Washington Update

Policies to Support Early-Career Researchers Highlighted During NIGMS Council Meeting

By: Yvette Seger
Wednesday, June 2, 2021

During its May 20 meeting, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Advisory Council received updates on a range of activities to foster retention of trainees and early-career researchers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and address systemic racism and ensure a diverse biomedical workforce.

In his opening remarks, Jon Lorsch, PhD, NIGMS Director, highlighted the Institute’s proactive approach to offering extensions to F and K awardees significantly affected by the pandemic. Thus far, all requests for extensions have been granted, comprising 38 percent of those eligible over the past four rounds of review. Dr. Lorsch also highlighted two NIH-wide policies intended to aid early-career researchers with family care responsibilities. Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a $2,500 childcare cost supplement for recipients of individual Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Fellows. This builds upon supplement opportunities introduced in fiscal year 2020 to provide up to $50,000 to support continuity of research for first-time recipients of NIH research project grants and K awardees following events such as childbirth, adoption, and primary care of an ailing spouse/partner or immediate family members.

Alison Gammie, PhD, Director of NIGMS’s Division on Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity, reviewed the Institute’s initiatives to address structural racism and discrimination. She framed her presentation by highlighting structural elements contributing to disparities at the institutional and NIH levels. Within the institutional level, she highlighted factors that define and limit the population of graduate and postdoctoral trainees as well as faculty members.

For graduate students, factors include pedagogical methods, financial burden and debt, lack of role models, and microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations that further feelings of isolation and not belonging. For postdoctoral scholars and faculty, structural barriers include biases in hiring, variable resource allocation (salaries, laboratory and office space, and start up packages), and publication inequities. In addition to these institutional barriers, Dr. Gammie reiterated inequities within NIH’s own structures, including funding rates for underrepresented investigators and unconscious bias in peer review. Throughout her presentation, she highlighted programs and funding opportunities offered by NIGMS and NIH-wide to reduce and ultimately eliminate these systemic barriers to foster an inclusive and representative workforce.

The recording of the Council’s public session can be viewed here. Dr. Gammie’s presentation begins at the 1:40:20 mark.