Rock Talk

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Your Chance to Weigh in on the Biomedical Research Workforce Initiative

As I noted in my last post on the K99/R00 program and predoctoral fellowships, we have made some progress on implementing some of the recommendations proposed by the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) working group that studied the biomedical research workforce.

There are many more components to this complex initiative, as described in the plan I presented to the ACD in December. Implementation of these plans may have a far-reaching effect on the NIH and on you as biomedical researchers supported by NIH.  Therefore, as we move forward with these recommendations, it is important that we incorporate your input. Information about your experiences, at both the personal and institutional levels, will be invaluable as we consider the best ways to proceed.

To this end, we have just published a Request for Information (RFI) in the NIH Guide seeking input on several topics:

  • Developing Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for those in graduate and postdoctoral training supported by NIH funds from any source.
  • The length of time NIH should provide support for graduate students.
  • Benefits for postdocs.
  • Gathering information about individuals receiving NIH support for their training.
  • Reporting by institutions of aggregate career outcomes of graduate students and postdoctorates on a public web site.
  • Considering multiple career outcomes as indicators of success when reviewing training grants.
  • Launching a dialogue with the extramural biomedical research community to assess how NIH supports the biomedical community, including faculty salaries.

The RFI contains additional information about our thinking on each of these topics, as well as a link to the website where you can submit comments. I strongly encourage you to respond to the RFI and suggest you ask your colleagues to do so as well. The more information we get the better we will be able to craft policies that serve the community and achieve the goal of improve the training experience of graduate students and postdocs.

Note that while I always read your comments to Rock Talk, we will not be able to incorporate them into the RFI responses so please respond directly to the RFI.

9 thoughts on “Your Chance to Weigh in on the Biomedical Research Workforce Initiative

  1. I think that the NIH needs to be flexible on the amount of time that graduate students are funded. Some types of research, such as work with mouse and rat models, take inherently more time to complete and we do not want to discourage students from entering such fields of research, as these in vivo studies can give tremendous insight into the pathogenesis of human disease..

  2. There is now a serious oversupply of students who do not have a chance to become independent researchers. This reflects what is, in effect, a pyramid scheme to ensure cheap labor for research labs. This is immoral and must stop. In addition, funding of an excess number of training slots in the U.S. sends economic competition to other countries. We need urgently to take several steps to remedy the current state:
    1. Limit the number of funded students per senior investigator (suggest no more than two).
    2. Limit the total duration of funding per student to three years.
    3. Limit each trainee to one supported post-doctoral period of no more than two years, regardless of the source of support.
    4. Require detailed progress reports annually outlining the steps each student or post-doc has taken toward completion of their training and dissertation requirements.
    5. Limit each investigator to a single post-doc at a time.
    6. Increase the number of K99/R00 awards.
    7. Increase funding for “career scientist” positions in labs. These positions would be for scientists working in the laboratories of senior investigators, rather than simply paying for more doctoral students and post-docs.
    8. Limit all pre- and post-doctoral support to U.S. citizens or persons with a permanent residency visa.
    9. Create an award similar to K99/R00 to transition people from graduate and post-doctoral positions to either career scientist of career educator roles.

  3. While the above plan is laudable, it does not address the central problem: there is not enough grant money to fund the research enterprise in this country. The training plan idea will only add to the paperwork associated with grants and largely do little else. Limiting funding of graduate students on NIH grants will squelch the flow of international students that our system requires; especially since indigenous students trained by our educational system are generally unprepared for a research career. If there were sufficient funds for new faculty positions, there would not be a backlog of post-doctoral fellows and thus their issues with benefits would be minor because they would have a real job. These proposed solutions are window-dressing on a problem that could be solved by sustained paylines.
    Alternatively, we could cut the number of trainees allowed to enter the system and thus lessen the pool of future scientists. This solution seems short-sighted since one can never truly predict who will be a contributor.
    Frankly two factors will change these problems, given the present funding environment: the retirement of senior researchers and the repatriation of many of our international trainees as their home countries improve opportunities to do research. It is a shame that while these too factors will lessen our present problems, they will also affect our competitiveness on the international stage. Catch 22.

  4. The new K99/R00 guidelines have already been posted and are going into effect Feb 2014. How are our comments here or on your other blog “weighing in” and having a chance to vocalize our concerns, if the decision has already been made?

