Committee Statement of Task
The National Academies will convene a workshop as the principal data-gathering event of a study to explore issues related to fostering the independence of early-career scientists (postdoctoral researchers and young faculty) in order to enhance the vitality of the biomedical research enterprise and its workforce. This workshop will build upon an October 23–24 meeting held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that addressed training and opportunities for postdoctoral scientists and on previous reports on postdocs and young faculty issued by the National Academies and others (e.g., Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers  and Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists ). The proposed workshop will focus on the transition to independence of postdoctoral researchers and entry-level faculty with particular emphases on mechanisms to enhance the quality and effectiveness of postdoctoral training and the ability of young faculty to receive independent research funding. Previous recommendations from other studies will be considered and participants will be asked to identify and consider means to address the impediments that have prevented many of these recommendations from being put into practice. The workshop will consider whether existing programs within NIH could be expanded (e.g., K awards) and will include discussion of some of the successful programs and models being used outside NIH and to determine which features of these programs might be transferable to NIH and other large research sponsoring organization settings.
The workshop will seek to address questions related to the imple-
mentation of recommendations for fostering the independence of early-career investigators. Among the questions that might be considered are:
Are previous recommendations still appropriate and relevant?
To what degree have they been implemented?
What are the challenges to implementing previous recommendations?
Which non-NIH models have been successful in fostering the independence of early-career scientists and how might their most important elements be incorporated into NIH programs?
How might support of postdoctoral fellows through research grants be used to foster their independence and reduce any tendencies to stifle their creativity?
What is the role of the NIH study section and peer review system in creating the current situation for the funding of young scientists?
To what extent can the objectives be achieved by specific instruction to study sections and/or by increasing discretion of Program Officers?
A report will be prepared identifying the challenges and presenting ideas for enhancing the opportunities for young investigators to gain independent research funding. The report will also make recommendations on those topics where consensus can be reached. The study will focus on mechanisms for fostering independent funding in the life sciences, but it may also identify challenges or recommend solutions for dealing with the larger biomedical research and academic structures.