institutions than at present. While NRSA policy allows for five years of predoctoral support, some NIH institutes encourage universities to limit appointments on NRSA training grants to three years or less; many respondents thought this practice was unrealistic, as it generally takes seven years to complete a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences. Other respondents raised similar concerns about the policy limiting postdoctoral awards to three years. One letter writer suggested that bridge awards be established to fill the gap between the end of an NRSA postdoctoral appointment and eligibility for other awards.
Regarding other aspects of the program, many commentators called for increased funding for health insurance, equipment, travel, and administration. One postdoctoral fellow lamented that after paying his health insurance premium, little money was left for research supplies. Noting the heavy administrative workload that accompanies a training grant, one respondent suggested such awards include support for a portion of the director's salary. Another recommended that training grants include funds for at least a parttime administrative assistant.
Beyond suggestions for improved funding, a number of respondents called for expanded eligibility for research training support. Some commentators believed that foreign nationals, particularly those who are applying for permanent residency, should be permitted to participate in NRSA programs. Others were concerned that the requirement for full-time research training discourages the recruitment and retention of women and recommended that part-time research training be an option.
Finally, some respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the length and cumbersome nature of the review process. Their recommendations for improvement included simplifying application forms and reducing the time required for review.
Respondents were resoundingly opposed to reducing the overall size of the NRSA program. If additional funds become available, they believe that it merits expansion.
There was much less consensus on the question of whether research training in specific fields should be modified in response to hiring patterns or the expansion or contraction of research opportunities, but the majority of the respondents believed that “careful” adjustments could be beneficial. Some called for a modification in research training in fields where there are few academic positions available, with one individual noting that overtraining wastes resources and denies training opportunities to others. Respondents disagreed about whether the NIH or local mentors should be responsible for making the necessary decisions, but a number believed that the process should be guided by periodic program reviews. One person recommended a survey of prospective employers.
Of the fields singled out for increases in research training, the ones mentioned most often were generally in the clinical and behavioral sciences, such as health services research, outcomes research, nursing, dentistry, and epidemiology and biostatistics. Also mentioned were bioinformatics and a wide variety of clinical and behavioral research fields. Other commentators suggested an increase in broad-based, interdisciplinary research training programs to help prospective investigators respond to future research advances.
Most respondents did not consider whether increases in research training support might result in cuts in other forms of funding. Of those that did, most would shift support from research assistantships to training grants; within the NRSA program others suggested reallocating funds from individual fellowships to training grants.
The very few fields that were singled out for reductions in research training included gastroenterology, veterinary science, and nursing.
Many respondents made suggestions about the evaluation—and reevaluation—of research training programs, so as to establish which are the most successful and which should be expanded or contracted. Several commentators recommended that the outcomes of training grants and fellowship awards be compared to determine where additional funds should be directed.