  5. I found this weigh-in site AFTER I saw today’s (3-22-2013) release of the NOT-OD-13-050 notice about the changes that WILL NOW BE HAPPENING to the K99/R00 award mechanism. I was aware of the *proposed* changes based on an early Rock Talk post, and, like some who had commented there, I had hoped to weigh in on the topic.
    So, what exactly was the point of setting up this comment page if it was (a) not widely publicized to postdocs, and (b) the few comments on it were disregarded anyway?

    I also think it is somewhat cruel and short-sighted that current 4th-year postdocs who may have been planning an October 2013 new submission followed by a (realistic) July 2014 resubmission in their 5th year have been left out in the cold. There really should be an exception for resubmissions extending from new October proposals…a “Late resubmission in December 2013″ exception will NOT help – October 2013 new submissions would likely not even be reviewed yet, and those applicants will be barred from even a March 2014 resubmission by the new 4-year guidelines.

  6. Previously NIH published a request for information (RFI) to get community feedback as part of the ongoing work of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director Working Group on the Future Biomedical Research Workforce. While this currently open RFI is targeted to the topics described in the post and in the Notice, we welcome your comments on K99 changes in response to it, as well.

  7. Pingback: Give Input on NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Plans – NIGMS Feedback Loop Blog - National Institute of General Medical Sciences

  8. Here are my comments on the key points:
    1. Developing Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for those in graduate and postdoctoral training supported by NIH funds from any source.
    We as PIs already have 100X more regulatory requirements then we did 10 years ago. For example, it takes four months just to get IACUC approval and 80 hours to write and rewrite the protocols. I spend hundreds of hours a year filling out regulatory paperwork and reports for NIH regulations, and there is no money to support this part of my job or a person to do this for me. So NO, NO, NO, I am not for more requirements, more plans, more oversight, more reports of and for trainees. There need to be less government requirements so we have time to do research and mentor the trainees.

    2. The length of time NIH should provide support for graduate students.
    The length of time for graduate students has increased over the years. This is due to the increasing requirements of journals and reviewers for more and more data for one paper. For example, Fig 1 of our most recently submitted manuscript would have been an entire paper in Oncogene or Cancer Research 10 years ago. Consequently, NIH needs to support the students longer than they have in the past; averages are now 6-7 years for a PhD, instead of 4-5 years as they were when I was in graduate school 20 years ago. Postdoc too are increasing in time and NIH still only gives 3 year grants to them; this tooo should be increased to 4-5 years.

    3. Benefits for postdocs.
    Yes, NIH or institutions should pay for benefits for postdocs as most are now married with families, since it takes longer to get a PhD and longer to complete a postdoc. However, benefits are now coming out of our ever decreasing R01. Benefits should be separate from direct costs of an R01 and be extra that is included as indirects. Subtract the benefits from the indirects.

    4. Gathering information about individuals receiving NIH support for their training.
    This could be good or bad depending on what you gather and how you use it. If you use it to make more rules and requirements for PIs and institutions, then NO.

    5. Reporting by institutions of aggregate career outcomes of graduate students and postdoctorates on a public web site.
    NO, this should not be done. There is already huge pressure to not kick graduate students or postdocs out of programs when some clearly cannot do the job. This would also create some bizarre competition between institutions for so called “success rates” when they only think success is a faculty position in academia.

    6. Considering multiple career outcomes as indicators of success when reviewing training grants.
    Yes, not every trainee is going to or should be a faculty member. This is not a good measure of success of a program.

    7. Launching a dialogue with the extramural biomedical research community to assess how NIH supports the biomedical community, including faculty salaries.
    NIH should require institutions to cover 100% of the salaries of their faculty. We work for the institutions not NIH. Moreover, we have to compete with PIs whose salary is 100% covered by their institutions, whereas I have to cover my own salary out of NIH grants. This means my competitors have lots more money to due research and hire more people. However, I doubt NIH will ever make institutions pay for PIs. The best we can hope for is for NIH to cap salary coverage to $60-80,000, but less than $50,000 would be better.

  9. Dr. Rockey,

    It has now been several months since the NIH released their findings from the RFI about graduate and postdoctoral training. What is the NIH planning on doing with this feedback? I am a postdoc who is eager to know if the NIH will equalize benefits for all postdocs regardless of funding streams. Currently, because I was successful enough to obtain an NIH NRSA F32 fellowship I earn less money than “employee” postdocs at my institute due to having to report my benefits as income and pay taxes on them. I have spoken with many other postdocs about this issue and have found that many postdocs on fellowships are not offered health care benefits at all, while at the same institute “employee” postdocs receive reasonable benefits. I implore the NIH to fix this issue. This is more than just a policy issue, this is a humanitarian issue.

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