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Keeping Up With the Biomedical Research Workforce Initiative

Over the past two years I’ve frequently discussed the recommendations from the NIH Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) on the Biomedical Research Workforce. I know there’s been loads of information coming from us about how we are implementing these recommendations. I’m happy to share our new website that compiles all of this biomedical workforce initiative information.

You can read about the background of the task force, and track progress for the seven main implementation areas.  We include links to the relevant NIH Guide policy notices and funding opportunities for the activities resulting from task force recommendations, and timelines so that you can see when changes or new programs were announced, or are expected to take place.

On the background page we’ve also included reports summarizing the two Requests for Information (RFI) we posted to seek research community input on implementation activities.  Most recently we’ve published the summary of responses from the February call for comments. Below is a word cloud of the summary of responses so you can get a flavor of the content and sentiment of the feedback, and I’m happy the community has been so responsive to the issues we have raised.

Access the data and text used to generate this graphic at , and for the full report with narrative summaries, visit the new biomedical research workforce website, biomedicalresearchworkforce.nih.govYou’ll see from the new website how your suggestions are incorporated into our implementation plans. To give you a quick review of the many things we have done in such a short time, implementation includes the BEST program, encouragement of IDPs, all NIH institutes participating in F30s and F31sextending Commons IDs to students, and further down the road using SciENcv (whew!).

We’ll continue to update as workforce activities unfold, so check it out and stay tuned.

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6 thoughts on “Keeping Up With the Biomedical Research Workforce Initiative

  1. One’s gotta love government. Success’ rates at an old time low, competition for grants is as fierce as ever, the biomedical workforce is terribly out of balance (massive overproduction of PhDs). In short, there is a crisis going on, particularly for young PhDs who have yet to secure a job in such an environment.

    And the NIH’s response to the crisis: We have a new website!

    Thanks. I am sure that’s gonna take of the problem.

  2. The two previous comments are dead on. The real issue is too many PhDs chasing too few grant dollars or jobs. Supply and demand are not in balance. How is the NIH going to address the overproduction of PhDs? Doesn’t the NIH see that its grant policies encourage the overproducion of PhDs?

  3. A recent Science Careers piece quoted Tilghman as being “cynical”, apparently about the chances for any significant changes being made. This was related to the apparent refusal of the ACD to even consider pushing postdoctoral trainees off R-mech support and onto training mechanisms. There was a PI quote about this hurting their “flexibility” or some such. Flexibility to hire foreign PhDs? To keep the supply/demand balance on the side of those doing the hiring? Can you provide any insight as to why this is such a nonstarter from the NIH perspective?

  4. How will the NIH address the problem of overproduction of grad students and postdocs for an ever decreasing number of permanent positions?

    It seems to me that the NIH has been reluctant to make wholesale changes to address this problem which has been going on for many years. The problem was perhaps not as visible in a growing economy of years past when freshly minted PhDs and disheartened postdocs had reasonable employment opportunities away from Academia, particularly in other research settings. The NIH likes to tout that only 2% of Biomedical PhDs are unemployeed, but is the number at all accurate when the NIH biomedical workforce report indicated that they really don’t have a solid idea of how many postdocs are even employed in the first place (a range of ~30,000-60,000). What the NIH does not like to discuss is why they have allowed the wages for the non-permanent workforce (ie grad students and postdocs) to become no longer even close to fair compensation for the level of training required to hold these positions. For instance, in NYC, a postdoc making NRSA minimum (which by the way nearly every NYC institute uses as their pay lines for postdocs) with an unemployed spouse or even more likely a spouse at home taking care of a child (as NYC childcare is not affordable on postdoc stipend; would equal 50% of annual pay) qualifies for low income housing. By low income housing, I do not mean subsidized housing that universities offer (which by the way are also quite unreasonably high in NYC for postdocs), I mean low income housing that the city of NY offers to the working poor, provided the family meets certain annual low income requirements (ie NRSA postdoc minimum for one working postdoc and unemployed spouse/or stay at home spouse and child). The NIH would probably say that the NRSA stipend levels are merely “suggested wages” and that its up to the universities to set their own compensation levels, and for the case of postdocs funded by T32s and F32s that PIs could find unique ways of increasing this compensation through non-NIH sources. This is truly a cowardly position that the NIH takes. The NIH should no longer stand by and allow this to happen. The NIH should stop meagerly increasing NRSA levels every few years and instead make a radical change. Rip the band-aid off and actually do something. My suggestion: The NIH increases the NRSA levels next year by 150% with year to year increases afterwards that keep pace with COLA. There will probably be a large backlash from this post with people saying that with funding levels so low something this drastic will lead to a lot of PIs being forced to terminate postdocs, give up on whole research areas, or even close down their labs. I would say to counter this argument that things are not ok the way they are, things have not been ok for a number of years, and the outlook under the current system only looks to be getting significantly worse. Perhaps this radical of a change will force universities to reevaluate the number of graduate students they enroll and will force universities to start kicking in more of their annual profits ( ie generated from their increasing number of patents) to actually help sustain the research driving these increasing profits.

  5. Bottom line, the NIH is being acting irresponsibly and misallocating Federal funds. Their actions are severly distorting the labor market and discouraging young Americans from STEM careers.

    As such, as a taxpayer, I cannot support giving tax money to the NIH. I will call my Representatives and share these views with them.

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