The genesis of this report stems from concerns expressed by members of Congress that the nation’s emerging biomedical1 researchers face unprecedented, systemic challenges that limit their ability to begin and sustain their careers as independent investigators. As Chapter 1 argues and the data presented in Chapter 2 show, those concerns are well-founded. This and the following chapters present recommendations reflecting the committee’s strong view that addressing these challenges and creating a better path forward for the nation’s emerging biomedical researchers is not the sole responsibility of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but is rather a shared responsibility of stakeholders throughout the entire biomedical research enterprise.
The American biomedical research enterprise is a complex ecosystem that includes a range of public and private stakeholders with overlapping and sometimes conflicting interests, objectives, and incentives. The decisions of many of these stakeholders cannot help but affect the way in which the next generation of investigators are recruited into the system. For an enterprise dependent upon identifying, training, and recruiting a cadre of investigators, few well-established forums exist to consistently evaluate and discuss the consequences of widely distributed and seemingly unconnected decisions by these different stakeholders. Mainly, stakeholder engagement on the issues facing the biomedical research
1 In this report, “biomedical” refers to the full range of biological, biomedical, behavioral, and health sciences supported by the National Institutes of Health.
enterprise—including those affecting young investigators—has been episodic and uncoordinated.
When and where it has occurred, engagement has taken the form of working groups, advisory councils, and ad hoc committees such as this one. These bodies have produced no shortage of recommendations addressed to different stakeholders in the biomedical research system, such as federal funding agencies, research institutions, professional societies, private-sector organizations, principal investigators, and the young researchers themselves. These endeavors, however, tend to be sporadic and discrete, and thus do not maintain sustained stewardship of the enterprise. These advisory bodies usually disband after issuing their recommendations, so there is no sustained oversight or collaboration on what occurs afterwards. Those advisory bodies that do meet regularly—such as advisory councils at NIH—are designed principally to advise the federal government on its own functioning and decisions, rather than to serve as a venue for the multilateral exchange of ideas and information that bear on the responsibilities of everyone in the ecosystem. There is little in the way of regular, ongoing, and shared conversations among these stakeholders about how best to implement recommendations and advance common interests that benefit the entire biomedical research system (Daniels, 2015). Assessment of responses to prior recommendations (Appendix B) illustrates that NIH has been responsive to calls for action, but NIH is not, nor should be, the sole driver of efforts to support the next generation of researchers.
The committee, therefore, has concluded that the need exists for an umbrella coordinating body to serve as an ongoing, independent forum for analyzing and addressing challenges confronting the biomedical workforce in a sustained manner, and to monitor implementation of the recommendations set forth in this and other reports. This body would include representatives from research universities, nonprofit advocacy associations, disciplinary societies, industry, NIH, and other federal agencies.
A number of other areas of national policy priority that exhibit a close integration of public and private actors and a need for engaged action across a sector have benefited from standing multi-stakeholder bodies that promote the ongoing exchange of information and ensure sustained oversight of strategic initiatives. Examples include the protection of critical infrastructure,2 standards-setting,3 and
2 For example, Infragard is a network of 501(c)(3)—developed in the wake of Presidential Decision Direction 63 on critical infrastructure protection, and originally managed out of the National Infrastructure Protection Center and includes members from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, state law enforcement agencies, academia, other government agencies, business and other organizations, and was created to provide formal and informal channels to promote the exchange of information about how to protect our nation’s critical infrastructures and key resources.
3 The American National Standards Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization composed of government agencies, companies, academic and international bodies, and others that seeks to facilitate voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment systems and to safeguard their integrity.
the interoperability of emergent technologies.4 Each of these bodies is structured in a somewhat different way, and serves a somewhat different purpose, but common among them is a diverse membership across public and private stakeholders in service of a common goal, and a recognition that earlier siloed approaches to decision-making were inadequate to the challenges at hand.
