Entry of new investigators into the ranks of independent, NIH-funded researchers is essential to the health of this country’s biomedical research enterprise. I believe they bring fresh ideas and technologies to existing biomedical research problems, and they pioneer new areas of investigation. Over the years, NIH has created special programs to assist new investigators in obtaining independent research funding. These programs have resulted in the recruitment of more new investigators; however, new investigators are often still many years past their degree-conferral date. Recently, we have focused our attention on encouraging earlier transitions into independent research careers by developing programs that focus specifically on early stage investigators (those researchers that are within a set number of years of their terminal degree). By shifting new investigator incentives to those at earlier career stages, we hope to shorten the prolonged periods of training.
Beginning in fiscal year 2009, NIH pledged to support new investigators on R01 awards at success rates equivalent to that of established investigators submitting new R01 applications. We continued this policy in fiscal year 2010, and based on preliminary data, we successfully reached our goal. More than 30 percent of all investigators receiving competing R01-equivalent awards were new investigators, replicating entry rates for new investigators that have not been seen since 1987. It also appears that the average age of new investigators with a PhD has leveled off at slightly less than 42 years.
I can assure you that the NIH remains committed to the support of a stable and sustainable scientific workforce. With innovative ideas, optimism, energy, and fresh perspectives, early stage investigators are an absolutely critical component of the groundbreaking work required to improve the health of our nation. I look forward to the coming year and working with you in partnership to enhance opportunities for tomorrow’s scientific workforce.