Created by on 06/19/2012

On June 14th, three reports with major implications for biomedical research were released: The National Research Council (NRC) report on research universities: Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation's Prosperity and Security, the draft summary of National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) biomedical research workforce working group’s report, and the draft report of the NIH ACD working group on diversity in the biomedical research workforce.
The NRC report on research universities, produced by a blue ribbon panel composed largely of university and corporate leaders, extolls the remarkable contributions of the research universities to our nation. Due to a confluence of circumstances, however, these institutions are facing significant budgetary pressures, which, if unaddressed, threaten their continued productivity. The report makes ten recommendations including:
  • The federal government should adopt stable and effective policies, practices, and funding for university performed research and development and graduate education
  • Increase university cost-effectiveness and productivity in order to provide a greater return on investment for taxpayers, philanthropists, corporations, foundations, and other research sponsors
  • The federal government and other research sponsors should strive to cover the full costs of research projects and other activities they procure from research universities in a consistent and transparent manner
  • Reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without substantially improving the research environment
  • Improve the capacity of graduate programs to attract talented students by addressing issues such as attrition rates, time to degree, funding, and alignment with both student career opportunities and national interests
From the perspective of working scientists, the proposal to shift part of federal research funding from direct to indirect costs will be problematic, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB’s) letter to the NRC in opposition to increasing indirect costs was acknowledged in the report.
The NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on the Biomedical Research Workforce draft summary report recommended actions that NIH should take to support a future sustainable biomedical research infrastructure. A web site with additional data on education and employment in the biomedical sciences was also launched by the working group. Among the task force’s recommendations were several that have been championed by FASEB:
  • Provide higher salaries and better benefits for those being trained
  • Train students and postdocs for a broader range of skills and careers
  • Recognize the value of work outside traditional academic settings
  • Bring the “quality factors” associated with training grants to all people being trained, regardless of funding sources
  • Phase in limits to the percentage of investigator salaries charged to grants
  • Encourage the use of individual development plans (IDPs)
  • Examine conditions facing physician scientists. (FASEB is undertaking a study of this population)
The task force also proposed several other recommendations:
  • Reduce the fraction of graduate students and postdocs supported on research grants; increase the fraction supported by traineeships and fellowships
  • Establish pilot programs that provide competitive funding for institutional postdoc offices to experiment in enriching and diversifying postdoctoral training
  • Increase the number of Pathways to Independence (K99/R00) and Early Independence Awards
  • Encourage the hiring of staff scientists
Some of the recommendations will require additional resources, and—in a tight budget environment—it will be a challenge to ensure that their implementation does not unnecessarily reduce productivity
A second task force of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director, the Working Group on Diversity, also released a summary of its report. Reviewing statistics demonstrating that “diversity in biomedicine still falls far short of mirroring that of the U.S. population” and there is a discrepancy in success rates between Caucasian and African American NIH grant applicants, the task force concluded that additional efforts were needed to address this persistent problem. Recommendations for NIH included:
  • Improve data collection and additional research on the sources of the disparities
  • Enhance mentoring and career preparation for underrepresented minority students
  • Provide more support for under-resourced institutions with a successful record of training members of underrepresented groups
  • Establish a new working group to examine and combat real or perceived bias in the peer review system
  • Appoint a Chief Diversity Officer and establish an Office of Diversity at NIH