The time has arrived to create a similar coordinating council for the biomedical research enterprise—to serve as a consultative forum for analyzing and addressing issues confronting the biomedical workforce, assembling information and resources across the sector, monitoring implementation and assessing the impact of the recommendations set forth in this report, and developing and overseeing new initiatives in an ongoing manner. The committee recommends the establishment of the Biomedical Research Enterprise Council (BREC) to serve as this forum.
Although the committee does not want to be too prescriptive in the structure of the BREC, because it expects the council will both want and need space to grow and adapt as needed over time, its success will depend in no small measure on decisions regarding its funding and membership. The committee comments briefly on both below.
Launching the BREC
The committee recommends that the BREC be an independent not-for-profit organization, to ensure that it can play a stewardship role on behalf of the full range of stakeholders. However, the committee recognizes that the first few years after the BREC launches will be critical in establishing its stability, trajectory, and sustainability. Therefore, the committee recommends that NIH play a temporarily outsized role in financing the BREC in its earliest stages. The committee expects that responsibility for support of the BREC soon thereafter will transition to the broader biomedical community (with some continuing support from NIH).
The committee notes that a number of current examples of independent public-private bodies started their existence under the close sponsorship of a federal agency before transitioning to self-support.5 In addition, there are now bodies supported initially by a federal agency, with the expectation that they would transition to self-support. For example, the Department of Energy formed the Gridwise Architecture Council (GWAC)—an entity with public and private membership that seeks to advance interoperability among the entities that interact
4 The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, originally launched by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), that coordinates standards development for the smart grid and brings together public and private stakeholders to interact and accelerate standards harmonization and to advance the interoperability of smart electric grid devices and systems.
5 See, e.g., supra note 2, Infragard managed out of NIPC); note 4 (Smart Grid Interoperability started originally in NIST).
with the nation’s electric power system, and continues to provide the GWAC with administrative and logistical support, but “operational assistance is expected to eventually transition to related industry organizations.”6 The committee notes that this and similar bodies do not set an exact precedent for the BREC, but have succeeded under a sequenced model of public funding followed by broader support that balances the need for early support and stability and long-term independence.
The committee does not expect that the BREC will need an especially significant budget, anticipating that—at least initially—it will principally serve a convening function with a modest staff, and that the remainder of its budget will otherwise go to circumscribed tasks such as data collection and analysis.
The participants in the BREC would be drawn from a diverse set of organizations and entities, including associations of academic institutions, federal agencies, industry groups, and not-for-profit organizations, including those that represent postdoctoral fellows and graduate students and those that advocate for the research enterprise. Membership can be set initially by an ad hoc sponsoring group consisting of the above stakeholder organizations, after which the BREC could choose its own members. The committee envisions that initially the BREC would be relatively modest in size, in the vicinity of 10 to 20 members. This number is small enough to allow for collaboration and effective deliberation, but large enough to represent the full scope of the biomedical research enterprise.
Long-Term BREC Structure
After the BREC is established and functional, it should transition to a self-supporting model of funding. One option is a tiered fee schedule that varies based on the type (profit, nonprofit, university, government agency) and size of institution (annual revenue or operating budget), to ensure that all relevant stakeholders can participate. Here too, precedents can be found in existing multi-stakeholder bodies.7 The committee cannot predict with absolute certainty that stakeholders will provide the entirety of the financial support necessary to fund the BREC once it transitions away from exclusive NIH funding. But we are encouraged by the precedents whereby a membership fee, either alone or combined with other funding sources, has been successful in supporting multi-stakeholder public-private bodies in other arenas.
