NIH (2001) has agreed with the need for such enhanced data collection, steps to implement the plan have been slow.
4.7 NIH should develop enhanced data collection systems on postdoctoral researchers to include all NIH-supported postdoctoral researchers, regardless of specific funding mechanism. This will allow NIH to track the effectiveness of its programs and thereby make more informed programmatic decisions.
NIH needs to gather data on postdoctoral researchers supported through R01s and other mechanisms and track these individuals as they progress to their first independent award. Data should be collected annually on all individuals supported by NIH funds, not only as a requirement for initial application. The initial person budgeted may leave during the period of the grant, replaced by a new researcher; both postdocs should therefore be reflected in the annual reports for the time of their tenure in the laboratory.
Such data are likely to inform NIH leadership about the relative successes of various funding mechanisms and programs in fostering independence. Moreover, data should be disaggregated to detect different trends among different demographic and other groups. In gathering these data and conducting analyses, it will be necessary to better characterize the postdoctoral researcher and all of the possible titles associated with the position. Standard terminology should be developed and used by R01 and other applicants to describe each type of employee/trainee.
The committee suggests that the NIH work with other federal agencies and private sector funders that support postdoctoral researchers to enable cross-agency data collection on at least the postdoctoral population, but possibly including other research personnel. This could provide a common set of definitions and measures that would enable cross-agency comparisons. With increasing electronic grant submission and reporting, tracking of all federally funded research personnel across agencies should be simplified.
Maintaining updated personal profiles online could facilitate data collection. Such profiles could be a requirement for receipt of NIH funds and allow NIH to track individuals as they move from graduate student and postdoctoral positions into independent research positions. The information in the profiles would also serve to complement the information provided by PIs on their current and past postdocs as described in Recommendation 4.5.
Once it has collected information on postdocs, NIH could conduct a rigorous independent analysis of its programs.