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Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of New Investigators in Biomedical Research
interdisciplinary research at an early stage in their careers. Applicants must be within 3 years of receiving their PhD and under age 35 with a proven research and publication record. Institutions must also submit a binding letter describing how the environment and focus of the department is appropriate for the applicant and committing to cost-sharing during the professorship and continuing support after the award’s conclusion.
The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) offers the Young Investigator Programme to young scientists in the first 3 years of establishing their own independent laboratory. In addition to €15,000 per year, EMBO provides an opportunity to network with other scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). EMBO Young Investigators choose an EMBL mentor who provides advice on the awardee’s research project and helps promote the mentee to relevant conferences.
The French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) offers its Avenir Program for the Promotion of Young Researchers to encourage autonomy for promising young biomedical research scientists. Avenir awardees are provided with a fully equipped laboratory within an INSERM facility or French University Hospital. Applicants receive support of up to €60,000 per year for 3 years and, possibly, financial support to host a foreign postdoc or graduate student. Applicants may already hold a permanent research position at INSERM or other French research institute, university, or hospital; those without a permanent position may apply to develop an independent research project at a host institution.
Few of these model programs for new or early-career investigators have collected data on their outcomes or the successes of their awardees. Conclusions on helpful elements of the awards come from the few programs that have been evaluated and from anecdotal feedback from recipients, program administrators, and other observers. The lack of rigorous feedback on these awards demonstrates the importance of collecting data on awardees—and an appropriate control group—to determine the effect of the award on the careers of those scientists. However, it is difficult to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between the award and career success. For instance, many of the awards go to the same population of researchers, i.e., the same individuals may receive multiple such awards. Did the award help those selected to advance in their career or receive subsequent funding? Or would the individuals selected have been likely to succeed even without the award? These questions are difficult to answer.