The committee considered alternatives to the creation of the BREC, such as remitting responsibility for the work to one of several existing scientific advisory bodies, such as the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, but found that those bodies tend to be structured principally to provide counsel to the government on the development of its own science
7 An example is the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel. Although this body includes a committee that is formed from larger plenary bodies, the membership fee is applied to the full plenary membership. (The Committee notes that a large plenary would not be incompatible with the concept of the BREC.)
policies, which is a very different role from that intended for the BREC. The committee also canvassed alternative options for the structure of the BREC that involve less formality or less robust representation and funding, but ultimately concluded that the need for sustained, legitimate oversight and coordination for a sector that is so critical to the nation’s social and economic welfare required the establishment of this organization. To do less would render the effort susceptible to criticism by excluded stakeholders. The numerous related committee and task force reports over the years on the biomedical workforce (see Appendix B) underscore the desirability of a more streamlined and formal institution. An assessment of the utility and effectiveness of the BREC should be conducted 5 years after its establishment.
The committee envisions that the BREC would serve as a policy forum for conceptualizing and developing ideas focused on supporting early-career researchers, sharing information, convening workshops to assess progress, and evaluating and creating accountability for implementation of policy reforms. The BREC would anticipate future trends and needs in relation to challenges and opportunities confronting early-stage and early established investigators (ESIs and EEIs8) and would examine the extent to which research institutions and the private sector are creating adequate opportunities for early-career researchers to thrive. The BREC could play an early role in data collection (see Recommendations 3.3 and 3.4), an area with meaningful and encouraging momentum but relatively little interaction between public and private groups on what should be collected and how. The BREC should also examine the extent to which federal programs and policies—including recommended new policies and programs from this report that are implemented by NIH—are having their intended effects to support the next generation of biomedical researchers. Therefore, the committee makes the following recommendation:
Congress should establish a Biomedical Research Enterprise Council (BREC) to address ongoing challenges confronting the Next Generation of Biomedical Researchers. The BREC would exercise ongoing collective guardianship of the biomedical enterprise and function as a forum for sustained coordination, consultation, problem-solving, and assessment of progress toward implementation of the recommendations put forth in this report.
One charge to the BREC would be to address the twin issues of disparity and inclusion. As described in Chapter 2, underrepresented minorities and women
8 EEI is defined as “a Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) who is within 10 years of receiving their first substantial, independent competing NIH R01 equivalent research award as an ESI.” https://grants.nih.gov/policy/early-investigators/index.htm (accessed February 15, 2018).
face enduring barriers to success, and the entire biomedical research enterprise must share responsibility for breaking down the barriers that prevent these populations from thriving and advancing in their chosen career paths. The capacity of the system to support the best science will be subverted if systemic barriers continue to thwart the recruitment of the brightest scientists irrespective of their race, gender, socioeconomic, or ethnic background.
There is little consensus on the effectiveness of potential strategies for improving diversity in the biomedical sciences. Few studies have evaluated or tested the impact of these strategies on the diversity or climate of institutions, and no studies that the committee could find assessed interventions in a systematic way across different institutional contexts. Notably, NIH has undertaken an extensive and ongoing review of its practices to improve diversity of the biomedical workforce. As a result of that review, NIH created the Scientific Workforce Diversity Office and the Diversity Program Consortium, the latter of which consists of three integrated initiatives—Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), and the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC). The CEC pilots and conducts rigorous evaluation and assessment of possible intervention strategies.
These programs, however, are supported by the NIH Common Fund, and are therefore not slated for funding after 10 years of operation. If the evaluations of these programs are positive, the nation’s universities, research institutions, and government laboratories should draw on the findings to enhance their own diversity and inclusion initiatives in the biomedical arena. There is, in fact, growing evidence that institutional interventions aimed at enhancing workforce diversity can be effective. For instance, progress has been made in the development of strategies to increase gender representation among institutions participating in the NSF-ADVANCE program and of underrepresented populations in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) (K12) program. The IRACDA program, for example, funds postdoctoral training programs that combine a mentored research experience with an opportunity to develop additional academic and teaching skills. Currently, only 25 institutions have IRACDA programs, each supporting five to six postdoctoral researchers per year. A recent evaluation of the IRACDA program shows promising recruitment of underrepresented populations into the program, as well as a high rate of transition into academic careers compared to those postdoctoral researchers supported by Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships (F32 award) over the same period (Faupel-Badger and Miklos, 2016).
