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NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Initiative

At the Advisory Committee to the Director meeting last week, NIH Principal Deputy Director Dr. Larry Tabak presented a new NIH initiative to strengthen the biomedical workforce. This presentation followed extensive discussions with stakeholders both here through this blog, at stakeholder meetings, and at NIH advisory council meetings over the last month. We heard unequivocal endorsements for supporting early-career and mid-career researchers given the hypercompetitive funding environment — a challenge we have addressed many times in our blog posts. However, many voiced concerns about our taking a formulaic approach to capping grant funding and called on us to be more direct in enabling greater support for the next generation of biomedical researchers.

For this reason, we have shifted our approach to a focused initiative to support early- and mid-career investigators. As described in a June 8 NIH Director’s statement, and in recognition of the call for such action in the 21st Century Cures Act, we are naming this effort the Next Generation Researchers Initiative. We will take a multi-pronged approach to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators and stabilize the career trajectory of scientists. We describe these approaches on a new web page that we will continue to update. Our activities address both research workforce stability, and evaluation of our investments in research. In brief, NIH will:

  • commit substantial funds from NIH’s base budget, beginning this year with about $210 million, and ramping to approximately $1.1 billion per year after five years (pending availability of funds) to support additional meritorious early-stage investigators and mid-career investigators
  • create a central inventory and track the impact of NIH institute and center funding decisions for early- and mid-career investigators with fundable scores to ensure this new strategy is effectively implemented in all areas of research
  • place greater emphasis on current NIH funding mechanisms aimed at early- and mid-career investigators
  • aim to fund most early-career investigators with R01 equivalent applications that score in the top 25th percentile
  • encourage multiple approaches to develop and test metrics that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of our research portfolio, and assess the impact of NIH grant support on scientific progress, to ensure the best return on investment

Applicants do not need to do anything special to be eligible for this funding consideration. Beginning this fiscal year, the NIH institute or center (IC) who would fund the grant will give your application special consideration for support if you are:

  • an early-stage investigator (within 10 years of completing your terminal research degree or medical residency and have not previously received a substantial independent NIH research award) and receive a score in the top 25th percentile (or an impact score of 35 if the application is not percentiled)
  • a mid-career investigator (within 10 years of receiving your first NIH R01 equivalent award) who scores in the 25th percentile, and either:
    • are at risk of losing all support, or,
    • are a particularly promising investigator currently supported by a single ongoing award (i.e, NIH will prioritize funding an additional concurrent research project grant award)

NIH ICs make funding decisions to support their mission, and this plan provides flexibility in how ICs will meet the NIH-wide goal of supporting highly scoring early-stage and mid-career researchers. Each IC will make its decisions about how it will prioritize funding to support this initiative.

As further details are announced, we will be updating the Next Generation Researchers Initiative web page with this information. In the meantime, we encourage you to read the NIH Director’s statement, and look at the Advisory Committee to the Director presentation and webcast recording.

We appreciate your feedback in addressing the very important issue of stabilizing the biomedical research workforce. Your comments to this blog (or via email, if preferred) are welcome. With the continued input from individuals at every career stage, as well as research institutions and other stakeholders, we can work together to make changes that ensure the long-term stability and strength of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, and that advance science to improve health for all.

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103 thoughts on “NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Initiative

  1. These are excellent ideas. Much better than the previous attempts.

    I particularly like that help will be given both to new investigators AND to struggling mid-career investigators.

    However, will the 10 year time limit take into account various potential reasons for gaps? That is, will the 10 years be 10 physical years or 10 “work years”. For example, if someone takes 5 years off to raise (let’s be honest, usually her) kids, will that person have lost 5 years of their 10 year time limit?

    • Completely agree with this! Using years as exclusionary criteria is punitive for various reasons, one due to the known gender discrepancies w/mid career scientist trajectories and two, perhaps the investigator had other types of funding since the first R01 that supported their research program.

  2. It is a great initiative by NIH. Also, wondering where small businesses fall into this program?
    Similar to academics, there are small businesses who would have got SBIR grants. They need to sustain the program.

    Are there any opportunities in this program

    Thanks

  3. This is a great idea in principle but it has 2 critical flaws, both revolving around the fact that the NIH budget is a zero sum game.. 1) If the money for this new program doesn’t come from NIH wealthy as it did in the proposed Grant Support Index,it risks simply rearranging the zero grant PIs, removing money from one small 1-2 grant lab to fund a different one. 2) By restricting the new funds to relatively junior folks, it risks creating an even larger pool of mid/senior folks who lose their 1 grant to provide the money for those who get a grant through this mechanism. If we don’t have a policy like the GSI or the NIGMS 750K policy which caps investigator funding, we’ll never make progress. Consider emailing Drs. Collins, Lauer and Lorsch to express your thoughts and consider signing the petition on this matter

    • This commenter is correct that this has potential to seriously harm current investigators with modest sized labs as it will certainly result in even lower pay lines in a flat funding climate. This initiative does not make sense without GSI, NIGMS type cap or all institutes adding a MIRA type program for those beyond 10 years with established long term productivity but who are not piling on awards. Petitions are now circulating to instead revisit rather than eliminate GSI. GSI was a more practical solution to broaden the research base at NIH while this proposal has serious potential for negative unintended consequences.

    • This is an extremely valid point that the Council is ignoring. Someone on this message board pointed out that the Council is packed with multi-grant funded PIs (can you say conflict of interest?) so they don’t care if you rob Peter to to pay Paul, as long as the Peter is not any of them. The NIH has to put a cap on funding for each investigator just like certain branches of the VA allows only one Merit Award per investigator – without such a cap this problem will never be solved, and the rich PIs will continue to stay rich and get even richer at the expense of the vast majority of other capable PIs.

