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Progress in Meeting NIH’s Biomedical Research Workforce Goals

While many of the NIH Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) on the Biomedical Research Workforce recommendations already have been put into effect (as discussed here on Rock Talk), we continue to follow through on our implementation goals.

One main goal we established was increasing postdoctoral stipends and considering policies on benefits and we have been continuing to support this goal in a number of ways. In February we announced postdoc stipend increases, and in March we began collecting data to inform our understanding of benefits available to postdoctoral fellows. This survey will wrap up this summer, and we will begin our analysis of the results in the fall. A special thank you to those taking the survey as well; 155 institutions submitted complete responses!

Also in March we reissued the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) funding opportunity announcements, expanded NIH institute and center participation in the F30 and F31 training fellowships with the goal that all ICs will participate in these programs.

Another main goal we’re moving forward on is the development of simple and comprehensive tracking systems for trainees. We continue to refine and develop the Fed-wide researcher profile system that we announced in November, SciENcv, and we’ve started collecting information about all students and postdocs working on NIH research grants. Lastly, we are working to automate the tables required with NRSA training grant applications so that it is easier for applicants to complete the required information, and allows us to take advantage of relevant information in the tables for analysis.

Another implementation goal was creating an office in the NIH Office of the Director to assess the biomedical research workforce. Last year we began recruiting staff to provide ongoing modeling and analysis of NIH’s workforce and investments in training. And now I am pleased to announce that we are recruiting for a dual position within my office serving as the lead of this Division of Biomedical Research Workforce, as well as reporting to me as NIH’s chief officer for the Biomedical Research Workforce (BRW). The person selected will have the critical responsibility for leading the development and implementation of NIH training policies and will be a key leader overseeing analyses that elevate our understanding of the biomedical workforce and how it functions, and developing policies to strengthen it. It’s expected that our new hire will work very closely with Dr. Hannah Valantine, the NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity. NIH will be accepting applications through September 15, so I encourage you to read the full announcement and share this information with your colleagues.

I’m excited about how much we have accomplished but there is so much more to do to assure the sustainability of our workforce. I look forward to the future conversations we will be having here and around the country as we delve deeper into workforce issues.  Stay tuned for more updates.

8 thoughts on “Progress in Meeting NIH’s Biomedical Research Workforce Goals

  1. Do you intend to explicitly address the predictable consequences of the collision between the following two NIH policies?

    (1) Inexorably increasing post-doctoral salaries, including those paid by RPGs; many institutions require post-docs paid by RPG funds to match the NRSA stipend scale.

    (2) Inexorably cutting R01 budgets in a desperate attempt to maintain paylines.

    • Couldn’t agree more. With a modular budget giving a fixed budget over 5 years, and the frequent cutting of even this money by NIH throughout the 5 years (e.g sequester etc), its unsustainable to continue to increase post-doc salaries every year. It means hiring only recent graduates (who are cheaper), and losing the last year of effort from a grant. NIH continues to live in a fantasy land. There is major disconnect between what NIH thinks is important (increasing postdoc salaries, more physician scientists, new biosketch etc) and what those of us running active labs thinks is important (lack of money, poor use of the money by NIH). Lets see some innovative thinking up there. How about limiting PI salary support to a max of 50% of salary across all NIH funding and no indirect costs on PI salary. That should free up enough money to pay post-docs a decent wage and fund some more grants.
      Any chance of anyone from Rock Talk commenting? I note that we have this nice blog, but the rock talk team never comment on it. Is this just a place for us to vent and be ignored?

      • Well said!!! The disconnect between NIH priorities and the concerns of the PI’s in the trenches continues to grow. Is anyone at NIH listening??? Or even reading their own blog??? Or like all institutions is this blog just CSR’s attempt to document an established process for “stakeholder input”? and by commenting on this blog are we just serving to validate another empty gesture?

  2. First off, kudos for your efforts to improve conditions for the NIH research workforce. While you are making policy, I have a suggestion that would benefit the greater NIH-funded postdoctoral workforce (not just F32 recipients). Institute a policy that any postdoc being paid from any NIH grant should receive no less than the NRSA minimum in base salary. A friend of mine was hired as a second year postdoc and told she would receive the NIH minimum at his institution. When she arrived, her salary was more than $5,000 dollars below the NIH minimum. A similar thing happened to another friend of mine at a different institution. In both cases, the institutions in question were extremely well-funded by NIH and had a policy on paper to pay all their postdocs the NIH minimum, but the postdocs were afraid to whistleblow. This sends the wrong message. I recognize that there are limits to NIH’s power to control these things, but I believe that instituting a policy at the level of all NIH grants (and verifying the information, e.g. in progress reports) would at least be a first step towards extending the goals of the biomedical workforce task force to the greater postdoc workforce funded by NIH.

  3. I am happy to learn of better salaries and benefits for postdocs. May I recommend a “postdoc” component of the Division of BRW. Perhaps a position open to a scientist(s) that have just completed her/his postdoc. These trainees would have the most recent experiences in the “trenches” and would be able to contribute to policies of training, funding and workforce diversity.

  4. Did the NIH ever set up and staff the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce Programs (DBRWP) on said:

    Did the NIH ever set up and staff the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce Programs (DBRWP)? I can’t seem to find anything about the division online and I was just curious what types of activities they have been working on so far. If the division has not yet been staffed, could you let the research community know what happened with this initiative? I recall this was one of the implementation initiatives from the biomedical workforce report from 2012.

    • Yes, NIH is continuing the activities described in the implementation, and has established the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce Programs within the Office of Extramural Programs in OER. NIH is in the process of hiring a director of this division and we’ll let the community know via Rock Talk/the NIH Extramural Nexus when there is an update.

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