The Next Generation Researchers Initiative at the National Academies: New Study Begins

The Next Generation Researchers Initiative at the National Academies: New Study Begins

A new study commenced work at the start of 2017: the “Next Generation Researchers Initiative,” directed by the Board on Higher Education and Workforce at the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine.   The study originated in a bill introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and has been mandated by Congress in both the 2016 Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act and the 21st Century Cures Act. The study is aimed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), members of Congress, institutional administrators and faculty, industry, foundations and professional associations: specifically, to the Office of the Director at NIH, the Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate, and the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives.   The project scope is (taken from the National Academies Current Projects page):   “An ad hoc committee overseen by the Board on Higher Education and Workforce (BHEW), in collaboration with COSEMPUP, BOSE, and HMD, will conduct a study that examines 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 the NIH. The study will examine evidence-based programs and policies that can reduce barriers to, and create more opportunities for, successful transitions to independent research careers. It will also examine factors that influence the stability and sustainability of the early stages of independent research careers. The study will include: • An evaluation of the barriers that...
NIH releases new postdoctoral stipend levels

NIH releases new postdoctoral stipend levels

The NIH has released their “Projected FY 2017 Stipend Levels for Postdoctoral Trainees and Fellows on Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA)“. These levels bring the NRSA levels in line with the new salary minimum for overtime exemption that comes into effect on Dec 1st, 2016.   FoR previously issued a statement about it position on the effects of the Fair Labor Standards Act here. As stated in “NIH sets new postdoc stipend levels” published today in Science Careers, FoR believes that the new salary minimum is a good start, but still falls short of the minimum recommended by multiple consortia.   A graphical representation of the stipend levels for 2016 and 2017 is depicted in Drugmonkey’s blogpost, “Projected NRSA salary scale for FY2017“. As you can see from the graph, the NRSA minimum is set much higher for years 0 and 1 – to account for the new federal legislation – but shows little change from years 2-7 (or more). The previous linear salary progression is now essentially static for the first years of postdoctoral employment, albeit at a higher level than currently, before increasing in accordance with the 2016 trend.   There is much discussion about the effects and reasoning for not simply raising all salaries across the range by the same amount as the Year 0 increase, to give a similar linear trend to 2016, shifted higher. It will also be interesting to see what consequences this has for hiring postdocs at different stages of postdoctoral training.   However, what should not be forgotten is that these levels are mandated only for NRSA awards. The majority of postdocs...
FoR response to NIGMS RFI on Modernizing Graduate Education

FoR response to NIGMS RFI on Modernizing Graduate Education

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) recently issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input on how to catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education. You can read the RFI here.   The Board of Directors at FoR has responded to the RFI and as part of our commitment to transparency, has also posted the response publicly.   You can read the response in: Future of Research Response to NIGMS Request for Information (RFI): Strategies for Modernizing Biomedical Graduate Education (NOT-GM-16-109)...
Effects of an Aging Scientific Workforce on Funding Success: Interview with Labor Economist Misty Heggeness

Effects of an Aging Scientific Workforce on Funding Success: Interview with Labor Economist Misty Heggeness

  This new paper, “Policy Implications of Aging in the NIH-Funded Workforce,” has people talking again about the aging biomedical workforce. The authors’ aim was to investigate how this “graying” population is affecting funding of science in the U.S. A key finding was that older scientists do not have a greater individual advantage than younger investigators, but that there are just more of them and so older scientists, as a group, receive more funding than younger investigators. However in some of the reporting of the story, such as, “Why Don’t Young Scientists Get More Grants? Often They Don’t Apply,” there seemed to be an implication that young researchers choose not to apply, whereas in fact it is likely the case that there are fewer young investigators than in the past. To find out more, I spoke to the lead author of the paper, Misty Heggeness, previously a labor economist at the Division of the Biomedical Research Workforce at NIH, and now with the U.S. Census Bureau.     What question(s) were you looking to answer with this research?   I am an economist, but I trained with demographers. When I came to NIH, there was a general anecdotal opinion in the community that the average age of NIH R01-Equivalent Principal Investigators was increasing because those with less experience (usually younger) were getting funded less because funding was harder to attain. The question we were looking to answer is whether or not older principal investigators had higher funding rates than their younger peers.   There seems to be some confusion about the term ‘workforce’ in the paper, and in the Supplementary Materials...
Statement from FoR on the Department of Labor Overtime Rule

Statement from FoR on the Department of Labor Overtime Rule

Statement from FoR on the Department of Labor Overtime Rule (Fair Labor Standards Act)   Earlier this week, the Department of Labor (DoL) increased the threshold at which salaried workers receive overtime payment for working more than 40 hours per week from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, effective December 1st, 2016. This ruling affects academics engaged primarily in research, including postdoctoral researchers. A summary is discussed in the New York Times article, White House Increases Overtime Eligibility by Millions and how it will specifically impact higher education (including teaching exemptions) is covered in Overtime for Some and DoL guidance documents. The salary level will be reviewed and revised upward every 3 years.   This means that institutions must either 1) track postdocs’ hours and compensate them for working overtime, or 2) raise their salaries above the threshold in order to comply with the new regulation.   Future of Research (FoR) strongly supports the DoL’s efforts to increase the pay of so many workers, including postdocs. This is an important step towards paying postdocs in a manner reflective of their expertise and importance to the research enterprise. We further believe it is in institutions’ interest to raise salaries above the threshold level. Many institutions currently have guidelines that postdoc salaries follow the NRSA stipend scale, which begins at $43,692 for 0 years experience.  Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, has stated that, “in response to the proposed FLSA revisions, NIH will increase the awards for postdoctoral NRSA recipients to levels above the threshold.”     To ensure that their postdocs are compensated above the salary threshold, or to track their...

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: Vaibhav Pai* Sergey Kryazhimskiy Jessica Polka* Gary McDowell* 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,...