    • Really, the main people to email are the members of Congress who should represent you, and especially if your Senator or Congressperson is on the Appropriations Committee or, better yet, the relevant sub-committee. The original idea on a trade-off for how to mitigate the challenges of keeping a reasonable cohort of investigators to get first or second cycle of funding was not the crass disaster that this mutant version is, which needs to be stopped. Diverting awards away from the uber-funded (not just by NIH but by all sources) to help the next generation could be good (though I was not convinced the numbers added up . . .). As your comment and a few others point out rather politely and in a very understated way, abandonment of this approach while keeping the next generation feature (i.e., age discrimination) means that the money will come out of the pool that would have gone to 12th or 14th percentile people at the 3rd or 4th cycle in. So, great: it will sure inspire people to know that they need to find a new career at age 50 or 53 instead of earlier. [A good case of DC ‘kicking the can down the road’.] Go NIH!
      [The way this got knifed at the Council of Councils level and with input from the uber-funded at risk of having to devote more effort to a lesser number of awards is about what folks seem to have come to expect inside the Beltway. At this point, it takes a fair dose of wishful thinking to believe that email Drs. Collins or Lauer et alia will put the cart right again.
      For what little it is worth, I agree with the comments about “new investigator” and not just ESI, with the asterisk that NIH would and does need to refine the “new investigator” classification. When Klaus Rajewsky first moved to Boston, for instance, he was a “new investigator” by NIH terminology . . . .

  4. What about those of us that are New Investigators but not ESI? We are already not eligible for the R35 mechanism. Now we are being left out of this new initiative?

    thanks for your consideration.

    • exactly. excessive obsession with “Early” but not “New” is puzzling. Include New Investigators into your mechanism.

      and yes, its a zero sum game as someone mentioned. and any reform needs to start with Intramural NIH research programs- they have technicians on permanent positions earning >100K who can’t be fired. They have investigators with monetary equivalent of 5 or 10 R01 per year who are not productive (lab budgets of 1 mil- 6 mil per YEAR!)

      • Me three. I’m New but no longer Early Stage; so I don’t clearly fit into either of the categories outlined in the blog. I’ve managed to produce quality research without NIH funding so far–which has given my lab a very efficient metabolism, but it sure would be nice to get a three-course meal…

        • I agree as well. This current policy clearly leaves a gaping hole for new investigators who are not ESIs. As others have mentioned, women are particularly affected by this, since women often take non-linear career paths for a variety of reasons (e.g., family care, lack of support in academia, lower salaries). In addition, given the “leaky pipeline” in STEM careers, it would be particularly advantageous for NIH to do everything they can to reduce gender inequality. One of which could be focusing on this ESI/new investigator issue.

          • Agree,
            I am not sure if I can apply as Early. I finished my residence program in 2000, but I got my PhD in 2015.

    • The focus on ESIs is a major problem for all the reasons outlined above. Many highly productive researchers will be excluded from this initiative. In my case, I’ve had an R03 and now have a K award but will likely lose ESI status prior to getting my first R01. How can NIH consider me neither “early career” or “mid-career”?

      This initiative disadvantages anyone who had had to make career/family compromises – i.e., mostly women. While ESI timelines do adjust for maternity leave, they don’t account for the fact that many women take a non-linear path in other ways that slow their time from PhD to R01.

      A fairer and more effective approach would be to focus on NEW INVESTIGATORS, not just ESIs and those who already have an R01.

  5. 1) “Early-stage” should reflect the true status of one’s career, rather than one’s age.

    2) With an increase in competitiveness and as a result the number of years needed to get an independent faculty position (of course, depends on schools / disciplines / individuals), defining “early-stage” as within 10 years from the completion of one’s terminal degree is a little out of touch with the current reality.

    3) For some schools / disciplines, one may need a longer postdoc (6-8 years is very common these days) before getting an independent position; for some other schools / disciplines, one may only need 2-3 years. This means for the longer postdoc, one only has a few years left to be eligible for this early-stage benefit; and for the shorter postdoc, one has 7-8 years. How do you balance this variability?

    4) If a person does very well and is able to quickly rise to an Associate level with tenure but is still within 10 years from completion of their terminal degree, should this individual still be considered “early-stage”?

    One approach to avoid these inconsistencies is to be inclusive and help out all the investigators that truly need help — those who have never received a R01 and those who are struggling to get their first R01 renewed in order to keep the lab alive (assuming they are all considered as “next generation researchers”?) — regardless of their age or rank.

    • “4) If a person does very well and is able to quickly rise to an Associate level with tenure but is still within 10 years from completion of their terminal degree, should this individual still be considered “early-stage”?”

      this one is easy, it is extremely difficult to become an Associate without getting R01, no? Once you got R01, you are not “early” or “new” anymore according to the rules.

      • Not necessarily. Perhaps this is the case in Bio; in Psych departments one can often get by on NSF or even smaller funds, depending on the type of research one does.

    • Regarding 2) above, I believe that there is some flexibility in the definition. “within 10 years of completing your terminal research degree or medical residency”. Terminal research degree may include a post doctoral training. This definition would help resolve the issue raised in cases of lengthy post doctoral training.

  6. This proposal should absolutely include NEW Investigators (per NIH definition) as well. As people above said, it often takes a long time to do postdoc. Otherwise this will only be helpful to Early investigators and Mid-career investigators who already have funding.

    You will leave New Investigators out in cold…..

    My situation (not uncommon)- after PhD defense I stayed for 1.5 year to finish more PhD manuscripts, apply and interview for postdoc, accept offer, relocate

    Then 6 years of postdoc- mouse, long term work. Postdoc fellowship and Career development award. 2 first author papers which are cited 1300 and 450 times (just to show that I was not a slouch and did not waste 6 years). Interviews for faculty position.

    Again, when I start my faculty position, its already 7.5 years after PhD. Establishment of mouse colony, first results. By the time 10 years kick in, I have applied for all young PI awards (got some) and thing like NIH Innovator (was competitive but did not get). First 2 R01 are not funded and now to be left out in cold…? I am sure I am not alone with this problem.