Although NIH’s continuing commitment to enhancing the diversity of the biomedical research enterprise is laudable, it is not, nor should it be, the only stakeholder championing adoption of these effective programs. Universities are well-positioned to identify evidence-based practices for their institutions and to implement and scale those practices on their own, in parallel with NIH’s
efforts to develop evidence-based reform. Through their training, educational, mentoring, and coaching programs, the biopharmaceutical industry and health care accelerators and incubators are also committed to increasing the participation of underrepresented populations and women in their research workforce. Accordingly, the committee makes the following recommendation to strengthen the excellence and diversity of the biomedical research enterprise:
All stakeholders in the biomedical research enterprise—universities, research institutions, government laboratories, and biomedical industries—should promote, document, assess, and disseminate their existing and planned efforts to reduce the barriers to recruiting and retaining diverse researchers at all stages of career development.
The community’s responses to the Dear Colleague Letter (see Appendix C) revealed widespread concern about the paucity of accurate, timely data to guide decision-making by and about the biomedical workforce, a concern that previous reports have also raised. As Chapter 2 details, the time and investment committed to building a career in biomedical research is substantial, yet, too often, trainees lack the information needed to make informed choices about career and training opportunities that align with their interests and talents. This absence of information also likely contributes to disequilibrium in the workforce characterized by a mismatch between the career aspirations of trainees and the jobs available in specific sectors of the biomedical research enterprise, particularly tenure-track faculty positions (Sauermann and Roach, 2012), and it reduces the potential positive impact of the federal government’s—and hence taxpayers’—investment in training biomedical researchers.
There has been some promising recent activity with respect to collecting information to guide graduate student career choices. For example, the NIH Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) consortium requires its members to collect and disseminate information on graduate student career outcomes. Universities such as Stanford University and Vanderbilt have been early leaders, and, on September 20, 2017, the Association of American Universities (AAU) issued a policy statement calling on “all Ph.D. granting universities and their respective Ph.D. granting colleges, schools and departments, to make a commitment to providing prospective and current students with easily accessible information.”9 The AAU statement stated explicitly that such data should include student demographics, average time to finish a degree, financial support, and career paths and outcomes both inside and outside academia.
9 See https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2017/09/20/aau-sets-expectation-data-transparency-Ph.D.-program-outcomes (accessed November 22, 2017).
Other groups, such as Rescuing Biomedical Research10 (RBR), the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), and the newly formed Coalition for Next Generation Life Sciences (CNGLS) (Blank et al., 2017), are also mobilizing universities to improve transparency about Ph.D. career outcomes. RBR has worked with AAU, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), NIH, the BEST consortium, and numerous universities and other research organizations to develop a common set of methods for data collection on Ph.D. alumni and a common career outcomes taxonomy (Pickett and Tilghman, 2017). In October 2016, CGS announced a pilot program that will fund 15 universities to gather and use data about the careers of Ph.D. students and alumni in the humanities to support career development and mentoring,11 and the Graduate Career Consortium has developed its own taxonomy for tracking Ph.D. career outcomes (Brinkman et al., 2017). In December 2017, CNGLS announced an agreement between its nine member universities and one research institution on a set of milestones for the next 2 years for collecting data on training outcomes for doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, among other commitments. The presidents and chancellors of these universities acknowledged that “the arguments in favor of transparency are sound, and the time has come for institutions to develop credible mechanisms that are responsive to these concerns” (Blank et al., 2017, p. 1389).
