Public Affairs

Public Affairs

NIH Workforce Reports Released

In June, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released two reports focused on the biomedical research workforce—one that focuses on the future of the biomedical research workforce and one that focuses on diversity within the biomedical research workforce. Both reports were created by working groups set up by Director Francis Collins to study these issues.

The Biomedical Research Workforce

The Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group, co-chaired by Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton University and Salley Rockey, director of Extramural Affairs at NIH, was asked to develop a “model for a sustainable and diverse US biomedical research workforce that can inform decisions about training the optimal number of people for the appropriate types of positions that will advance science and promote health.” The Working Group was also asked “to make recommendations for actions the NIH should take to support a future sustainable biomedical research infrastructure.”

The task force’s recommendations included:

  • Training students and postdocs for jobs beyond conducting research and recognizing the value of that work;
  • Shortening the length of the PhD and postdoctoral fellowships by capping the number of years a graduate student can be supported by NIH funds and increasing postdoctoral salaries;
  • Increasing the proportion of students supported by NIH training grants and fellowships compared to those supported by research project grants;
  • Doubling the number of Pathways to Independence Awards and NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards offered by the NIH;
  • Requiring individual development plans for all NIHsupported postdoctoral researchers;
  • Encouraging study sections to be receptive to grant applications that include staff scientists; and
  • Reducing the percentage of funds from all NIH sources that can be used for faculty salary report.

In creating the report and crafting recommendations, the Working Group was challenged with a lack of comprehensive data on the biomedical research workforce. As a result, the Working Group also recommended that NIH require institutions receiving NIH funds to collect information on career outcomes for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and that the NIH work with other government agencies on collecting information on the biomedical research workforce. The report, as well as additional data the Working Group collected on the biomedical research workforce, can be found at http://acd.od.nih.gov/bwf.htm

Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce

The Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce also made its findings available in June. Collins charged this group with “providing concrete recommendations toward improving the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities (URM), people with disabilities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the lifespan of a biomedical research career from graduate study to acquisition of tenure in an academic position or the equivalent in a nonacademic setting.” The Working Group was chaired by Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group, John Ruffin, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH and Lawrence Tabak, principal deputy director of NIH.

The Working Group carefully reviewed the publication, Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards, an NIHcommissioned study conducted by Donna Ginther and her colleagues, which reported significant disparities in R01‐funding probability for both Asian applicants that were not US citizens at the time of receiving their PhD and Black applicants, compared to White applicants. Follow-up work done by the Working Group confirmed this discrepancy, and found that less than one percent of those seeking R01 funding are Black.

Based on the available data (which, among other things, shows that Black applicants are less likely to receive R01 funding that White applicants), the Working Group made several recommendations aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented minorities (URM) in the workforce. The highest priority recommendations are for NIH to:

  • Improve data collection on all trainees;
  • Implement a system of mentorship networks for underrepresented minority;
  • Increase support for URM undergraduate and graduate students;
  • Increase support for comparatively underresourced institutions with a documented track record of producing and supporting URM students;
  • Establish a new Working Group focused on determining and combating real or perceived biases in the NIH peer review system;
  • Pilot different forms of implicit bias/diversity awareness training; and
  • Appoint a scientist as Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and establish an NIH Office of Diversity.

The full report on the Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce can be found at http://acd.od.nih.gov/dbr.htm.

Biophysical Society Says “No” to Further Budget Cuts

The Biophysical Society, along with nearly 3,000 other national, state and local organizations, has signed a letter sent to Congress asking Congress to work together to save nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs from more devastating funding cuts. NDD programs are core functions government provides for the benefit of all, including medical research, public health, and education, among others. The letter asks Congress to use a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to NDD programs.

The NDD budget represented just 3.4 percent of the US’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, consistent with historical levels. Under the bi-partisan Budget Control Act, by 2021 NDD funding will decline to just 2.5 percent of GDP, the lowest level in 50 years. The letter explains that NDD programs are not the reason behind our growing debt. In fact, even completely eliminating all NDD programs would still not balance the budget. Yet NDD programs have borne the brunt of deficit reduction efforts. If Congress and the President fail to act, between fiscal 2010 and 2021 NDD programs will have been cut by 20 percent overall.

To read the letter and see all the organizations that signed it, go to http://www.biophysics.org/AboutUs/NewsReleases/tabid/2243/Default.aspx.

August 2012 Table of Contents