    This initiative will also dramatically short recruitment strategies, changing from hire of well published, interview process vetted external candidates with start ups to internal promotion of people to some “instructor” “research track” position hoping that they will score R01 with 25% funding rate and without much investment from the department until they will get the grant.

    INCLUDE NEW INVESTIGATORS!

    And before any cap for awards is considered, take another look at Intramural NIH Program.

    • It is nice to see such an effort from the NIH. But I fail to understand the exclusion of the New Investigators here. I totally support the call for including the New Investigators. In this current proposisition the New Investigators are at the most disadvantageous position as their applications will be UNFAIRLY treated equal to well established NIH funded investigators including those who have multiple R01s.

    • I’m in the same boat as others who have commented — past 10 years of PhD, limping along with short-term foundation and small research grants (K02/R21/R03/R56), yet to receive an R01. You are missing a very important group of mid-career investigators with this initiative. And, sadly, I am afraid this same group of people are under-represented with respect to having a voice (unlike the entrenched PIs that so vehemently opposed the initial plan). These may also be investigators who are struggling against any number of biases (like coming from institutions that aren’t high tier research institutions). What’s the point in excluding them? If they are still focused on making a career in research DESPITE the disadvantages of having to string together multiple small grants to get by and are scoring in the top 25% of R01 applications, why would you think they would not be good candidates to support as mid-career investigators? Why not just allocate extra resources toward ANYONE who scores in the top 25% that currently has 0 or is nearing the end of 1 R01-equivalent?

      I agree with others that this plan has a very real risk of causing negative consequences for a big chunk of mid-career investigators (including me, at 51).

  7. Actually, what the program of help should look like in my opinion, is the following:

    1) make it 1-2-3 system. You are getting your first R01 with 12% extra. second R01 with 8% extra. 3rd R01- 4% extra- that’s the idea (exact %% can be figured out). That takes care of early , new and mid-career investigators.

    got 2-3 R01 at the same time? good for you- you got enough money to run robust program, publish good and compete in the future without extra help.

    less lucky or need only 1 R01 at a time? Then such program can give you preferential funding rates for 15 years then (3 consecutive R01). after 15 years in the business probably you do not need as much help….

    2) no age restrictions (illegal), time after PhD (for that you already have early MIRA and NIH Innovator) or caps on senior investigators (these guys get peer reviewed, why punish productivity after peer review)?

    • Way to go – this would avoid many potential problems such as variabilities, inconsistencies, restrictions, discriminations, and negative impact on career paths – and fair to all investigators regardless of their age and rank

  8. As stated by others, this leaves New Investigators who are not ESI out in the cold. Please include us. The 10 year post PhD rule is arbitrary. It does not account for those of us (mostly women) with non-traditional career trajectories, while simultaneously increasing the perks afforded to those who take a lock-step/ traditional path. This is increasing disparity, not reducing it!

    • I was also a single mom PI and went through postdoctoral and pharma with no chance of applying for funding but I needed that stability at first. When I entered academia I was no longer ESI due to the 10 year policy. When I questioned an NIH admin at a presentation last year …why New Investigators were being ignored, he said “why should we care about New Investigators?” New investigators are older …and I sense ageism as if a younger kid has more scientific promise and therefore deserves more funding.

  9. To point out the obvious, this decision by the Council to essentially maintain the status quo with respect to uneven distribution of federal grant dollars, was not unexpected. To understand this decision you only have to look at the Council roster and how many on that roster have multiple grants.

  10. I agree with a previous comment pertaining to the definition of ESI. Faculty positions are becoming increasing difficult to obtain so we are seeing researchers in 5+ years of postdocs. Why doesn’t NIH consider increasing the number of K-awards and even extending the eligibility timeline? I know that the K99/R00 and K22 mechanisms are 4-5 years of postdoc experience. I think the number of postdoc years needs to reflect the reality that candidates may be in their 7th year of postdocing before securing a faculty position. Also, I think NIH needs to start thinking about how to increase the number of grants awarded to PIs from underrepresented backgrounds in science.

  11. While it is laudable to help early and mid stage investigators, as pointed out this is a zero sum game. Why penalize more experienced investigators still doing outstanding work but who may have small labs that exist on 1 R01? As some of the original justification for the GSI pointed out there is a big difference between going from 1 to 0 grants, vs 3 to 2 or even 2 to 1, irrespective of seniority. I don’t think anyone believes that the grant that gets 15% is really that much worse than one that gets 10%, and that the PI of the latter is necessarily the better scientist that will make the next big breakthrough.

  12. I was initially excited about this new policy as the NIH director’s statement, the Advisory Committee to the Director presentation, and this blog all mentioned that NIH will bolster the support for “early- and mid-career investigators”. As a person who is just recently removed from my ESI status, I figured that I must belong to the above-mentioned “early- and mid-career investigators”. However, after I went through the detailed description, I realized that I was wrong because I do not belong to any of the categories NIH is going to support, based on the definitions by NIH.

    So now the question is: what category do I belong to? Do I belong to “senior-career investigator” if I am not an early- or mid-career investigator? Naturally, I would say no, I am not a senior-career investigator as I just started my independent position a few years ago.

    As one would assume that you either belong early- career or mid-career, or you must belong to senior, based on a natural course of a career, how come this could occur?

    Now the term “New Investigator” comes to play. New investigator, based on NIH definition, is an investigator who has not received his/her first NIH R01 award. I would guess that a New Investigator could be an early-career, mid-career, or senior-career, based on natural career stages. I also further guess that a significant portion (if not majority) of New investigators are still early-career or mid-career investigators. But the new NIH policy does not cover these investigators. I will argue that this is an oversight of NIH and that NIH should equally support these investigators.

    First let’s look at how a new faculty works. After a lengthy postdoc training (3-7 years, or you name it), a new faculty starts his/her independent position with institutional support of 3-4 years. You will be eligible to be an ESI for the remaining years (10 years minus your postdoc years); some people might start their position approaching almost zero years as a ESI. Within these years (far less than 10 years for most ESIs), you have to secure your first R01; otherwise you will be left in cold.

