Join FOR in making your voice heard at the NIH

There are just a few more days left to submit comments to the NIH’s latest Request for Information (RFI) entitled “Optimizing Funding Policies and Other Strategies to Improve the Impact and Sustainability of Biomedical Research.” This is a tremendous opportunity for all scientists, particularly early career researchers like us, to make an impact at the NIH.

Why should you take a few minutes out of your day to do this? Former NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg submitted a FOIA request for the responses of a previous RFI regarding the controversial “Emeritus awards.” As a result of this, many of us were surprised to hear that the NIH received just over 200 responses. If just a fraction of a percent of US postdocs submitted their responses, we could easily double this number.

Here are examples of postdoc responses that have been posted publicly (leave us a note in the comments with a link to yours, and we’ll update the post!) Feel free to copy and paste parts of the responses marked with * below to use as a starting point for your own:

The RFI closes on May 17th. Before that date, be sure to click this link and enter your responses into the simple web form.

Here are some commonly raised issues and proposed solutions that you use to start your response if you agree. Naturally, you can modify them to reflect your own experience and to highlight the issues you feel most strongly about:

  • Hypercompetition is damaging the mission of the NIH by discouraging young scientists from pursuing a career in research, stifling creativity and risk-taking, and diverting PI attention from research activities to grantsmanship.
  • Training
    • The NIH should alleviate hypercompetition at the trainee level by instituting funding mechanisms that support more permanent positions.
    • The NIH should fund graduate students on fellowships and training grants
    • The NIH should limit the number of postdocs and graduate students. 
  • Grants
    • NIH funding policies should be driven by data on the relative efficiency of given practices. For example, data suggests that smaller labs are more efficient in terms of the number of publications produced per dollar invested (http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101116/full/468356a.html). At a minimum, the NIH must evaluate the productivity of PIs scaled to the size of their resources (personnel and dollar numbers).
    • Where possible, guidelines for grant submission should be simplified to reduce administrative burden. Faculty are spending 42% of their time carrying out bureaucratic tasks and not focusing on research (Schneider et al., 2014).
    • The desire to remain in a biomedical research career is declining over time spent in academic research (Sauermann and Roach, 2012) and this effect is particularly acute for underrepresented minorities and women (Gibbs Jr. et al., 2014) and extends also to faculty at academic medical centers (Pololi et al., 2012).
    • The effects of the current system on diversity and young investigators will have clear implications on the biomedical research system, as diversity increases creative thought (Phillips, 2014) and younger investigators are more innovative (Callaway, 2014).
    • While the ability to make financial commitments is inherently limited by annual federal budget appropriations, longer-term funding would increase the stability of research enterprise.

Thank you,

Jessica, Vaibhav, Gary, and Kearney

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