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  • Washington Highlights

    National Academies Recommends Dedicated Funding, Support for Next Generation Researchers

    Jodi (Lubetsky) Yellin, PhD, Director of Research Workforce, Training, and Science Policy
    Amanda Field, Specialist, Science Policy

    The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) April 12 released a new congressionally-mandated report stemming from the Next Generation Researchers Act and the 21st Century Cures Act [see Washington Highlights, September 11, 2015]. In a news release, NASEM outlines key recommendations from the report, “The Next Generation of Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences Researchers: Breaking Through,” which calls for a series of substantial reforms to strengthen the U.S. biomedical research system for the next generation of scientists.

    Among other topics, the public release discussion emphasized the support of postdoctoral researchers’ transition into independent investigators, recommending that institutions and principal investigators recognize the role of postdoctoral researchers as trainees. The report recommends:

    • A five-fold increase in the number of individual research fellowship awards and career development awards for postdoctoral researchers granted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
    • The NIH pilot and phase in a cap on the number of years of support that postdoctoral researchers can receive from NIH research project grants. 
    • Institutions increase the number of research staff scientist positions to ensure that non-trainee PhD researchers are distinguished from postdoctoral researchers and properly compensated; and
    • Institutions should collect, analyze, and disseminate data on career outcomes of biomedical research trainees. A 2015 AAMC report on Institutional Approaches to Tracking Research Trainee Information called for institutions to engage in local and national discussions to develop and enhance their data collection systems.

    The report notes that several barriers, including a lack of shared guardianship between the federal government and research institutions, constrained funding for NIH, and a lack of data on the career outcomes of research trainees, have prevented the successful implementation of many past recommendations by other expert panels over the past 20 years. The committee hopes to overcome these barriers by creating structures for sustained change.

    The report recommends that Congress establish a Biomedical Research Enterprise Council (BREC) - a public-private partnership of stakeholders to provide collective guardianship of the biomedical research enterprise and address ongoing challenges. The report also recommends that Congress consider increasing NIH’s budget to help implement the recommendations in the report and to provide sustained support for NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 22, 2017]. A working group of the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the NIH has been tasked with developing recommendations for the initiative, which are expected to be released at the next ACD meeting in June.

    Along with the report, several other materials are available on the NGRI website, including the AAMC response and others to the August 2017 Dear Colleague Letter, commissioned international papers examining support for the next generation of researchers in other countries, and the background report,“Responses to Recommendations in Previous Reports on Biomedical and Behavioral Researchers,” co-authored by Amanda Field, PhD, AAMC Science Policy Specialist and former National Academies Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Fellow.

    A related NASEM report, “Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century,” will be released May 29. The AAMC submitted comments in response to a Call for Committee Input September 2017. During the release, the committee members and staff noted that the dissemination of both reports will be coordinated to encourage implementation of their recommendations.