Tracking Postdoc Trends and Outcomes at the NIH: a Talk by Dr. P. Kay Lund

Tracking Postdoc Trends and Outcomes at the NIH: a Talk by Dr. P. Kay Lund

This is a guest post by Future of Research policy activist, Adriana Bankston, who moderated this plenary session at the 2017 NPA meeting.


In a recent post, we summarized the talk given by Dr. Nancy Calvin-Naylor in one of the plenary sessions at the 2017 National Postdoctoral Association Annual Meeting entitled “Data driven approaches to tracking postdocs.” The second of the two main speakers in this session was Dr. P. Kay Lund, Director of the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce (DBRW) at the National Institutes of Health.


What is the mission of the DBRW?

Dr. P. Kay Lund began her talk entitled “Tracking postdoc trends and outcomes at the NIH” by describing the mission and structure of the Division of Biomedical Research Workforce (DBRW). The mission of the DBRW is develop, maintain, enhance and assess NIH policies and programs that support innovative research training, career development and diversity of the biomedical research workforce. To achieve these goals DBRW advises trans-NIH on policy and programs for training and career development, and conducts research and economic analyses related to biomedical research workforce and the associated career options and labor market.


NIH trends in training of postdoctoral researchers and early faculty

One of the goals of the DBRW is to examine the trends in training and career development support for postdoctorates and early faculty according to NIH data from 1998-2015. For training purposes, the number of postdoctoral training grant appointments slightly decreased since 2011, whereas the number of individual fellowships remained relatively the same. In terms of career development, there has been an increase in individual career development awards overtime, and a large increase in institutional career development appointments since 2006. These trends imply that perhaps more attention is now being given to career development for postdocs in addition to other types of training.



Institutional Research & Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA)

The goal of the Institutional Research and Career Development Award (IRACDA) programs is to develop a diverse group of highly trained scientists to address the nation’s biomedical research needs. These programs are typically intended for early stage postdocs. According to NIH data, the vast majority (over 70%) of IRACDA program alumni become academic faculty, followed by those in another science area (non-research), or in other research areas (industry, government, etc). Geographically, IRACDA program alumni are widely distributed across the U.S., and are typically at research-intensive institutions or may be serving historically underrepresented groups.



Preliminary summary of a recent evaluation of F32 postdoctoral fellowship outcomes

The NIH conducted a study of >16,000 F32 applicants (both male and female, and included minority applicants) between 1996-2008 and compared applicant groups with very similar priority scores using the relatively new methods of regression discontinuity analysis to examine the effect of prior F32 funding on subsequent applications. This method compares applicants with very similar scores on F32 fellowship applications as an indicator of similar ‘aptitude or potential’ – approximately half of these applicants were funded and the other half were not. Preliminary results indicate that an F32 award has a positive effect of subsequent Research Project Grant (RPG) awards. Additional outcomes and the effect of additional variables are currently under analysis.


Resources and tools for training and career development

In the second part of her talk, Dr. P. Kay Lund discussed several very useful resources and tools for tracking outcomes and for informing training and career development:

IPUMS Higher Ed is a publicly available database on the STEM labor force. It allows users the ability to harmonize different datasets, and uses a friendly data extraction system. The datasets included are as follows: the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), the National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) and the National Survey of Recent College Graduates (NSRCG). The SDR and NSCG are longitudinal and follow individuals over time, and allow full tracking of career trajectories across different occupations. The SDR also allows career tracking outside academia – government, industry & research involvement.

– The NIH Research Training website aims to provide resources to assist in the preparation of a skilled, creative and diverse biomedical research workforce of tomorrow. The website includes information about NIH research training and career development programs, as well as information on fellowships and other training-related resources, and a section on extramural diversity. The site is useful for trainees and early stage faculty, essentially providing a one-stop for information on funding opportunities. The website is currently being modified to add additional information for applicants.

– The NIH Extramural Diversity website fulfills the mission of the NIH to promote a diverse scientific research workforce. This initiative has four areas – diversity matters (learning about underrepresented groups), building participation (involving senior leaders and faculty members to focus on enhancing diversity), career pathways (research training programs, fellowships and career opportunities for trainees), and reports & data (learning about internal and external reports and data on diversity and the scientific workforce).



Future questions

In conclusion, Dr. P. Kay Lund posed several broad questions/ideas to ponder and discuss:

– How to best promote strategic planning before a PhD or postdoc?

– How to best align pre- and postdoctoral training with needed and essential jobs/career paths (e.g. integration with business, policy, communication)?

– How do we leverage partnerships & data on career outcomes to improve postdoc training?


Dr. Lund acknowledged input from current and former members of DBRW and extramural contributors.


Note: We obtained permission from Dr. P. Kay Lund to use these images, and had the information checked for accuracy.



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