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Improving graduate student and postdoctoral training

The ACD Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group recognizes that the postdoctoral period has become a holding pattern for many researchers. Although a postdoctoral fellow is considered to be in training, in many laboratories fellows receive little preparation for their future careers. The group concluded that the decline in the growth of academic positions has led to longer postdoctoral periods, during which fellows generate more papers in order to be competitive for subsequent positions. There were also concerns about the amounts and types of benefits received by postdoctoral researchers.

Analysis of data and input from stakeholders led the working group to conclude that the postdoctoral experience should include structured career development, that compensation should be reevaluated, and that incentives should be provided to move postdoctoral researchers to more permanent positions as soon as possible. The Working Group also noted that postdoctoral researchers and graduate students who do not go on to conduct research in an academic setting should receive training in skills needed for other research-related career options.

NIH plans to address these needs through the following activities:

A. Put individual development plans in place for all trainees

The Working Group considers the postdoctoral experience an extension of the training period and recommends that NIH should require individual development plans (IDPs) for all NIH-supported postdoctoral researchers. The IDPs are one way of encouraging institutions and mentors to help graduate students and postdoctoral researchers identify and achieve their career goals within the biomedical research workforce.

NIH issued a notice encouraging institutions to establish IDPs for all graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in July 2013. The notice encourages institutions to report on the use of IDPs in all progress reports submitted on/after October 1, 2014 and notes that NIH will not receive or review the actual IDPs.

Timeline

NIH issued the Guide Notice (NOT-OD-13-093) on July 23, 2013.  Reporting will begin for reports submitted on/after October 1, 2014.


B. Reduce the length of graduate training 

The Working Group recognizes that aspects of the biomedical workforce make it less attractive to potential graduate students than other disciplines, such as average length of training.  The overall length of training in the biomedical sciences (Ph.D. plus postdoctoral research) is longer than in comparable scientific disciplines such as chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

In response to these concerns, NIH will be requesting that institutions establish guidelines describing the anticipated duration of graduate study for doctoral programs and expects that students supported using NIH funds will complete their doctoral work in a timely manner.

Timeline

Announcement expected in early fall 2013.


C. Provide F30 and F31 awards from all ICs

In response to this recommendation, the NIH has increased the number of ICs participating in the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral fellows (F31) and Predoctoral M.D./Ph.D. and Other Dual Doctoral Degree Fellows (F30). This F31 program provides support for promising doctoral candidates conducting dissertation research during the fellowship award.  The F30 program provides support for combined, clinical and research doctoral degree training (e.g. M.D/Ph.D., D.O./Ph.D., D.D.S./Ph.D., D.V.M./Ph.D., Au.D./Ph.D.) for individuals with the potential to become productive, independent physician-scientists and other clinical-scientists. Effective with applications submitted for FY2015 funding, all ICs will participate in the F30 and F31 fellowship programs. Funding opportunity announcements for these programs will be reissued in early 2014.

Timeline

Two notices (NOT-OD-13-033 and NOT-OD-13-032) were released on February 7, 2013. New parent funding opportunity announcements were posted March 7, 2014.


Related Funding Opportunities

  • PA-14-147 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellows (Parent F31)
  • PA-14-150 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral M.D./Ph.D. and Other Dual Doctoral Degree Fellows (Parent F30) 

D. Increase postdoctoral stipends and consider policies on benefits

The Working Group notes in their report that the long training period, together with disparities in earnings, may make a career in biomedical research less attractive than one in other scientific disciplines and professional careers. The Working Group recognizes that postdoctoral fellows have spent years in graduate training and recommends that stipends for NIH supported postdoctoral fellows be adjusted to levels that better reflect their years of training. In response to these recommendations, NIH has requested an increased stipend for postdoctoral researchers in the FY2014 Presidential Budget. NIH also plans to solicit input from the community on benefits currently provided to postdoctoral researchers to identify opportunities to equalize benefits across various support mechanisms.

Timeline

A request for an increase in the stipend level was put forth in the FY2014 Presidential Budget, and NIH announced NRSA stipend increases in February 2014 (NOT-OD-14-046). NIH is soliciting information on postdoctoral researcher benefits in early 2014.

Resulting Guide Notices

  • NOT-OD-14-046: "Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Stipends, Tuition/Fees and Other Budgetary Levels Effective for Fiscal Year 2014"

Related Information

E. Increase support for K99/R00 and shorten eligibility period

The NIH Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) award is a proven mechanism to facilitate post-doctoral researchers achieving independent research positions. To encourage larger numbers of postdoctoral researchers to move rapidly into tenure-track faculty positions, the ACD Working Group recommended that NIH double the number of NIH Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) awards.  In addition, they recommended that the eligibility period for applying to for this awards should be shortened to encourage a faster transition to an independent position.

NIH is implementing these recommendations by gradually increasing the number of K99/R00 awards, aiming for a 30% success rate (assuming the availability of necessary funds and meritorious applications), and shortening the eligibility period from 5 years to 4 years.


Timeline

Notices were released on February 7 and March 22, 2013. The shortened eligibility period is effective with applications submitted for the February 12, 2013, application due date.


Resulting Guide Notices/Funding Opportunities

  • NOT-OD-13-034 Notice of Intent to Publish the Reissuance of Funding Opportunity Announcement "NIH Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00)"
  • NOT-OD-13-050  Notice of Information on the Reissuance of Funding Opportunity Announcement "NIH Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00)"

Related Information

F. Increase support for Early Independence Awards

Recent trends in biomedical science show an increase in the length of the traditional scientific training period with a concomitant increase in the age at which scientists establish independent research careers. At present, the average age at appointment to medical school faculty is 38 years and the average age at receipt of the first NIH research grant is 42 years.  Although traditional post-doctoral training is likely to be appropriate for the large majority of new Ph.D.s and M.D.s, a pool of talented junior scientists have the intellect, scientific creativity, drive and maturity to flourish independently without the need for traditional post doctoral training.

The NIH Common Fund has established the NIH Director's Early Independence Award Program to provide a mechanism for exceptional early career scientists to move rapidly into independent research positions at U.S. institutions by essentially omitting the traditional post-doctoral training period.  Reducing the amount of time these scientists spend in training will provide them the opportunity to start highly innovative research programs as early in their careers as possible. It will also allow host institutions to invigorate their scientific communities by integrating the fresh perspectives brought by the junior investigators.

In response to the Advisory Committee to the Director's enthusiasm about the Early Independence Award initiative and recommendations that NIH double the number of new awards to twenty per year, the NIH will work to increase the number of new Early Independence Awards over the next few years. The NIH plans to fund approximately 15 awards in FY13 (an increase of 50% over previous years).

Timeline

Early Independence Awards were issued in 2011, 2012, 2013, and NIH plans to reissue the Early Independence Award  in 2014. The amount of funds available for the program will depend on the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriation to NIH.


Data

  • Report from a 2010 NIH workshop that helped inform the creation of the NIH Director's Early Independence Award initiative
  • Summary of feedback collected in 2011.

Funding Opportunities

NIH Director's Early Independence Award Program Funding Opportunities


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