The efforts mentioned above create an opportunity to guide the development of a multi-stakeholder plan for data transparency across research institutions and to ensure that data collection is consistent across universities and useful to trainees and policymakers alike. Given that universities are required to collect much of this information on trainees funded through NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Institutional Research Training Grants (T32 award), and occasionally when hosting privately funded fellowships, the rationale for declining to share these data with prospective students is weak. Some institutions are not collecting and publishing such data because they fear that the necessary cost and time to do so would be prohibitive or that publication of career outcomes data would negatively affect their recruitment efforts, but the RBR effort found those fears to be unfounded. In fact, as the authors of a report on the RBR effort noted, “Interviews of institutions that had collected and published data on their biomedical Ph.D. alumni suggested that many of these roadblocks could be overcome with efficient data collection and presentation programs, and that their commitment to transparency actually enhanced graduate student recruiting rather than diminishing it” (Pickett and Tilghman, 2017, p.3).
Previous reports have called on research institutions to collect information on training outcomes and to make that information easily accessible for their students and postdoctoral trainees, yet most institutions have been slow to respond to these recommendations. The committee is encouraged that the many efforts on-
11 See http://cgsnet.org/cgs-announces-multi-university-project-collect-data-career-pathways-humanities-Ph.D.s (accessed November 22, 2017).
going today to develop taxonomies for collecting data on educational and career outcomes for Ph.D. students will prompt the biomedical research community to join the burgeoning movement to increase transparency. Although it would be ideal for the community to reach consensus on one taxonomy, it is beyond the remit of this committee to recommend one taxonomy over another. At a minimum, though, the data collected should include Ph.D. completion rates, time to degree, length of time between attaining a Ph.D. and accepting an independent position, number and length of postdoctoral positions, and sector and location of employment for a minimum of 10 years after receiving the Ph.D., disaggregated to the extent possible by demographics, including gender, race and ethnicity, and visa status. Institutions should update these data on a regular schedule. Some research institutions have begun to clarify and narrow the number of titles and career tracks for postdoctoral researchers, which enable better collection on their status and outcomes, and other institutions should emulate this trend.
In addition to being invaluable to our young scientists, these data are critical for sound policymaking. For example, there is a debate in the literature about whether the asymmetries that exist in the biomedical workforce justify more draconian interventions, such as limits on graduate enrollments (Alberts et al., 2014; Stephan, 2012). The case in favor of such caps is based in no small measure on the increasing number of postdoctoral trainees relative to the number of available academic positions and the large and growing number of individuals with biomedical doctorates working in non-research positions. However, before taking a step as dramatic as reducing the number of students admitted to biomedical Ph.D. programs, it is crucial to understand the actual population of trainees, the duration of postdoctoral training, career trajectories and aspirations of trainees, changes in these data over time, and the type of research versus non-research positions that Ph.D.’s ultimately secure, including data on whether these placements are in the United States or abroad. Furthermore, if trainees were given the agency to make informed career choices using robust and timely information, their actions might contribute to balancing the supply and demand.
The committee makes the following two recommendations to address the need for increased transparency and data generation to support better private decisions and better policy development.
Biomedical research institutions should collect, analyze, and disseminate comprehensive data on outcomes, demographics, and career aspirations of biomedical pre- and postdoctoral researchers using common standards and definitions as developed by the institutions in concert with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To incentivize compliance, NIH should make collection and publication of these data a requirement for additional NIH funding. This requirement should be phased-in over a 5-year period.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) should develop and implement a plan to improve sector-wide data collection and analysis in a manner that is easily accessible by policymakers and integrates data from numerous other sources. NSF should expeditiously link the Survey of Doctorate Recipients and the Survey of Earned Doctorates to U.S. Census data, and those linked data, under strict confidentiality protocols, should be made available for qualified researchers to use at Federal Statistical Research Data Centers to better understand the biomedical workforce.
NSF stands as the national clearinghouse of information collected through various surveys on science and engineering trainees and the workforce (see Box 3-1). Therefore, the committee recommends that NSF, which has developed an extensive infrastructure to collect these data, lead a renewed effort to improve the collection of sector-wide biomedical data, with an emphasis on standardizing, collecting, and synthesizing data from across the workforce. Currently, NIH contributes funds to support NSF’s Survey of Doctoral Recipients and Survey of Earned Doctorates.