    Now let’s also look at how NIH defines “mid-career investigator”. Based on the NIH definition, a mid-career investigator is an investigator who receives his/her first NIH R01 award within 10 years). This means that from the day he/she is awarded the first R01, a mid-career investigator will have 4-5 years (mostly 5 years) of R01 support and have 10 years of time to get a second R01 grant if his new application receives a score in the top 25th percentile.

    If you compare the situations between “mid-career investigator” and an ESI, it is obvious that it is much tougher for an ESI to secure his first R01 award (within only 1-5 years remaining as ESIs and 3-4 years of institutional support) than a mid-career investigator for a second R01 award (within 10 years and 4-5 years of R01 support). As a result, a significant portion (if not most) of ESIs will end up as New Investigators.

    For fairness and parity, I urge NIH to include New investigators, or at least to include new investigators who are within 10 years since their first faculty position.

  13. From the point of view of a PI and mentor, NIH definitely needs a new mechanism to encourage young people to go into science and to keep good scientist in the game. The idea of limiting funding at the extremes was laudable and brave. Most importantly though, it was practical and all but the “richest” among us know it is based on sound logic. A shrinking field of “rich” scientist is a recipe for and failure, just as we are currently witnessing in society. As the field shrinks, so will those who are willing to get into it. I urge your to consider listening to the voices of the many in the field of science rather than the excessively loud voices of the few. To characterize the criticism of the NIH limited funding proposal as widespread and resounding is simply not correct from what I am hearing from colleagues. It is widespread among those who have benefitted greatly from the system. They are certainly good scientist, but for the good of science they should be willing to support their ideas and labs with reasonable funding rather than extreme and clearly unreasonable funding. I would argue that even if the 4 or 5th R01 in a lab produces at the same level as the single R01 that could go to another lab does it is still far better to keep that other lab going, keeping those ideas and the people they support in science. My advise to NIH is to do what most of us know is right. Our field is shrinking and it is becoming more difficult to get good students to go into science. We need a change and some type of reasonable funding limit was in my opinion a good start. It would be especially good as a mechanism of support for young and middle career scientist, and it would encourage young people driven away from science by fears of never getting funded. Doing nothing, or something that is incremental is akin to complacency.

  14. I agree with WW that NIH should consider to include new investigators who have been a PI for less than 10 years in the initiative. Actually this is what’s being described by Dr. Larry Tabak at the Advisory Committee to the Director meeting.

  15. What WW described are my sentiments exactly. This category of new investigators is the critical mass that should be focused on right now; ironically they are being left out by the NIH policies.

  16. “We need a change and some type of reasonable funding limit was in my opinion a good start. It would be especially good as a mechanism of support for young and middle career scientist, and it would encourage young people driven away from science by fears of never getting funded. Doing nothing, or something that is incremental is akin to complacency.”
    “I don’t think anyone believes that the grant that gets 15% is really that much worse than one that gets 10%, and that the PI of the latter is necessarily the better scientist that will make the next big breakthrough.”
    I do agree with these statements. The “big guys” have louder voices and stronger social skills.

  17. I agree that “new” investigators should be the primary focus. Age and years out of training have all of the aforementioned pitfalls. Intriguing thought to have a system that inversely weights the payline according to how many NIH grants or how much NIH funding you’ve received.

  18. Couldn’t agree more that New Investigators should be included in this policy. I am a mid-career investigator who never received a R01: just two R21s, two larger (and very competitive) foundation grants, and a large industry grant, along with several sizable R01s as co-investigator have supported my lab OK so far. Because I am just beyond 10 years from my terminal degree, I would not fall into any of these categories. At the same time, my lab would be closed in ~2 years without any additional funding.

  19. Please consider including New investigators. Since tenure-track position is hard to get these days, scientists interested in academia take multiple soft money positions before they could land on to a tenure-track position. Thus, they lose ESI category very quickly but still without a NIH research grant. Therefore, this initiative should support New investigators also. Moreover, it is highly likely that most of the New investigators are Assistant professors and due to the current high competition for NIH grants, they may be the ones who are affected the most thus leading to not getting tenured and forced to leave the academia after years of waiting to enter the academia.

  20. I also agree that you must include “New Investigators (NI)” with Early Stage Investigators (ESI) OR just give a new definition that includes both NI and ESI (investigators never received an R01).

  21. Mid-career is 10 years from first grant? Does that mean the average PI retires or dies by 20 years after her/his first grant?

  22. I am not sure that penalizing ‘senior” investigators is going to increase the quality of NIH-funded research just as helping a mid-career investigator get over the funding hump for them to get stuck in the next cycle is of questionable value. In a blink of an eye we may end up with dozens of affirmative action categories each with its own priorities and champions.

    Why not spend tax dollars on funding the best research possible instead of social engineering that shifts the funding bottleneck up the seniority scale? This includes caps on mega labs with productivity that does not correspond to their funding level.

  23. Yes! Move the payline for us newbies, but as pointed out by many, it makes no sense to exclude ‘New Investigators’. Why would you do this? I would argue that we just merge ESI and ‘new’ into a single ‘early stage’, under which the only criteria is whether you have obtained independent R01 funding. Why focus on giving more dollars to those below an arbitrarily defined timepoint that varies markedly according to circumstance.

  24. It’s great that NIH recognizes the importance of re-organizing the deck for those that that cards have been stacked against them. While this is lauadable, I have two major issues. First, the definition of early career, mid career, and new investigator should be redefined based on access to NIH funding and not years or periods since the last degree. The definition based on years primarily weeds out those scientist struggling in weak research environments. This leads to my second point. It’s interesting that the discussion here, even among colleagues assumes all potential scientists are in ‘big institutions’. No, what is NIH doing to nurture scientists in ‘smaller institutions’? It seems the Council’s decision is just like a Musical Dance, the same people changing chairs. Hopefully, NIH will develop a plan that will nurture scientists in ‘smaller institutions’ in the light of shrinking number of scientists in biomedical research.

