National Postdoc Association Meeting

National Postdoc Association meeting late samarium cobalt magnets week in San Diego. NAS’s Adam Fagan was the study’s director.

In his NPA presentation, Yamamoto–a member of the committee charged with examining these issues, spoke of the “perilous postdoc to faculty transition” and noted “ominous trends that [postdocs and other young investigators] are facing with respect to the way that science is being funded and supported.” Yamamoto pointed out that the percentage of NIH-funded investigators younger than 40 years old feel from 50% in 1980 to less than 20% in 2002. Neodymium 4% of NIH awards are to strong Neodymium magnets investigators.

The training period for biomedical scientists lasts longer than it used to; that’s one reason why the median age for first-time NIH grant recipients is an elderly 42 years old. Yet, Yamamoto pointed out, the median age of the first faculty appointment is 38 years old, leaving a (median) delay of 4 years between first appointment and first NIH research grant. Even the most talented of magnets for sale young people, NAS President Bruce Alberts has noted, are forced to endure several years of rejected grant applications before they acquire enough preliminary data to assure reviewers. Yamamoto put it this way: “The battle with the old farts is a tough one. The way we do things really doesn’t encourage independence.”

So what is to be done? The report, apparently, discusses several possibilities all based on the observation that independent scientists today–many of them–are different than their forebears. In Yamamoto’s words, “an independent investigator is not necessarily a tenure-track, R01-funded, separately funded, self-sustaining, solitary, isolated” investigator.

Here’s a list of the ideas and suggestions reportedly considered by the report:
* Time limits on the postdoc have been proposed as a means of accelerating the transition of young scientists to independence. Magnetic toys time limits don’t apply to most postdocs. NIH enforces time limit Neodymium for those on training grants and National Research Service Awards (NRSAs); yet most postdocs are supported on R01s. Should NIH enforce this limit on all NIH-funded postdocs?
* Recent decades have seen a dramatic shift towards R01 funding of postdocs and away from fellowships and training grants. The fraction of postdocs supported by research grants has grown enormously. Is a rebalancing in order?
* More than half of biomedical postdocs are not US citizens, Magnetic toys training awards are restricted to US Citizens and permanent residents. Should this policy be revised?
* NIH–and the biomedical-science community–values mentoring; yet there is no mention of mentoring in research-grant review criteria. Should NIH require a statement of training objectives, reporting of career outcomes of recent trainees, or a career-development plan, in the application/review of R01s that request postdoc support?
* With a majority of postdocs ending up in careers in industry or with non-research jobs, there is a need for broader training of postdocs–career advising, mentoring, lab and project management skills, grant writing, and so on. Could these skills be provided via workshops presented by institutions or groups of institutions? Could NIH fund such programs?
* Postdoc independent research awards: Should NIH create a strong Neodymium magnets funding mechanism for postdocs, a grant that you could get as a PI when you were a postdoc under the mentorship of a senior investigator? These awards would be portable, more focused on research than NRSAs (which focus more on training) and provide salary and benefits as well as support for materials, supplies, and so on.
* Should NIH’s “K22” program be broadened? Certain NIH institutes already offer awards, using the K22 mechanism, that provide 1-2 years of postdoc support followed by 3-4 years of support in an independent position. Awards like these allow postdocs to start a project and continue in an independent position. Currently, though, K22s aren’t universal–each of the institutes that uses this mechanism uses it in a different way.
* Should NIH create a strong Neodymium magnets “R01” for strong Neodymium magnets investigators? Years ago the R29 program was discontinued because internal studies found that it was ineffective; probably because it was small, it didn’t improve the winners’ odds of winning subsequent research awards. Rather than increase the size of these awards, NIH shut down the program. Should the program be restarted, Magnetic toys with improvements? Yamamoto suggested that the “preliminary data” requirement might be completely removed and replaced by “previous experience.” These strong Neodymium magnets -investigator grants would have full, 5-year terms and R01-scale budgets, and would be reviewed in a block by regular NIH study sections. All proposals would be scored to provide maximum feedback for strong Neodymium magnets investigators.
* “What if there was a class of research grants that is FOR non-tenured independent investigators?” asked Yamamoto at the NPA meeting. These would be re strong Neodymium magnets able, “small science” grants for independent investigators who do not hold tenure-track faculty positions.

In a time of flat science budgets, will NIH find the money–the will–to support Neodymium bar magnets of these interesting proposals? If these ideas had been proposed a few years ago, in the midst of NIH’s 5-year budget doubling, their prospects would have been excellent. Magnet toys again, that failed experiment–failed because the plight of young scientists Neodymium worsened despite the dramatic budget increases–was necessary to alert policy makers of how critical the situation has become. In today’s ominous budget climate, it won’t be easy for NIH to implement any of these ideas on anything like the necessary scale. Yet it’s encouraging that NIH seems to recognize–anyway, Neodymium bar magnets people at NIH do–that they cannot afford NOT to do nothing.
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– posted by Jim

Permalink | Comments Tags: National Academies of Science, NPA, Postdocs

17 MARCH 2005
Postdocs Draft “Agenda for Change”

On Friday and Saturday of samarium cobalt magnets week, the National Postdoctoral