Additional efforts to synthesize data would benefit from the empirical infrastructure built since 2015 by the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science (IRIS), which provides a platform for linking university administrative records with U.S. Census data, as well as administrative data with other databases, including patents and publications.12 Among the early insights into the careers of researchers produced using IRIS data is a better understanding of the factors contributing to an aging science and engineering workforce (Blau and Weinberg, 2017) and the geographic locations and sectors employing recent science and engineering Ph.D.’s (Zolas et al., 2015). Given the promising nature of the IRIS system, the committee strongly urges that research institutions join the IRIS initiative. This system is consistent and aligned with recommendations made by the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making (Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, 2017).
There have been multiple efforts recently to collect data about portions of the workforce, and the NIH Office of Extramural Programs (OER) has played a leadership role in such efforts. The committee appreciates the analytical support that it received from OER during its deliberations. In 2015, NIH established the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce Programs (DBRW)13 within OER in part to analyze biomedical research workforce data. However, these data are not comprehensive; NIH is largely limited to information about its own grant programs, and broader data about the workforce are neither comprehensive, precise, nor readily available.
NIH funded the University of Minnesota to develop IPUMS Higher Ed,14 a publicly available tool released in 2016 that harmonizes multiple NSF datasets—-
the National and International Survey of Doctoral Recipients (SDR) databases and Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) and National Survey of Recent College Graduates (NSRCG) databases—from 1990 to 2013. IPUMS Higher Ed provides a user-friendly data extraction system to track career trajectories of Ph.D.’s across different occupations, including in academia, government, industry, and research organizations. These actions represent an important first step toward addressing
the information gap, but they are limited by inconsistent institutional data collection efforts and a lack of transparency.
Unpredictable biomedical research funding impairs long-term planning and reverberates across a workforce that relies on stable financial support and highly trained researchers. As noted in Chapter 2, the decline in real dollars of federal research support has contributed directly to the many stresses facing the incoming generation of biomedical researchers. For example, ESIs securing their first NIH award must deal with the declining purchasing power of those awards. Over the past decade, the size of grant awards has not tracked with research inflation as measured by the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index calculated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Today, investigators must fund their research with an award that is worth approximately 80 percent of its value 10 years ago.15 The decline in funding in constant dollars, and the resulting sharp increase in competition for the available funding, has also meant that NIH has had fewer opportunities to address enduring barriers to groundbreaking research for the next generation of biomedical researchers.
Over the years, a series of thoughtful and evidence-based reports from a cadre of leaders in biomedical research have called for solutions. Many of these solutions have been reiterated in report after report, including doubling the number of Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) awards and the NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards (DP5), with the goal of easing the transition of trainees to independent research positions, increasing the proportion of postdoctoral researchers supported by training grants and fellowships, and developing new programs for early faculty that seek to respond to particular barriers they face in developing new research programs (FASEB, 2015; Institute of Medicine et al., 2000; National Academy of Sciences et al., 2014; National Research Council, 2005). However, as highlighted in Appendix B, NIH has not fully implemented these recommendations.
In addition, unpredictable funding or periodic surges and subsequent cuts in the NIH budget create issues for a research enterprise that depends on long-term planning and multi-year grants. These issues can place a unique burden on early-career investigators, who are especially vulnerable to unpredictable funding for NIH. More importantly, the United States is in danger of squandering its global competitive edge in biomedical research as other nations build their research investments and create incentives to recruit their research talent back from our training programs and laboratories and as the United States grapples with various immigration issues that affect the ability of biomedical researchers
15 See https://officeofbudget.od.nih.gov/pdfs/FY18/BRDPI%20Table%20FY%201950%20to%202022_Jan%202017.pdf (accessed December 5, 2017).
with temporary visa holders to remain in this country (National Science Board, 2018). For these reasons, a wide range of respected organizations in recent years, including the National Academies (National Academy of Sciences et al., 2007; National Research Council, 2012), the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2014), and United for Medical Research (2015) have called for more dependable funding for basic research.
