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Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of New Investigators in Biomedical Research
with each designed to address a different segment of the research community or a specific challenge. Some of the changes can and should be implemented immediately; others will require large-scale policy decisions and adjustments in the academic culture.
The committee first looked ahead to 2010 to create a vision of where the training and nurturing of new investigators might lead and then developed more detailed recommendations for how to achieve those goals. While some of the visions might not be fully achieved by 2010, the 5-year deadline means that change must begin now. Setting a deadline further off would make it too easy to delay response in the belief that someone else will deal with it sometime in the future. But the need for attention and, especially, action is urgent and must be initiated immediately.
This chapter therefore presents a vision for the future in order to provide a scaffold for the recommendations and discussion that will be discussed in more detail in the remainder of the report: from optimizing the postdoctoral experience (Chapter 4), to facilitating the transition to a first independent position (Chapter 5), to establishing stable research programs (Chapter 6).
NEW ALLOCATION STRATEGIES AND FUNDING MECHANISMS FOR SUPPORTING POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCHERS
NIH currently relies on four primary mechanisms to support postdoctoral researchers. A majority are supported on research grants held by their advisors; fewer are assigned to training grants awarded to institutions; still fewer have individual fellowships via National Research Service Awards (NRSAs); and a small number of senior postdoctoral scientists have mentored K-series transition awards. There are several ways in which NIH could reallocate funds and support postdoctoral researchers’ efforts to achieve independence. The vision for the future distributes funding to support training and programmatic goals, rather than defining goals by funding opportunities. The recommendations of Chapter 4 describe this vision.
Fostering Collaborative Research
Is the training of independent researchers outmoded? As collaborative, interdisciplinary research becomes increasingly valuable in answering some of biology’s most difficult questions, what is the role of the independent researcher? As defined in Box 1-3, the new definition of “independence” does not mean that a researcher must work alone as long as the investigator enjoys independence of thought.
Collaborative research can be especially attractive to a new investiga-