  25. It is very encouraging to hear the efforts from NIH. However, I do have some concerns:
    1. It seems that new investigators are excluded. The people have more than 10 years working experience but just start PI should be considered since we are at the same position as early career for initiating a new lab or non-academic experience maybe excluded.
    2. Apparently, NIH recognized that too much funds had been allocated to a few labs, which may not benefit creative and high risk research. However, the causes for this situation should be considered. For example, during grant reviewing, there is too much emphasis on school, PI’s background, but neglecting research itself. NIH may consider double blind review process for grants like R21.
    3. Without whole budget increased, it is doubtful if this effort could be sustained especially there is not funding cap for each PI.

  26. To be honest, Without increasing the overal funding, helping any one group means robbing the other one. Why does NIH want to lure young promising smart people into this low-pay and back-breaking career? To balance the system, NIH should set aside fund for researchers who want to find an alternative career. As many states did for tobacco workers in 70s and 80s, NIH should teach the young generation that science is not a viable career. This is perhaps the best use of training grant to teach the general public that the nation cannot afford so many scientists. Sorry to say this, but this message has long been floating in all medical schools that all researchers have to pay some or all of their salaries as the school cannot afford them. Wake up! Btw: I am young but will be considered as a senior researcher per NIH new policy.

    • Maybe true. The issue is there are no much needs in industry for pure bio research. NIH may should encourage PI to work on bench instead of writing proposals and limit the number of advance degree students and PostD in each lab but pay higher. Also including industrial partnership into the funding mechanism is another way to go.

  27. The length of the post-doctoral training is unpredictable. Many find a faculty position with small career development grants from voluntary organizations. Besides, the ESI policy in many cases, in particular, women scientists, has not been very helpful. Therefore, New Investigators who are not ESIs and who have managed to run a research lab as a PI but not funded by NIH should be given the priority by the NIH.

  28. I guess I would be considered a “senior” or “established” investigator having had a 25 year career supported by only 1 R01 at any time with some additional local funding. I have always felt on the brink of extinction but that is the life I chose and I am grateful and privileged to have had the opportunity to do what I love. I have also seen very talented colleagues lost to science because they fell to the vagaries of an imperfect peer review system. Without a cap or a sliding scale for multiple R01’s it seems inevitable that we will lose more “senior” scientists after long investment in their careers. That said I strongly support the idea of increased help to early and mid career individuals. I have personally witnessed their struggles, and it has been difficult in recent years to urge talented young people to enter the field due to the intense competition.

  29. Same here, please include New Investigator in this Initiative. After a long period of post-doc training, many PIs like myself already start their first faculty job after, or very close to, 10 years they got the terminal doctoral degree.

    We were left out for R35 ESI already, please don’t forget us again.

  30. I will piggyback on some of the previous comments about how the ten year rule from earning the terminal degree is not a good measure. I did not start a tenure-track faculty position until 8 years after receiving my PhD, and it takes at least a year to truly get the lab up and running and collecting meaningful data, so this policy harms someone like me. I worked in industry before switching to academia, and that kind of experience is being penalized by this policy. Others have similar reasons for delay (long postdocs, taking time for family, etc.). This should be reconsidered.

  31. I agree that New Investigators should be considered here. Many of us are past the 10 year mark due to having to take second postdocs or serve as research associate-level faculty, but still have not had an R01 funded. It’s especially frustrating to be just shy of the normal pay line and not able to get the early stage boost b/c of the 10 year limit.

  32. The first step that needs to be taken is to restrict funding from the rich. “The Next Generation Researchers Initiative” simply ignores the hard data that productivity diminishes as funding exceeds certain level. Redistributing funds among the poor will create more problems than solving them.

  33. What about mid-career investigators that have just failed to renew their first grant and have to submit a “new” grant. Will they be eligible for this program or fall through the cracks?

    • I have the same question. But people here are not quite interested in this question which is as important as the NI vs ESI.

      Based on the police: “a mid-career investigator (within 10 years of receiving your first NIH R01 equivalent award) who scores in the 25th percentile, and either: or”.

      I guess, as long as they received their 1st RO1 in 2007 or later, and that they have got any new RO1 yet so have the risk to lose their research support, they should be eligible for this program.

      Any one has a different thought on this?

  34. What you are doing here is a crushing blow to the whole biomedical enterprise. You are luring young investigators into a blind alley where “a bunch of thugs” will club them to death. The idea that anyone who can get a 24-percentile score would also be competitive later after the system stop holding their hand (and they face single digit percentiles) – is patently absurd. What will happen to all these new investigators who are lured into the public biomedical enterprise is that they will just hit the brick wall later. Unfortunately, hitting that brick wall at age 45-50 is a lot worse than hitting it at age 35. None of the alternative employers are particularly interested in the hire of someone that old and set in their patterns. When (a decade from now) the young fools that got trapped and destroyed by this system start speaking out, it will forever be known that a public biomedical research career is the last thing anybody with a brain would want to do to themselves and their family.

  35. I strongly agree with those comments to include new investigators (non-ESI) to this initiative. It is a valid concern that new investigators will suffer the most under this initiative since this is a zero-sum game.

    Overall, my impression is that the productivity per grant dollar decreases when you have more grants.This may be a main reason when the NIH initially considered to cap the number of R01 grants. To help next generation researchers and also to improve the productivity, NIH can try something like a sliding-scale:

    (this is adopted from a previous post)
    1st R01 with 12% extra.
    2nd R01 with 8% extra.
    3rd R01 with 4% extra.
    Trying to get a 2nd RO1 while you already have one (more than 2 years remaining)? no benefit.

