Earlier this month, the NIH released a plan to implement policy and funding changes designed to increase the diversity of both culture and career paths available to biomedical research trainees, as well as an initiative to consolidate and improve access to the NIH's vast amount of research data.
These broad-ranging structural changes represent NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins' response to earlier reports highlighting the current lack of diversity in the biomedical research fields, as well as the limited career paths the existing system offers to students. In a serious effort to amend the current research climate, Collins created an Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) to address biomedical research workforce concerns and create solutions. The ACD was aided by three specialized working groups with input from many outside stakeholders, including ASH, who submitted its recommendations to the ACD last year.
ASH is pleased that the NIH is planning to implement a number of changes the Society recommended that support a faster transition to independent academic research as well as increase opportunities for diverse, non-academic careers paths. Current NIH plans involve:
- Establishing a new grant program to encourage innovative training approaches
- Encouraging individual development plans be in place for all trainees
- Encouraging the expected duration of NIH grant support for doctoral study to be five years;
- Increasing postdoctoral research stipends
- Increasing the number of NIH Pathway to Independence Awards and Early Independence Awards
- Establishing an ACD working group study on research training of clinician-scientist biomedical workforce. This proposed group would:
- Analyze the current size and composition of the US clinician-scientist population,
- Determine the barriers and incentives to those individuals continuing or entering the engagement of scientific activities
- Assess present and future needs, and determine available career opportunities to support clinician-scientist trainees
The NIH also plans to increase efforts to reduce bias in peer reviews, piloting a program providing anonymity to those seeking new funds. The launch of a new program titled Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (or BUILD) will provide both mentoring and financial support to undergraduate students pursuing biomedical research careers in smaller universities. The NIH also plans to develop a National Research Mentoring Network designed to foster relationships between graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, faculty and experienced mentors. Also, in an effort to provide fluid support those already in the field, the NIH plans to comprehensively track all NIH-supported graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in order to assess workforce needs and plan future training activities. Institutions will also be encouraged to promote aggregate career outcomes of graduates and post-docs publically. Significantly, the NIH also plans to recruit its first Chief Diversity Officer and establish a working group specifically tasked with maintaining diversity.
The NIH has also put into place an initiative titled "Big Data to Knowledge" (or BD2K), designed to streamline current database information and overhaul the current hosting and storage of its data. The implementation of high-performance computing power will increase accessibility of NIH data to researchers in the field.
ASH applauds the NIH on its plan to increase diversity in the biomedical research workforce, provide more individualized graduate and post-doctoral training, and more comprehensive career training and outcome data to those students who wish to enter biomedical professions beyond the lab.
ASH looks forward to working with the NIH on implementation of these recommendations.