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New Steps to Help Ensure Safe Work Environments for NIH-Supported Research

Photo of Carrie Wolinetz
Carrie Wolinetz, Ph.D., Associate Director for Science Policy, NIH

If an institution requests approval to remove a principal investigator (PI) or other senior key person named in the grant award due to concerns about safety and/or the work environments (e.g. due to concerns about harassment, bullying, retaliation, or hostile working conditions), NIH expects to be notified. If an institution requests a change of recipient institution, and there are concerns about safety and/or work environment involving the PD/PI, NIH expects to be informed.

The reason is clear — NIH does not tolerate sexual harassment. Period. The two situations we cited above are two critical loopholes identified by the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director’s (ACD) Working Group on Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment as needing more attention.

We are moving to close those gaps in our continued effort to address sexual harassment across NIH-funded research. Today, NIH has issued new guidance to grantees setting clear expectations that for awards (competing, non-competing and supplements) issued after today, NIH expects recipients requesting prior approval for changes in PI, key personnel, or recipient institution, to include mention as to whether these requests are related to concerns about the safety and/or work environment, including issues related to sexual harassment or bullying. (See NOT-OD-20-124).

As of tomorrow, when requesting changes in either investigators (see NIH GPS Section 8.1.2.6) or movement of a grant to a new recipient institution (see NIH GPS Section 8.1.2.7) grantees are expected to mention if there are related concerns about the safety and/or work environments.

The new guidance marks critical progress in NIH’s efforts to foster a culture of safety and respect for all those working in science and sends a clear message that sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

We describe these steps in an editorial published today in Science. The new guidance builds upon previous steps NIH has taken to strengthen reporting sexual harassment and other professional misconduct taking place at grantee institutions in the context of NIH-funded research.

Our Anti-Sexual Harassment: for NIH Awardee Organizations and Those Who Work There website outlines NIH expectations, policies and requirements, and helps those concerned about sexual harassment at their institution find help. Among the resources on the site are a webform that allows for anonymous notification of concerns to NIH that sexual harassment is affecting an NIH-funded project.

While these first steps are critical, we recognize that we have a number of recommendations left to tackle to fulfill the ACD’s vision of a research culture free from sexual harassment. But our commitment remains strong, and we will get there. This is not just important for women in science. It is important for science.

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2 thoughts on “New Steps to Help Ensure Safe Work Environments for NIH-Supported Research

  1. I’d like to know what NIH is doing to shut down bullies and bad actors before their grants get funded. Several years ago I was asked to review an R01 proposal of a known bully who had recently been allowed to resign rather than get fired from one institution and who had a new appointment at another. When I called NIH and asked whether this person should be allowed to even submit a grant I was severely rebuked and told that if I could not review just the science I should recuse myself. I felt this was my kiss-of-death and that it would be likely I would never be asked to review grants again so I actually reviewed the grant – the science was fine. I am still disgusted with myself for not saying no. But NIH was obviously not interested in looking into past behaviors and it seems this initiative is only scratching the surface.

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