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NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Report Released
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June 15, 2012

On June 14, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group presented its report.  Recommendations that directly impact postdoctoral scholars included:

-To ensure that all postdoctoral fellows supported by the NIH receive excellent training and mentoring, NIH should increase the proportion of postdoctoral researchers supported by training grants and fellowships and reduce the number supported by research project grants, without increasing the overall number of postdoctoral researchers.

-NIH should create a pilot program for institutional postdoctoral offices to compete for funding to experiment in enriching and diversifying postdoctoral training, including partnerships with other entities (industry, private foundations, government, etc.).

-The current stipends for NIH-supported postdoctoral fellows need to be adjusted to levels that better reflect their years of training. The working group recommends that the NIH should adjust the starting stipend levels of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) to $42,000 and index the starting stipend according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) thereafter. Stipend levels should increase with each year of experience in any postdoctoral position irrespective of their titles by 4% for the second and third years and 6% for years 4 through 7. The large jump between years 3 and 4 is meant to emphasize a transition from postdoctoral training to research production, and to incentivize PIs to move fellows to more permanent positions. This salary scale will apply to postdoctoral researchers supported by research project grants as well, and institutions should be encouraged to adopt this scale for all postdoctoral researchers, irrespective of the source of their support.

NIH should evaluate this policy in the decade after implementation to determine whether the postdoctoral period has shortened. If it is not reduced, then perhaps NIH should experiment with a cap on the length of funding for postdoctoral researchers.

-NIH should require and adjust its own policies so that all NIH-supported postdoctoral researchers on any form of support (training grants, fellowships or research project grants) receive benefits that are comparable to other employees at the institution. Such benefits include paid time off, health insurance, retirement plans, maternity leave etc.

-To encourage larger numbers of PhD graduates to move rapidly into permanent research positions, NIH should double the number of Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) awards, and shorten the eligibility period for applying to this program from the 5 years to 3 years of postdoctoral experience.

-NIH also should double the number of the NIH Director's Early Independence awards to facilitate the "skip-the-postdoc" career path for those who are ready immediately after graduate school.

-NIH should require individual development plans (IDPs) for all NIH-supported postdoctoral researchers, whether on training grants, fellowships, or research project grants. Assessment of implementation of this requirement should be included in the review criteria of training grants.

The NPA Board of Directors is preparing an official response to this report. Lorraine Tracey, chair of the NPA Board of Directors, said, "The NPA applauds these recommendations and believes that the implementation of these recommendations will significantly improve the U.S. postdoctoral experience."

Read the Executive Summary of the report here.

Last fall, the NPA responded to the Request for Information sent out by this group. Read that response: NPA Response to the NIH Biomedical Working Group, NOT-OD-11-106-3 (Oct. 7, 2011)

View the new NIH Web page on workforce issues here.

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