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Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of New Investigators in Biomedical Research
risk, high-reward research that can significantly advance science. The special creativity that younger scientists may bring to their work is also lost as these investigators are forced to focus on others’ research.
Because of concerns about the effects of the increasing age of first grant on the careers of academic scientists and their ability to undertake high-risk research, the NIH has asked the National Academies to recommend mechanisms to foster the independence of new investigators in biomedical research. This report therefore focuses on the transition to independence of postdoctoral researchers and entry-level faculty with emphases on mechanisms to enhance the quality and effectiveness of postdoctoral training, the ability of young scientists to receive independent research funding, and the establishment of stable research programs. The committee convened a public workshop as the principal data-gathering event of the study. Over 150 people participating in person and 100 more via a live webcast engaged in consideration of available data, model programs to support new investigators, as well as the previous recommendations and the impediments that have prevented them from being put into practice.
Simply put, there are not enough tenure-track academic positions for the available pool of biomedical researchers. Very little that the committee can recommend will cause a sudden explosion in the number of such positions and consideration of the appropriate size of the pool is beyond the scope of this committee. As such, the report focuses on other mechanisms to enhance the quality of training and foster opportunities for independence.
NIH has significant responsibility for the current state of affairs, but also a significant ability to help reverse the increasing age of independence. Lengthy training periods and the requirement for preliminary data in grant proposals are the result of NIH policies and available funding. However, one cannot isolate the role of NIH from that of other stakeholder groups—including universities, professional societies, public and private funding agencies, academic administrators, senior faculty, junior faculty, staff scientists, and postdoctoral scientists. The findings and recommendations in this report are provided for all of these groups, in addition to the NIH itself.
The definition of “independence” as a researcher in a tenure-track faculty position who has received his or her first R01 research project