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INTRODUCTION: NEWLY INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATORS1 IN THE LIFE SCIENCES2

The leading position of the United States in science and biotechnology is due in large part to generous federal support since World War II. Indeed, although there have been severe budget deficits in recent years, the Administration and Congress have made concerted efforts to maintain steady support for science and technology and to allow for their moderate growth.

Although the United States has lost competitive ground in many other fields, it is still consistently ranked as the world leader in biotechnology, which has been cited as a key emerging technology (18,33,70,72). Primarily through the practical application of the tools of biotechnology, life-science research has joined other major scientific disciplines-such as chemistry, engineering, and physics-in having an important role in fields as diverse as medicine, food production, environmental research, engineering, and materials fabrication (27,34,52,69,115).

To maintain its economic and academic leadership in life-science research, the United States must not only maintain a stable funding environment for

1  

A newly independent investigator is defined in this report as a scientist who has completed graduate and postgraduate training and has been directing his or her own laboratory for less than 5 years.

2  

Life sciences is a broad term that covers many fields. In this report, life sciences are divided into biomedical (Chapter 2) and biological (Chapter 3) disciplines mainly because their support comes from separate agencies with different traditions.



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The Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences 1 INTRODUCTION: NEWLY INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATORS1 IN THE LIFE SCIENCES2 The leading position of the United States in science and biotechnology is due in large part to generous federal support since World War II. Indeed, although there have been severe budget deficits in recent years, the Administration and Congress have made concerted efforts to maintain steady support for science and technology and to allow for their moderate growth. Although the United States has lost competitive ground in many other fields, it is still consistently ranked as the world leader in biotechnology, which has been cited as a key emerging technology (18,33,70,72). Primarily through the practical application of the tools of biotechnology, life-science research has joined other major scientific disciplines-such as chemistry, engineering, and physics-in having an important role in fields as diverse as medicine, food production, environmental research, engineering, and materials fabrication (27,34,52,69,115). To maintain its economic and academic leadership in life-science research, the United States must not only maintain a stable funding environment for 1   A newly independent investigator is defined in this report as a scientist who has completed graduate and postgraduate training and has been directing his or her own laboratory for less than 5 years. 2   Life sciences is a broad term that covers many fields. In this report, life sciences are divided into biomedical (Chapter 2) and biological (Chapter 3) disciplines mainly because their support comes from separate agencies with different traditions.

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The Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences established life scientists, but also provide opportunities for new generations of life scientists. Young scientists are our nation's source of established researchers. However, of the 4 million U.S. high-school sophomores in 1977, only 10,000 (0.25%) were estimated to receive Ph.D.s in science or engineering by 1992 (53). The numbers of new Ph.D.s remained level or declined slightly in the 1980s, although a mild upturn has occurred in the first years of this decade. Fewer U.S. citizens have entered graduate school, and graduate positions are increasingly being filled by young people from abroad (74). The latter are an important source of our nation's scientific talent, but an increasing fraction of these are returning to their home countries after completing their training in the United States. Combined with those losses of talent is the increase in the average age of the academic life scientist over the last decade (62,117,118); many are expected to retire by the turn of the century. In 1991, 18% of nonacademic scientists and engineers in the United States were 55 years old or older-a percentage higher than that in France, Germany, or Japan but lower than that in the United Kingdom (112). Grants for research in the life sciences are available from federal and state governments, industry, and nonprofit organizations, such as voluntary health and philanthropic organizations. Support from the federal government and nonprofit sources is directed mainly to basic research, most of which is done at universities, and the federal government is the major provider of research dollars for basic science (130); industrial support is mainly for the development of specific products (110). The mid-1980s marked the beginning of a decline in the fraction of life-science investigators who were awarded research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Sufficient funds used to be available to support the top one-third of proposed research programs, but demand has outstripped the supply of funds in recent years. Although the success rates in 1991 and 1992 showed an increase over that in the late 1980s, the rate in 1993 was again down sharply. As the fraction of successful grant applications fell to 10–20% in some agencies in the late 1980s, research in the life sciences in the United States came under severe strain. This study, by the Committee on the Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences, in the National Research Council's Board on Biology, was prompted by a concern that the diminution of research funds was having a disproportionate effect on young investigators and might be threatening the continued supply of new scientists in basic biological and biomedical research (11,13,15,30,34,41,48,49,54).

