The entire biomedical research enterprise relies on the creativity, innovation, and dedication of the scientific workforce. There is concern that the long training time and the declining percentage of PhD graduates that obtain independent academic research positions are making biomedical research a less attractive career. Additionally, although many graduates are moving into essential research-related occupations rather than research-intensive positions, the current training programs do little to prepare trainees for these other career options. The NIH is committed to supporting a sustainable and robust workforce equipped to address the greatest challenges and opportunities in biomedical research, recognizing that traditional research-intensive positions are not the only means by which PhD graduates can meaningfully contribute to the biomedical research enterprise.
Based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Biomedical Workforce, the Common Fund has launched a new program to expand the training opportunities for early career scientists to prepare them for entry into the dynamic biomedical workforce landscape. This Common Fund program is one component of a broader NIH strategy to address workforce needs. The following initiative has been developed within the Common Fund program on Strengthening the Biomedical Research Workforce:
- NIH Director’s Workforce Innovation Award to Enhance Biomedical Research Training: These awards, also called the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) awards, will provide support for institutions to develop innovative approaches to complement traditional research training in biomedical sciences. Institutions will be encouraged to partner with industry or other entities to provide a wealth of diverse training opportunities for their trainees, and the awardees will form a network to share experiences and determine best practices. Novel training approaches will be rigorously analyzed to assess impact, and proven approaches will be widely disseminated throughout the community.
The Common Fund solicited applications for this program in 2013 and 2014, with the ten awards issued in fall of 2013 and seven additional awards made in 2014. For more information on these awards, please visit the Funded Research page. These onetime awards will have a duration of five years.
In addition, the ACD also recommended increasing the number of NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards, a component of the Common Fund’s High-Risk Research program (http://commonfund.nih.gov/earlyindependence/) and this has been implemented. The NIH has increased the number of candidates to be interviewed, as well as increased the number of awardees from 10 to approximately 15.
Other recommendations from the ACD are being implemented through adjustments to ongoing training programs across the NIH. These initiatives include requiring Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for all trainees on NIH grants, increasing postdoctoral stipends and benefits, increasing the number of K99/R00 awards, developing a tracking system for trainees, making changes to peer review to recognize a number of different career outcomes, and creating a functional unit at NIH to assess biomedical research workforce.