National Academies’ Next Generation Researchers Initiative gets underway

By | January 12, 2017

The first meeting of a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine study on the difficulties young biomedical researchers face trying to establish and maintain careers as independent scientists took place in Washington, DC, on January 9. The Next Generation Researchers Initiative aims to evaluate numerous factors affecting the transition to independent research careers, including federal policies and budgets, career preparation and support, and employer practices.

The public portion of the meeting featured a presentation from Dr. Mike Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on how new/early investigators have fared in the NIH grant process over time. There were also short talks from an early career physician scientist, a labor economist, and a policy analyst on what they see as contributing factors to and effects of the career struggles young researchers face.

The committee charged with the project comprises leading voices in the biomedical research training and workforce arenas and is chaired by Ronald Daniels, JD, LLM, President of Johns Hopkins University. At the conclusion of the study in about 18 months, the committee will release a report outlining its findings on impediments to career transitions and recommending policies at both federal and institutional levels designed to lessen—or eliminate—these barriers.

However, as Beryl Benderly of Science Careers pointed out, similar studies have yielded guidance for improving the plight of early career scientists for decades, with few demonstrable outcomes. “How will this report be better, more effective?” than all those that precede it, she asked the committee.

One reason for hope is that this time Congress is paying attention. The Next Generation Researchers Initiative has its roots in legislation introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in 2015, and was stipulated by Congress in the 2016 Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act. Moreover, the recently passed 21st Century Cures Act directs the NIH Office of the Director to consider the study’s final recommendations as it creates policies and programs to bolster young investigators and early independence.