Make your voice heard in two National Academies studies on the future of the scientific enterprise

Make your voice heard in two National Academies studies on the future of the scientific enterprise

    Two studies, currently underway at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, are soliciting public input as part of their process. This is a chance to send in your thoughts on STEM graduate education (Masters and PhDs), and how to create the next generation of independent scientists (with a large focus on postdocs).     Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century This Committee is responding to the concern that the current system is inadequately educating graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to prepare them for productive careers in the 21st century. The National Academies has charged this Committee with considering the questions of how well the current graduate education system is equipping students for current and anticipated future needs and what changes should be made to increase its effectiveness.   The Committee on Revitalizing Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century invites public input here on its Discussion Document and Call for Community Input through September 22, 2017.     The Next Generation Researchers Initiative This committee of the National Academies is examining the policy and programmatic steps that the nation can undertake to ensure the successful launch and sustainment of careers among the next generation of researchers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, including the full range of health sciences supported by NIH.   You can read the Dear Colleague Letter, visit the Web Portal for public input, and view the summary Response to Prior Recommendations document. The web portal is at www.nas.edu/NextGenDCL and is open for comment until October 1....
NSF’s Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering doesn’t indicate trends in postdoc numbers

NSF’s Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering doesn’t indicate trends in postdoc numbers

This is a post by Executive Director Gary McDowell.   In a preprint posted on bioRxiv, Chris Pickett (of Rescuing Biomedical Research), Adriana Bankston (a policy activist at FoR) and myself argue that the NSF’s Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, known as the GSS, is not suitable to be used as an indicator of the number of biological sciences postdocs in the U.S., despite its current role as the standard reference in discussions of postdoc numbers.   This paper began in a response to Garrison et al., 2016, “Biomedical science postdocs: an end to the era of expansion,” which argued that biomedical science postdoc numbers had declined from 2010, presumed to be due to people choosing to leave biomedicine. As I have discussed before, placing a straight line along the data in the paper’s Figure 1 from 1979 to 2008 shows a clear linear increase in the number of postdocs, and that the data deviates from 2008-2013 away from this line and, importantly, above it, before returning to the line in 2013*.   Therefore, it first appeared to us not that there had been a decline in the number of postdocs beginning in 2010, but a bubble from 2008 to 2010 that corrected from 2010 to 2013. Indeed, anecdotally, many of my peers were extremely confused by the original premise of the paper – that people have been leaving academia in their droves against the continuing growth of the number of PhDs awarded, since 2010. However, proposing that postdocs stayed on for longer while the economy recovered from 2008 to 2010 yielded far more productive...
Which institutions may be hardest hit by the proposed NIH funding cap?

Which institutions may be hardest hit by the proposed NIH funding cap?

At the recent NIH Council of Councils (viewable in this webcast), Michael Lauer presented the proposed cap on the NIH grants using the Grant Support Index (GSI) (see our previous post on the cap) and the presentation was followed by an active discussion. The talk begins at 1 hour 23, and the subsequent discussion at 1 hour 57 minutes. The discussion highlights that the cap is constantly being revised, and currently now may affect only 3% of researchers, rather than the 6% suggested earlier. As Lauer points out, 65-70% of NIH-funded investigators are on one R01 or less.   Jonathan Epstein, at the University of Pennsylvania, claimed that 70 investigators – he claims their best investigators – at University of Pennsylvania were affected by the proposed cap. Epstein also claimed that two PIs are even moving overseas, discouraged by this proposed move. Epstein also asks, “How many potential Einsteins do we have to lose in favor of this ‘equality for all’ approach that many of us will believe will favor mediocrity in science?”   Epstein points out that other things may affect this distribution of funds, such as where in the country investigators are located. So, which institutions are likely to be affected by the cap?   Chris Pickett, from Rescuing Biomedical Research, has kindly passed along data gathered from NIH RePORTer. He downloaded all active projects data, sorted by activity code (R01, R21, etc) and inserted point totals for each grant based on Table 1 from the preprint, “Marginal Returns and Levels of Research Grant Support among Scientists Supported by the National Institutes of Health“, by Michael Lauer et al. to associate...
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...
Examining Administrative Research Data to Track Postdoc Career Outcomes: a Talk by Dr. Nancy Calvin-Naylor

Examining Administrative Research Data to Track Postdoc Career Outcomes: a Talk by Dr. Nancy Calvin-Naylor

This is a guest post by Future of Research policy activist, Adriana Bankston, who moderated this plenary session at the 2017 NPA meeting.   Postdoctoral scholars make up a large segment of the biomedical workforce, and tracking their career trajectories is imperative for providing them with the most appropriate training. This information would also facilitate current postdocs to connect with former trainees who transitioned into various career paths, and thus develop a network of professionals to have as a resource throughout their careers.   Despite the importance of tracking postdoctoral career outcomes, data on this topic are difficult to obtain, and the best methods for data collection are still being debated in the scientific community. The speakers in one of the plenary sessions at the 2017 National Postdoctoral Association Annual Meeting entitled “Data driven approaches to tracking postdocs,” attempted to address some of these issues. One of the main speakers in this session was Dr. Nancy Calvin-Naylor, Managing Director at the Institute for Research on Innovation & Science (IRIS) at the University of Michigan.   What is the recent state of the biomedical research workforce? Dr. Nancy Calvin-Naylor’s talk entitled “Examining Administrative Research Data to Track Postdoc Career Outcomes” began with the traditional definition of the postdoc experience as an apprenticeship for an independent academic research career. However, she pointed out that fewer academic research positions exist than the number of graduate students and postdocs, and trainees are now pursuing a variety of different career paths. Although a variety of approaches have been taken to their track career outcomes to date, there are still a lot of unknowns (shown...
So…You Want To Do A Postdoc? Talk by Executive Director at University of Michigan

So…You Want To Do A Postdoc? Talk by Executive Director at University of Michigan

On April 27 2017, Executive Director Gary McDowell gave a talk to graduate students at the University of Michigan, “So…You Want To Do A Postdoc?” The talk presents some data about the postdoc position to provide context for discussing some barriers junior scientists face, and some advice on things to consider. This talk doesn’t aim to be a comprehensive resource, but rather to provoke thought and reflection, and challenge some basic assumptions people may have about the postdoc position.   The talk is available here on YouTube, and the slide deck is available here at F1000Research in the Future of Research Channel. After downloading the PDF of the slide deck it should be possible to click on the links to access the resources and citations mentioned.   A note on the data presented: the talk includes a very preliminary analysis using publicly-available data from the University of Michigan. It is hard to draw concrete conclusions from the data about salaries, but is used to highlight the difficulties in finding out salary info that potential postdocs may face; to challenge the assumption that all postdocs are paid on a defined scale (usually assumed to be the NIH NRSA stipend scale); and to demonstrate that a wide range of salaries can be found, and that postdocs need to ensure they are advocating for themselves in potential negotiations for positions....