    For scientists who already have multiple grants, it is unfair to set a three R01 cap if their work is excellent. Since big guys have louder voice, more resources and better connections (that’s why the 3-R01 cap cannot be implemented), they should be judged by stricter criteria, but can still get grants if their applications really stand out.

    To get another R01 if you are holding
    2 R01s? -2%
    3 R01s? -4%
    4 R01s? -6%

    and so on.

    The % number above are rough and can be figured out later.
    Because the payline varied a lot across different NIH institutes, instead of same percentile numbers, the payline may also be extended or reduced by percentages.

    • This is a very good suggestion, with potential tweaks to the numbers. I would also support an overall “boost” to early and mid investigators, but the current consideration of funding (basically, you need to be without funding, on the verge of losing your only grant, or a star with only one grant (unicorn?)) seems to be at odds with the goal of bolstering a productive workforce.

      Much better than the GSI plan, though. I also think the NIH deserves praise for looking at the issue and trying to make substantive changes to address it. No plan will be perfect…this is a good start.

  36. The mission of the NIH is to fund the best research possible. It is not in the business of affirmative action.

    Every now and then a Director comes with an attempt to improve on the system and ends up hurting it (e.g., Zerhouni and his translational priorities; the Brain Initiative which shuttled millions to already well-funded senior investigators). I am afraid this may be one of those initiatives hurting with almost surgical precision, the most productive investigators – all of whom paid the price to be where they are.

    • We need to define what the best research is before we could loud it. We never tried to give more opportunities to young or brave new researchers, but force them to work under low payment in a big group for surviving, since there is a little hope for them to find a decent job in industry like computer science. This is an ill state and should be corrected.

    • Hi Marcus;
      I am also curious about what constitutes the “best” science? Specifically, what metrics of “best” science are reliable for impactful discovery?

  37. I sent an email regarding the antiquated distinction between New Investigators and ESI. Given the current realities of science, many of us had to do extended postdocs. My postdoc was 7 years because I chose to enter a field that I had no previous experience in. I thought that the NIH would like this because it was my goal to establish a truly interdisciplinary research program. It seems to be counterintuitive to leave those who chose this path in the cold.

  38. I want to add my voice to those suggesting that this initiative apply either to all New Investigators or those recently emerging unfunded from ESI status. I’m 37, with no R01 (or any other NIH funding), and I’ll be losing ESI status soon. I had a baby and received a 6 month ESI extension, but let’s be honest – growing, birthing, and caring for a young baby did more than cause a 6 month hit on my productivity. The focus on ESI, as currently defined, is misplaced. I believe in myself and others in similar situations, and we are just as worthy of “help” as the new Asst Profs starting this year.

  39. Currently, in our study sections, non-early stage scientists have to get a score under 2, or a percentile score of 9 or less to be funded. So lets pretend you are an MD/PhD who finishes post-doc and residency at age 40. You are now an “early stage” until you are 50, and voila, get your first RO1 at 45 with a score of 3.5, which is actually non-competetive. Now you are a mid-carreer until you are 55 when you get a grant with a score of 2.5, which would not be remotely near payline. Since money will be siphoned off to preferentially fund grants from the early and late stage investigators (who together, probably constitute a majority of applications), the payline for someone in the last decade of their career will be well below the current 9th percentile, which while not technically impossible, is so unpredictable as to not sustain a career. One simply cannot anticipate that an application will score below the best decile and one cannot plan a life this way.

    You are making a bad situation worse by preferentially funding lower quality applications early on only to pull the rug out later. Or maybe, you are just trying to quickly kill of everyone currently over 50, who BTW are your most productive cohort and most experienced mentors.

    Is this the alternative to capping the funding of the most insanely over-funded labs?

    • No one is suggesting that it is a good idea to fund low quality grants. What we are suggesting is that new investigators cannot compete with people with decades of work and influence under their belt.

      Older guys/gals write a crappy grant but they get the benefit of the doubt. Younger faculty write a solid grant but get left out in the cold because they haven’t had the time to generate the same amount of data as the older faculty AND they get no benefit of the doubt, even for a solid grant.

      • And crappy productivity. I know a heavily funded PI who gets >1 million a year but only publishes a couple review articles, pretty bad!

  40. Although I favor the Grant Support Index proposal, I understand the motivation for the 21st Century Cures Act proposal. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. The 21st Century Cures Act does not attempt to address several issues that Dr. Collins raised in his first announcement of GSI on May 2. Specifically, he noted that the NIH should be “exercising optimum stewardship of the funds that we receive from taxpayers,” ”supporting more researchers working on a diversity of biomedical problems,” and freeing up “about 1,600 new awards.”

    Some of these goals will be hard to monitor (are PI’s really stewarding a large number of grants responsibly?), but there are quick, easy ways for the NIH to evaluate whether some issues are mitigated by the current proposal. For example, does the percentage of money that goes to the top 10% of NIH-funded labs decrease, or continue to increase? Are there more NIH-funded labs in 2020 compared to 2016, or fewer?

    I understand that there is support for no longer considering the GSI proposal, but I have heard a lot of voices from smaller universities strongly in support of it. I think the GSI proposal was not considered long enough for these softer voices to be heard.

  41. I have been funded by NIH for >20 years, 100% on “soft money” for that length of time. I have to say that it has been a stressful ride. If I knew what I now know about soft-money careers, I would not have pursued a ph.d. It’s a hard gig and academe’s greater use of “contingent” positions (vs solid ones) is discouraging. There can be a slow, corrosive effect on the psyche. The very best, brightest, and most aggressive will likely continue to do fine, but most of the rest of us are not in that strata and have little influence. I hope there is a renaissance, but the NIH across-years funding trend is not encouraging.