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The Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences A reduction in the funding rate is especially hard on the morale of newly independent investigators. Because young investigators are responsible for a large share of university teaching, their low morale and career enthusiasm infect the students who will form the next generation of scientists. The reduction in resources led to a concern that the research funding agencies might be favoring the maintenance of established scientists over initiation of the programs of new investigators. Indeed, newly independent investigators usually apply for their first grants in direct competition with established investigators, who are seeking renewals of grants or additional grants. In comparison with their senior colleagues, young investigators are often criticized for not having sufficient preliminary data to support their applications. That causes pressure to design projects that are based on previous postdoctoral work and to avoid experiments that are novel and perhaps risky, regardless of their potential importance. The choice of a research career is a long and highly selective process. Scientists usually undergo more than 12 years of post-secondary-school preparation to achieve the competence necessary to do independent research (60). Most young life scientists are expected to raise funds to support their new research programs and often a substantial proportion of their own salaries. While setting up a laboratory, young investigators must juggle the demands of research, teaching, departmental responsibilities, and grant-application writing. The difficulty is often exacerbated by the need to write multiple grant applications because funding agencies are less likely to provide substantial funds to an untested new investigator; for newly independent investigators at institutions that do not provide full salary support, writing multiple grant applications is common. Universities often provide startup funds to help equip new laboratories and to support the first year or two of research. These funds are usually insufficient to maintain the full thrust of the research if funding for the first extramural grant is not secured. The need to write grant applications during the critical period of launching a research program draws the investigator's time away from research. Even highly select groups of newly independent scientists, such as the recipients of the prestigious Searle Scholar Award, have difficulty in securing funding for research programs. Responses from the 1990 and 1991 Searle award recipients indicate that although 74% received some form of extramural funding to begin their careers, the grants were often small and of limited duration. Only a little over half the scholars were funded by the major federal agencies, such as NIH and NSF. The average Searle award recipient has been

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The Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences turned down for almost four grants-a remarkable figure, considering their youth and their unusually high quality. Young investigators, whether successful or unsuccessful, describe the current situation as ''bleak,'' "dismal," and "depressing." Despite a frequently stated love for research, large numbers of young investigators talk about leaving academic life for the perceived security of industry. The following statement by a Searle award recipient, one of the 15% of the nominees who received this prestigious award, exemplifies the impact of funding problems on teaching and public service. This recent recipient of a Searle and NIH award had been turned down for funding on five previous grant applications. As I see it, the long term effects of the grant situation are as follows: 1) We are losing potentially excellent educators and researchers to other careers. . . . I love my job and I am sorry that my students see only the stress and the heartache associated with it. 2) I am pressed to publish papers if I want to maximize my chances for securing support. . . . I wish I had time to publish complete pieces of work but I don't. I have to publish what we have. 3) Projects with long-term pay-offs are not possible without stable funding. 4) Because research has turned into fund-raising, the academic job today is no longer what it used to be. It used to be teaching, research and public service. Today we pay lip service to teaching and public service. The academic profession has turned into business. . . . I genuinely enjoy teaching, both in the laboratory and in the classroom (particularly at the undergraduate level). . . . But it isn't a pleasure when one is torn between the demands of students and the demands of a research career (i.e. granting agency). Who loses? The students lose and hence the public loses. Teaching and research are intimately linked. If we are secure in our ability to do research, we will have the time and inclination to teach and to teach with the same commitment, zeal and effort as we do research. The Committee on the Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences is composed of researchers and administrators from academe, industry, and philanthropy. It was convened to examine the basic life-science research funding climate as it applies to newly independent investigators. The committee was charged with examining the mechanisms of funding of newly independent investigators in the major federal agencies and private organizations, the current state of such funding, and the major problems and constraints in the funding system. It was also charged with

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The Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences determining the impact of changes in the funding environment on the recruitment and retention of young investigators in basic life-science research. The committee's findings and its recommendations of ways to improve the funding of newly independent investigators are presented in this report. The committee restricted its attention to the newly independent investigator who is intending to conduct life-science research. It did not address issues that are peculiar to the career paths of investigators in clinical medicine; the Institute of Medicine is conducting a study of career choices for clinician scientists. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the research budgets and funding mechanisms used to support life-science research initiated by newly independent investigators; it describes support of biomedical research and gives special attention to a comparison of support for the newly independent scientist and the established scientist. Chapter 3 supplements the overview information provided in Chapter 2 and treats specifically the support of biological research. The separation of the two branches of the life sciences permitted equal attention to their different funding mechanisms and research environments. The future supply of new investigators is discussed in Chapter 4, with emphasis on the recruitment of people from underrepresented minority groups and on ways to further the careers of newly independent female scientists. Chapter 5 presents the committee's conclusions and recommendations. An appendix provides detailed data that expand on information presented in Chapter 2.

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