Tuesday, June 26, 2012

NIH Biomedical Workforce Working Group on Postdocs

On June 14th the Biomedical Workforce Working Group at the NIH released their draft report detailing the steps they recommend the NIH take in the coming years to improve and support the personnel aspects of biomedical research.  The report which can be found here http://acd.od.nih.gov/bmw_report.pdf examines the involvement of the NIH in the financial support and training of graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, staff scientists, and physician scientists. 

As pertains to postdocs the NIH working group makes several recommendations, among them to:

·      Increase the number of training grant and fellowship slots and decrease the number of postdocs supported by research project grants in order to ensure that the postdoctoral period includes the training and mentoring opportunities that are afforded by the former slot types. 
·      Start a pilot program for extramural funding of training-based initiatives run by institutional postdoctoral offices
·      Increase stipend support to $42,000 per year with 4% increases in years 2-3 and 6% increases for years 4-7 in order to encourage PIs to move senior postdocs into more stable positions. This also aims to reduce the years spent in the postdoctoral training period.
·      Ensure that NIH supported postdocs receive the same benefits as all other employees at their institution.
·      Double the number of K99 and early independence awards and make earlier career postdocs eligible for K99 awards.
·      Require individual development plans (IDPs) of all NIH supported postdocs. 

The report also recommends that NIH study sections be encouraged to be receptive to grant applications from staff scientists, an important step in the professionalization of these ambiguous careers that fall in-between PI and postdoctoral status. 

Additionally, the report recommends that institutions receiving NIH funding be required to report and publically post career outcomes data of graduate and postdoctoral trainees.  This is much like recent pushes for accountability of law schools to claims of student success; publication of such data could be very useful to postdocs choosing between different institutions. 

You can also read about it in Science Careers: http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2012_06_22/caredit.a1200069

While the recommendations of the NIH working group are sure to garner much interest this year, it is clear from the report that they may not be implemented simply due to funding concerns.  As always, NIH funding remains of paramount interest in our community.  The BSD Postdoctoral association public affairs committee plans to keep you informed on the status of these recommendations and on NIH funding issues in the future.  Please feel free to post a blog or otherwise comment on these recommendations and other community wide concerns.  What do postdocs at U of Chicago think are the most important steps to sustaining and improving the biomedical workforce and the postdoctoral experience?  We would love to hear your thoughts! 

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