As each institution submits grant applications on behalf of its researchers, institutional policy plays an important role in deciding who may apply for a grant. Receipt of research funding is an essential credential in the scientific community and is necessary for even continuation of most “soft-money” positions. NIH permits grant applications from scientists without tenure-track positions, but it also requires that their proposals have institutional backing. One indicator of the problematic status of most non-tenure-track scientists is the fact that many universities are reluctant to allow them to apply for their own research funding. Some institutions do not allow certain classes of non-tenure-track researchers to apply for external funding at all, refusing to commit the laboratory space and resources necessary to conduct the proposed research to individuals outside the tenure track.
Non-tenure-track positions that depend solely on “soft money” are not always considered desirable careers, given their almost complete dependency on uncertain federal research dollars and the resultant job insecurity. But this does not necessarily differ from the situation for tenure-track faculty, especially in medical schools. For example, a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) indicated that tenure did not carry any financial guarantee for basic science appointments at 30.8 percent of medical schools in 2002, up from 24.4 percent just three years earlier (Liu and Mallon, 2004).
Clarifying the roles and possibilities available to non-tenure-track academic scientists and finding ways to make the best use of their talents and training presents a challenge to the leadership of the nation’s research enterprise. This chapter makes recommendations on creating more stable research opportunities for new investigators, both tenure-track and non-tenure-track.
For some time, NIH and the broader biomedical research community have been concerned about the ability of new investigators to obtain research grants, even those researchers who have attained tenure-track positions. The application and interview process for most tenure-track academic positions is so competitive that the successful applicant is not only an “above-average” scientist, but one near the very top of early-career-stage scientists. Given this level of vetting, the best interests of U.S. biomedical science require funding more of these individuals. The special mechanisms instituted by NIH over the past 15 to 20 years did not increase the number of new investigator applicants and these programs were eliminated (see Chapter 2), in part because promotion and tenure committees only value the “R01” designation. Creating opportunities for