Washington Update

FASEB Shares Concerns, Suggestions about National Academies Report, “Breaking Through”

By: Elizabeth Barksdale
Thursday, August 16, 2018

On August 8, FASEB provided comments to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on the Next Generation Researchers Initiative on its report, The Next Generation of Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences Researchers: Breaking Through.

The Congressionally mandated report, previously summarized by FASEB, examines legislative, administrative, educational, cultural, and budgetary barriers faced by young investigators trying to establish independent research careers. After consideration and discussion of the report, FASEB identified a number of concerns, questions, and suggestions for the Committee – indeed, all training stakeholders – to consider.

The Federation is concerned that the proposed limits on time-in-training and support from research project grants (RPGs) could disadvantage postdocs who switch research fields, undertake inherently “long” research projects, cannot apply for postdoctoral and career development fellowships because of citizenship status, and attend small or under-resourced institutions. FASEB suggested that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the funding agency that oversees implementation of these recommendations, consider other agencies’ approaches to supporting postdocs and solicit feedback directly from postdocs before piloting new programs or policies.

The Committee’s recommendation to institute a $1,000 annual fee on principal investigators (PIs) for each postdoc they support on RPGs also raised concerns. Charged to PIs’ grants, the fee would be used to implement and support institutional training programs and activities for both postdocs and mentors. Although FASEB supports the idea of a funding mechanism to ensure the availability of career and professional development resources, it does not advocate prescribing the source of those funds.

In response to the recommendation that NIH extend the duration of RPGs to at least five years for Early Stage Investigators, FASEB suggested that NIH require grant writing training prior to grant application, thus mitigating potential difficulties young researchers face in writing a compelling research plan.

Finally, FASEB supported the Committee’s recommendation to increase the number of staff scientist positions throughout academia. However, there should be an agreed upon definition of “staff scientist,” including roles and responsibilities, funding sources, and career progression before moving ahead with this proposal. “Without these parameters in place,” FASEB noted, “we are concerned that the second part of Recommendation 4.4, that postdocs who want to remain in a lab longer than five years be transitioned to employment as staff scientists, could result in the creation of a de facto “Senior Postdoc” position and actually inhibit postdocs’ chances of achieving independence.”

These comments were also shared with NIH officials.