  42. Defining career and stages by years and age clearly doesn’t fit most people here on this blog. They should be defined by your funding history. Very early on I was fortunate (or not) to be allowed by my mentor to be a PI on a multi-PI RO1. Since then I have gotten at a couple of R21s. But I really haven’t gotten a full RO1 on my own for several reasons including parenthood. So what am I? Early, mid or late career by this criteria? By years and age, I would like be defined as mid- to late, but I am a woman who did take a different path because of motherhood etc yet am still producing and publishing. Most people here just want at minimum an RO1 worth of funding to run a lab- I am with them on that. Those with multiple grants should have some type of cap or reduction factor on subsequent funding levels.

  43. For mid-career investigators, the condition of “at risk of losing all support” needs to be carefully defined. Does this refer to NIH support as a PI, or support from other sources such as teaching salary? A biostatistician may be helping on someone else’s R01 for 5 percent effort. Does this extra support mean they are penalized and cannot benefit from the more lenient 25th percentile for an R01 grant they are submitting as the PI? A better approach is to treat all mid-career investigators within 10 years equally and fairly, based upon the quality of their grant application rather than their current funding support (which can change at any time anyway), and simply raise the percentile to 20th percentile for all mid-career investigators.

    • I agree with your second point. Providing a blanket “bump” to midcareer investigators, regardless of their funding, would serve to support and bolster the ranks of productive scientists at this stage. The wording of the plan is vague for both those at risk and those “particularly promising” individuals.

  44. I think the bottom line of this initiative is where does the money come from. $210 million supports about 100 R01s, and each IC probably can get a share of 5-10 more awards for ESI and mid-career PIs. There is no way these 5-10 more awards can reach every application that is better than the 25th percentile. If the money doesn’t come from the top 6%, then it comes from other established investigators who are struggling to have their ends meet with 1 or 2 R01s. This also does not address the productivity decline of senior established investigators when they receive too many grants. In addition, as many people have pointed out, the advisory group to NIH and council members are packed with the people within the top 6%, and only their voices can be heard. Without GSI or funding cap, the NIH simply does not have enough money to rescue the next generation biomedical researchers.

  45. It strikes me that the plan would constitute a mid career rescue effort, rather than a boost for successful and productive mid career scientists. While the goal of bolstering the workforce is laudable, I’m not convinced increasing the number of marginally funded, independent investigators is the best solution. Has the NIH considered non-training funding mechanisms to support dependent scientists who function in team research environments led by senior investigators? Are we doing those “rescued” by this effort a disservice by stringing them along until the next grant cycle?

    As others have suggested here, a sliding payline that requires those with multiple grants to achieve a better score to land subsequent grants makes a lot of sense.

  46. The early-career benefit squarely focuses on R01 applications.
    However, after reading all related web-pages that I can find, the mid-career benefit does not appear to be limited to any specific funding mechanism(s). That suggests the mid-career benefit would apply regardless of the funding mechanism applied for, e.g., R21, R01, K24, P30, etc. Is that correct?

  47. Starting new initiatives that require funding without an increase in overall funding for the NIH will hurt someone. Where is the money coming from? Who will be hurt with this decision? Has anyone at the NIH checked into this? Of course not. If others are given an advantage then that means someone else does not get funded. Let’s face it, the people who will be hurt are those in the middle who are not new or early stage and who are not in the top 5% of funded investigators. This group of scientists are the ones that have made it though the worst time in NIH funded science and now they are hit again. How is this fair? Why not increase funding for someone 45-55 years old so they can get a 2nd or 3rd R01? Why are they not considered? Again and again decisions are made that are thought to help, but again and again those making the decision forget the idea is to fund the best science. NIH did not think about this decision enough, so there will be 45-60 year old scientist losing their jobs due to this decision. More middle-aged people will be forced to do administrative jobs or retire early just to save a few people who are younger. This is not based on the best scientific ideas, but on age. This is an avoidable tragedy caused by poor decisions at NIH.

    • I do not think the initiative discriminates against age or middle-aged people. The PIs between 45-60 years old are in the prime time for research funding. This group of scientists are more resilient financially than ESIs to develop grant applications. This group of PIs are generally well established and should compete with the top 5% to pursue the best science. If you look at the numbers that the NIH has posted, the workforce cannot be stabilized without new blood into the system, and the current system discourages some of the best postdocs from entering into the stream.

  48. I don’t consider mid career to be only 10 years after your first RO1. How are you going to pay for this? Are you going to lower the payline for everyone in their 50 and 60s? What are you going to do with a bunch of scientists that are in their mid 50s, have worked all their lives to develop model systems that are just now yielding translatable results that can’t be funded because the payline for them is now 2% because you are funding untested new investigators. Seems like a waste. You spend 15- 20 years funding someone and now you dump them just as you are starting to get a payoff from their work? Why don’t you just flush 5 million dollars X everyone who is outside of 10 years of funding down the toilet?

  49. Is there a formal letter/petition regarding the ESI vs New Investigator issue?

    If so, who can I contact to sign? If not, is there interest in writing one?

  50. Personally, I’m so glad for this new policy. I was awarded 1 R01 about 6 years ago, and I will lose my job in the next year if I don’t secure a new NIH grant. Am an Associate without tenure, and female.

  51. One thing that the focus on early stage investigators misses is that we are also hurting late career investigators. Professors in their late 50s and early 60s who run single R01 labs are losing all funding and having to find a new job late in their career. One problem is that a single R01 investigator is competing with quadruple R01 investigators on a level playing field. The fix is to make the first R01 of each lab compete with each other, then seconds, third, and fourth R01.

    Grants from study section should be binned based on investigator funding prior to being assigned a percentile. Thus, PIs with zero NIH dollars are put together in bin 1, and percentile ranked. PIs with $250k / y are in Bin 2. PIs with 251-500k are in Bin 3, 501-750k in Bin 4, and 750k and up in Bin 5. For grants that are applying for renewal, these are treated as if the PI was in the lower bin, so if it is your single R01 and you are renewing it, these renewals go into Bin 1 (because loss of that R01 makes the PI a $0 lab).