In August 2017, NIH launched the Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) specifically to provide additional funding for ESIs and EEIs to “promote the growth, stability and diversity of the biomedical research workforce.”16 NIH Director Francis Collins explained in a June 8, 2017, letter that the funding required to carry out this policy would be drawn from commitments already made in the 2017 NIH base budget, and then, pending the availability of funds, investment in the initiative would increase to $1.1 billion per year after 5 years. Although the NGRI could address many of the funding challenges unique to ESIs and EEIs, its current structure requires NIH to support it with funds currently allocated to other initiatives and research needs. This would divert funds from more established investigators and would increase the hyper-competition for funding, threatening the sustainability of the enterprise and decreasing the amount of funds available for these researchers when they no longer qualify for an award under the NGRI.
Therefore, to fully realize the promise of initiatives aimed at helping the next generation of biomedical researchers, including the NGRI and the recommendations in this report, Congress should provide new funds for their implementation in the same manner it has for initiatives such as the Human Genome Project, the Cancer Genome Atlas Project, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and the NIH All of Us Research Study. To ensure consistent funding for the incoming generations of independent investigators and the vibrancy of the biomedical research enterprise and its workforce, Congress should increase its annual funding for NIH at a rate that is at least equal to the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index developed by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
As noted throughout this report, evidence shows that securing federal research funding, particularly R01 support, has become increasingly competitive over the past decade. At the same time, because increases in federal support for NIH have been modest, the purchasing power of NIH grants have diminished over that period. This heightened competition affects all researchers, but especially early-career scientists without a strong record of grant success.
The Statement of Task for this study explicitly requires the committee to analyze the full range of barriers and constraints to research opportunities for career researchers. It reads, in part, “The study will include . . . an evaluation of the impact of federal policies and budgets. . . .” Any serious effort to address the barriers faced by early-career scientists cannot ignore the challenges of reduced funding
and more intense competition for scarce research dollars—to say nothing of the challenges presented by the lack of predictable, sustained funding that arises as a result of annual uncertainties in the Congressional appropriations process.
As such, the committee includes a recommendation not only for support of new and enhanced programmatic initiatives at NIH, and more aggressive policies and programs at research institutions, but also for an increase in overall Congressional appropriations for NIH to support the NGRI and enable expansion of programs, such as the NIH BEST program, that address some of the early biomedical career issues discussed in this report. The committee is not proposing sweeping programs that require substantial money. Indeed, the financial scale of its recommendations, estimated to cost approximately $1 billion over 5 years, is small relative to that of research project grant funding, yet such funds would substantially increase resources available for training, mentoring, and sustaining the careers of ESIs.
If Congress provides no additional funding for NIH, and funds cannot be reallocated within the agency, then many of the trends discussed throughout this report (e.g., increasing age to securing an R01-equivalent grant, decreasing representation of NIH-supported investigators under age 50, enduring barriers to diversifying the research workforce, and prevailing lack of accountability for the training and mentorship of postdoctoral researchers) may very well continue, or even worsen. If Congress provides no additional funding and NIH reallocates funds from research grants, then these problems could continue and even pose additional challenges when investigators try to secure subsequent NIH funding. As discussed throughout this report, additional considerations influence the trajectory of the biomedical workforce independent of funding. However, in the years since the 2005 Bridges to Independence report, congressional funding for NIH research has declined in real dollars, and although NIH has sought to commit funding and attention to address the challenges facing young investigators, a number of the recommendations were not fully implemented, and the problems have endured.
A commitment of funding is necessary to bend the curve on these issues and to achieve the vision of a truly dynamic and innovative workforce system. Otherwise, we seem destined to repeat the lessons of the past. Therefore, the committee recommends the following:
Congress should consider increasing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget specifically to support implementation of the recommendations in this report and to provide sustained support for NIH’s recently announced Next Generation Researchers Initiative.
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