Created by on 03/14/2011

Training and career development is shaping up to be a major focus of national biomedical research policy efforts this year. In January, the National Research Council (NRC) released its Research Training in the Biomedical, Behavioral, and Clinical Research Sciences report, a Congressionally-mandated review of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Research Service Award (NRSA) program, which includes an assessment of national needs for research personnel. The committee addressed issues ranging from job prospects for postdocs completing their training, the continued supply of international postdocs, workforce diversity, and providing quality training for graduate students regardless of their research support.

FASEB was pleased with many of the report’s recommendations and expressed its support in a letter to the study committee chair, Dr. Roger Chalkley. The Federation agreed with the NRC that stipends for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers should be raised, institutions should provide employment benefits to postdocs supported on training grants and fellowships, and that institutions and funders should collect reliable data on training program activities and outcomes, improve the quality of training for individuals supported on research grants, and adopt criteria for the success of research training programs that takes into account career outcomes beyond biomedical research.
One aspect of the report with which FASEB disagreed was raising the indirect cost cap on NIH training and career development awards. FASEB noted that the eight percent cap for NIH’s NRSA and K awards is consistent with the training and educational missions of those mechanisms, and applying the research grant rate would significantly increase program costs at a time of diminishing federal funding for research. 
FASEB also took the opportunity to comment on the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) draft Strategic plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training. The Institute’s draft plan included a number of recommendations similar to those proposed by the NRC committee, and FASEB is supportive of the strategic direction the Institute is taking.

While NIGMS finalizes its plan and the research community evaluates how to implement the NRC’s recommendations, the NIH Director is moving ahead with his own workforce study. Dr. Francis Collins created a taskforce chaired by Dr. Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University, to develop a model for a creating a sustainable and diverse biomedical research workforce. NIH hopes that the model will inform decisions about training the optimal number of people for positions that advance science and promote health. Taskforce members have not yet been named.