a rigorous prospective evaluation of existing extramural and intramural diversity programs, and join NIH’s intramural program as a practicing scientist.
Finally, as co-chair of the working group on the biomedical research workforce, I’m excited to share how NIH plans to support this critical component of the biomedical research enterprise, and improve the training experience of graduate students and postdocs alike. We intend to launch a program to support innovative approaches that expand and complement existing research training to include science-related career outcomes, and also encourage the adoption of individual development plans for all trainees. NIH plans to increase the funding of awards that encourage independence like the K99/R00 and early independence awards, and increase the initial postdoctoral researcher stipend. NIH also intends to embark on novel ways of improving the trainee experience, such as looking more closely at, and soliciting community feedback on, postdocs’ access to workplace benefits.
Additionally, NIH plans to expand our ongoing assessments of the biomedical research workforce, including conducting a follow-up study on clinician scientists, and developing a simple and comprehensive tracking system for trainees. Collecting this data will not only help us with evaluating NIH’s current workforce initiatives and planning our future efforts, but also provides valuable data for those considering careers in biomedical research.
These are all ambitious initiatives which will take some time to refine and implement. As they unfold, I will continue to discuss their details here and in other forums. It’s very satisfying to see how the past two years of work is coming to fruition. I think we’re headed in the right direction, and I am looking forward to your feedback.