The National Academies’ National Research Council has come out encouraging the National Institutes of Health to foster independence among postdoctoral scholars, entry-level faculty, staff scientists, and other new investigators in biomedical research by improving their training and giving them more resources to pursue their own projects.

In case you think this is not a problem, consider that the median age at receiving their first R01 grant is 42 for those holding Ph.D.’s. In 2003 investigators under the age of 40 received less than 17 percent of the agency’s competitive research awards — down from more than 50 percent in 1980.

Among the recommendations are:

1. Enforce a 5-year limit on the use of any funding mechanism—including research grants—to support postdoctoral researchers.

2. Postdoctoral researchers should be more independent and less dependent of the research grants of PIs. NIH should reallocate support away from the R01 and toward individual awards and training grants.

3. Provide equal opportunities for non-U.S. citizens on postdoctoral training awards. Modify citizenship requirements or make available “alternative and equivalent mechanisms of support”

4. Postdoctoral scientists should receive improved career advising, mentoring, and skills training.

5. Postdoctoral Independent Research Award. A new research award for an independent research project

6. NIH should commission an independent evaluation of the different models of postdoctoral support.

The report noted that in most cases, biomedical postdocs are paid through “R01” research grants that are made to principal investigators (PIs). Consequently, postdocs are often required to spend their time focused on the research of these senior investigators, a pattern that may stifle their creativity.

The report went so far as stating that applicants for R01 grants seeking postdoc assistance should be required to provide lists of current postdocs as well as the names, laboratory tenure, and present job status of all postdocs supported in the past decade.

Like ever lengthening doctoral programs, it is obvious that the system encourages keeping new faculty/scientists in a low paying, hard labor position as long as possible (which sounds an awful lot like the associate track for lawyers). Perhaps I would have finished my doctoral dissertation work if it had not seemed so much like the ever elusive “piece of cheese” that kept getting moved further and further away.

More available here.

See the slide show here.

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