Legislation to improve career opportunities for young researchers moved forward last week as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved the Next Generation Researchers Act (S 2014) co-authored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
The bill instructs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish a “Next Generation Research Initiative” to coordinate NIH policies and programs aimed at promoting and providing opportunities for new researchers. Under the Initiative, all existing efforts within NIH to help early-stage investigators secure grant funding—including the Pathway to Independence Awards and the NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards—would continue, and new policies to improve mentorship and workforce data collection would be implemented.
In addition, NIH must consider recommendations from a forthcoming National Academy of Sciences report evaluating factors affecting early-stage/new investigators’ ability to enter the biomedical research workforce. A provision to expand NIH’s loan repayment programs was added to the bill as recommended by the Physician-Scientist Working Group and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in its “Sustaining Discovery in Biological and Medical Sciences” report. FASEB endorsed the Next Generation Researchers Act and was mentioned by Senator Collins during the committee’s consideration of the legislation and in a press release issued by Baldwin and Collins.
Senator Baldwin introduced the bill in 2013 after touring the NIH campus, meeting with NIH Director Francis Collins, and speaking with faculty and students at the Medical College of Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research. “This bipartisan legislation demonstrates a commitment to our future scientists by improving their opportunities at NIH and builds off Wisconsin’s proud tradition of being a leader in this field,” she said following the HELP Committee’s action.
The introduction of the Next Generation Research Act continues Senator Baldwin’s long-standing efforts to strengthen the federal commitment to NIH. She also has a personal connection to research—her grandfather previously ran a lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her aunt is a researcher.