The committee would prefer that data collection be integrated across career stages instead of a different system for postdocs than for PIs than for staff scientists. NIH needs to gather data on all supported personnel regardless of their funding mechanism and track these individuals as they progress through their careers. Such data are likely to inform NIH leadership about the relative successes of various funding mechanisms and programs in fostering independence. The committee suggests that the NIH work with other federal agencies and private sector funders that support researchers to enable cross-agency data collection. This could provide a common set of definitions and measures that would enable cross-agency comparisons.
Data should be disaggregated to detect different trends among different demographic and other groups.
Despite a long history of concern on these issues, progress has been slow. The time for action is now. Every year of delay in implementing change affects tens of thousands of scientists already pursuing biomedical careers and an untold number of those who might have pursued such a career. The personal concern for this issue by leaders at the highest levels of NIH and of science in general provides a reason for optimism. But it is not only the leaders of NIH who must be convinced of the urgency. Advisory Councils, study sections, and staff members at NIH must all play their part in enacting these recommendations now. University administrators, department chairs, and faculty must recognize that the biomedical research enterprise is not the same as it was when they were new investigators and take steps to acknowledge this new reality. New faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, staff scientists, and graduate students must also recognize these realities and be proactive and realistic about their own careers.
This report presents an overview of biomedical research careers and the pipeline of recruiting, retaining, and supporting new investigators in biomedical research. While recognizing the realities of the present situation, it offers a vision for the future that will help ensure the continued vitality of the biomedical research enterprise and its workforce. The recommendations are bold, but realistic and practical. Their successful implementation relies on the participation of all stakeholders in biomedical and academic research. Working together, the stakeholders can meet their responsibility to provide a bridge to independence by helping to foster the independence of new investigators in biomedical research.