Building and enhancing capacity of young scientists to be innovators, collaborators, and systems thinkers with a transdisciplinary perspective will require strong leadership, flexibility, and coordination. Given that a large percentage of EPA scientists in ORD and other program offices are near retirement, it is critical for the agency to recruit a new generation of scientists who are well versed in emerging tools (discussed in Chapter 3 and Appendixes C and D) and in cross-disciplinary collaboration and who have been mentored by current scientists. Mentoring will allow younger scientists to gain an understanding of years of research and regulatory science from older scientists. One specific example is in the field of statistics. Senior statisticians are important in EPA because they have the knowledge and experience to mentor inhouse junior statisticians and scientists, facilitate inhouse data analytic work, steer the agency to secure appropriate expert support from outside, and ensure the quality of agency’s statistical work. The best type of person to fill this senior position not only has advanced statistical expertise, but also has substantive knowledge in other fields and substantial teamwork experience.
To develop career paths and increase productivity of its newer scientists, EPA needs to be vigilant in engaging them and fostering their professional development. The committee supports ORD’s efforts to clarify requirements for promotion of scientists and engineers to senior levels (Anastas 2011). The promotion criteria require substantial achievement that displays high scientific quality, relevance to EPA’s mission, and impacts on decision-making. As is typical of expectations in most academic institutions, scientists and engineers seeking promotion to the GS-14 level are expected to be nationally recognized for their contributions and those seeking promotion to GS-15 to have international recognition. ORD’s promotion criteria now highlight expectations for transdisciplinary research, teamwork, and leadership (Anastas 2011).
EPA also needs larger and more senior cadres of scientists in fields in which it wants to play a strong leading role among federal agencies (NRC 2010a). In a recent example, EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology (NCCT) was established to address the lack of toxicity data on the many chemicals that are on the market and to do so in an efficient and cost-effective manner (see Chapter 3 and Appendix C for more information about EPA’s computational toxicology program). Buoyed by the guidance and affirmation it received from Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century (NRC 2007), ORD and NCCT leadership set an ambitious path to address their charge. In its first 5 years, the center has been able to break boundaries and build transdisciplinary collaborations with other federal partners and the private sector both in the United States and internationally. The science generated through the center’s collaborations has created momentum around computational toxicology research and influenced research investments by other agencies and organizations, including the chemical industry.
Optimizing resources, creating and benefiting from scientific exchange zones, and leading innovation through transdisciplinary collaborations to address the many challenges described in Chapter 2 will require forward-thinking