    Then the NIH has to step up to the plate and make a rational decision about what size labs they want to see, which may be different between the various institutes. For example, NIH could set paylines for Bin 1 at 50%, Bin 2 at 30%, Bin 3 at 15%, and Bin 4 at 7%. This method also normalizes for those who use the RFA system for funding, as such would be impact their Bin. (T32s excluded from Bin, multi PI grants would choose how to allocate the total dollars between each PI).

    This method also make renewing a grant a worth while endeavor, as currently it seems that renewals are judged even more harshly then new grants. Alternately, renewals should be based on progress report alone, if publication progress is sufficient we should trust the investigator to continue at that productivity and not make them write a new grant. New grants should only be for those who wish to expand their lab. Finally, each published paper should attribute a percentage of its work to each listed grant so that large labs do not have an unfair advantage on a grant per grant basis.

  52. The real problem which is and has been ignored by NIH is that the career as a biomedical scientist is very unattractive because it is being pursued by way to many young people. In the old days it was one of the most satisfying and overall (not by $) rewarding jobs a young Ph.D. could pursue. Now many of the smartest young people don’t even look at it as a possibility. They simply don’t want to submit themselves and their families to that kind of abuse. The real solution for the lack of young people in science is not to expand the pool but to reduce entrance into the pool. Stop rewarding universities for overloading the system with such a huge number of young faculty that we end up with single digit percentiles. How about not paying for PI or co-investigator salaries – and cap overheads at 25%.

  53. Check out the editorial by Mark Peifer in Science on this issue, he makes a lot of good points.

    As a PI who made the decision to run a smaller lab, with a hands-on mentoring approach, from a single R01, the latest plan has me quite concerned. I am annoyed that the “heavily funded” PIs were so effective in their campaign to protect their funding options and that the latest plan will hit hardest PIs who don’t run big operations and are beyond this arbitrary “mid-career” definition. Scientific advances are made in and outstanding training is provided by labs that run off a single R01, but it is becoming harder and now even harder to succeed in science if you take that route.

    • On the money, pun intended. Those with the big bucks and influence strongly lobbied to protect their interests, at the expense of the majority of PIs who are suffering and whose voices were ignored. If this were a democracy, those who wield power would be voted out of office because the majority have lost faith in their leaders who are swimming in a swamp of special interests..

  54. I asked the PO in the IC for my grant, they now have no plan to implement this policy, at least not this year. Sounds like this policy is just empty words.

    • i am sure the answer is NO. in part because still on paper there is 20% cut NIH proposed (unlikely to happen though) threat and any IC/PO will be super conservative until fall/winter..
      and in part because likely nobody really in a rush to implement that idea.

      • I have now heard of 2 R01s that were “on the bubble” and had been reviewed in the last round of council meetings (i.e. submitted in Oct/Nov 2016) that just received NOAs. They were both by ESIs. I don’t know if this is official movement related to the NGRI or institutes pushing out extra FY17 funding and it happened to go to ESIs.

  55. Great initiatives! Hope they are implemented. Now NIH has to find a way to direct those who receive funding from NIH institutes that they have an obligation to support the development of promising and aspiring researchers. From my own experience, I wrote more than a dozen grant applications for my previous PI (from conception to obtaining letters of support). He received several grants for millions of dollars (U-19, R01, etc) and once it came time for him to keep his promise to promote me, he refused. To top it off, he threatened to cutoff funding for my studies and then threatened to fire my friend/colleague if I didn’t continue writing grants for him. The director of our division was completely indifferent; this is where the ethics training the NIH mandates appears to be an absolute waste of time.
    My point is that a culture change needs to happen as well or the NIH is going to have a lot of promising researchers slip through the cracks. I changed fields of research and am on 7th year as a post doc/Research Scientist, and approaching 20 publications; yet I can’t submit a K-award type grant (to many years experience) or an R-grant due to my title. I requested a promotion to a Research Assistant Professor within my current lab so I could submit R-grants, however, I was denied by my current mentor who decided his long time post doc should have the highest title in the lab (did I mention I will have 7 first author paper and at least 3 co-author papers within 3 1/2 years of joining his lab). Do you see the trend? The second I file a complaint, goodbye recommendation letter & goodbye any chance of becoming faculty.
    This needs to be fixed.

  56. Great and promising program. The problem is in the small print…The funding mechanisms that will be used are likely to be mostly the R56. While this is a great grant to receive, it is short – only 1-2 years. The investigator must resubmit and obtain R01 funding to continue past this initial period. Don’t misunderstand me, 2 years is much better than NO FUNDING, but do they really think this will provide long-term stability for mid career investigators? In some cases it may. My opinion is not likely. As a mid-career investigator myself it would mean continuing the draining reapplication process concurrent with starting up a new R01 type project while having assured stability for only 1 or 2 years at most for that project. One will need to continue to submit other R01s and continue to resubmit those. All this time and effort will have to come at the expense of other more productive tasks (e.g., publishing, mentoring, etc.). Importantly, this may actually reduce long-term stability by dissuading investigators from just resubmitting the “almost funded” grant. Instead, one will take the R56 (bird in the hand and all that) with the potential to loose funding after just a year or 2 when the simple resubmission of the 5-yr R01 might have been successful anyway! Not sure this is a viable long-term solution…

  57. It seems that NIH formally launch EEI and ESI. However, they seems intentionally avoid to address the issue we have mentioned here. If you have graduated for more than ten years but just start you career. YOU WILL BE TREATED AS AN ESTABLISHED PI. Are you kidding me?

    • Not to mention, it seems like you will be de-prioritized in favor of mid career w/ less than 1 R01– the EEI.

      This is very disheartening. I am not sure what the length of postdoc has to do with preliminary data for an R01.

      Why doesn’t ESI begin with independent position??? It would make sense– and it would be fair. My guess – because ESI conveniently leaves out many young faculty, allowing the NIH to address “young investigator” issues without busting the budget or reducing the 4+ R01 population.

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