Results of Our Biomedical Research Workforce Request for Information


As you may remember from previous blog posts Jan. 31, 2011 and June 3, 2011, a working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director began studying the biomedical research workforce and published a request for information asking for input last fall.

Today, we posted a report summarizing the comments. I will give you a couple of highlights in this post, but I encourage you to read the report—I found it very interesting.  We received input from more than 200 commenters, the majority of whom provided personal input (75%). Twenty percent of the commenters responded on behalf of organizations. The comments addressed all the issues described in the request for information, as well as some additional ones (see asterisks below). As you can see, questions of supply and demand and characteristics of the PhD received the most comments.

Distribution of Primary Issues. *Issue not specified in the request for information but raised by commenters.

Commenters were asked to indicate the most important issue(s) for the working group to address. The following table shows the differences in the prioritization of issues by individual and organizational respondents.

Self Organization
Supply and Demand PhD Characteristics
PhD Characteristics Clinician Characteristics
Biomedical Research Career Appeal Post-doc Training Characteristics
Post-doc Training Characteristics Supply and Demand
Clinician Characteristics Biomedical Research Career Appeal
Effects of NIH Policies Staff Scientist Career Track
Diversity Diversity
Mentoring Effects of NIH Policies
Staff Scientist Career Track Training to Research Grant Ratio
Industry Partnership Early Educational Interventions
Early Educational Interventions Mentoring
Training to Research Grant Ratio Industry Partnership

On each of these issues, the report describes the major comments and outlines specific recommendations for NIH action. In general, commenters suggested that most of the issues discussed are inter-related and are important for a sustainable biomedical workforce. A set of secondary issues that were mentioned in many of the responses were analyzed for each primary issue to help describe the overlap.

The working group is incorporating these responses in their deliberations as they consider their recommendations for a sustainable biomedical infrastructure. I will continue to update you as their activities progress.


  1. Alex, you are right on the money. This whole NIH grant funding system is fatally flawed! Basically, grants are eaten up by salaries, with little or no money left to do the work that the grant was originally funded for!!! Look at all the institutions with faculty on soft money, they need at minimum 2 grants that are over the modular budget of 250K to cover their salary and the salaries of their staff. The NIH is basically functioning as the employer and the institutions are benefiting with no commitment at all (all UCs, all Ivy league institutions and all private institutes operate this way!) In addition, I am not against making money but the NIH needs to check on the numbers of faculty that are double dipping their salaries, for example, they have a VA appointment and an academic appointment at the neighboring university. Their VA grant is administered through the VA and their RO1s are administered through the academic institution. If you add up effort, it is well over 100% sometimes as high as 200% in some cases. They are basically drawing two separate salaries for the same effort! No one is keeping track and they get away with this by design.

    I feel that the NIH should consider getting rid of funding PI salaries, I know this doesn’t sound attractive at all, and would be a death knell to all soft money positions, but come on, like the real estate bubble, this system is not sustainable at all! Too many PIs abuse the system and have overly inflated salaries with the help of NIH funds. The NIH needs to examine the bang for the buck so to speak. How many publications and what progress was actually made on the previous grant, etc.. Study sections are not very reliable, they generally protect their friends and help scratch each other’s back so to speak. The current review system is an absolute abomination and designed to benefit those connected and already established. What needs to happen is that grant review must also change, grants also need to be looked at for the science alone, and remove the intangibles, meaning, perhaps blinded with no consideration of the PI in the proposal only the proposed science. Leave the decisions about the budget, the institution, the investigator, etc. to an internal review committee etc., not to study section. More often than not on panel, you see discussions about grants based on perceptions of the investigator and the environment, and not on the science being proposed, in my opinion this is utter BS!!!! These are intangibles and purely opinion in my mind and cloud the perception of what is being proposed scientifically (this translates to an established scientist proposing work out of their expertise, but given a pass based on their perception, reputation, connections, etc, and a new investigator that is isn’t established, being shot down because they lack expertise for proposing similar work !!!)
    Also, I agree the funding levels for intramural investigators are overly inflated and a major joke! Wake up NIH!!! Pay attention the house is being robbed and you are letting it happen!!!!

    1. Everybody but administrators at major research universities (mouth attached to NIH teat) and NIH-addicted soft money biomedical researchers (writing NIH grant applications for a living) knows that the current NIH policy on paying “investigator” salaries is insane. NIH is a jobs program, pure and simple.

  2. Is it just me, or does this article just give a list of areas with no actual data or recommendations?

    1. This may help clarify—the report linked above is a summary of public comments we received in response to the request for information. The “NIH action recommendations” describe recommendations made by the public not the working group. The working group will take these responses into account when developing their final recommendations.

  3. While I’m sure that LSL has seen double dipping and other abuse, I have seen no evidence of it at my institution and doubt that it is widespread. In principle, it is a good idea for universities to pay their faculty. In reality, states are cutting back on funding for public universities and their is intense pressue to keep tuition low. It is therefore not realistic to cut PI funding at this time. Furthermore, PI salaries at my institution are not what I would call generous. Ph.D. investigators do not have the opportunity to supplement income with clinical practice and do not get generous pay raises as they advance in their careers. Additionally, most basic science researchers cannot attract grants from private foundations. Absent a massive shift in the public’s perception of research, the NIH will remain the only game in town. It is imperative to continue tweaking the review system to improve fairness.

  4. Sally! being a young researcher in pharmacology am inspired by your profile. By the way, i see another type of problem in research grants utilization from funding bodies other than NIH. The time taken to receive the funds by the researcher in terms of salary and expenses for research accessories is very delayed leading to loss of valuable time..

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