Initial report on the NIH RFI on the Biomedical Research Workforce

January 27, 2012

The Rock Talk blog of the NIH’s Office of Extramural research notes that a report (pdf) overviewing the responses to a prior RFI has just been released.

A few things that I’ve picked up on first skim.

Vote leveraging. They had 219 responses. That’s IT. 5% were from NIH staffe and 20% from official representatives so really that is only 164 comments from normal folk like us. If you responded (and I did) you get to be 0.6% of the response. Coolio. This is why I continue to urge you to participate in such things- apathy means that your efforts count for a lot more than just your own little opinion. You represent a much larger fraction.

Diversity. This particular RFI did not ask specifically about diversity to my recollection. But many people brought it up, no doubt because the Ginther et al 2011 report was published before comments were due. There were also lots of comments about the challenges faced by women who head laboratories.

Staff Scientists / nonPI stable careers. As you know, a topic on which I have opinions, DearReader.

Suppose something like this were made available for career Ph.D. scientists as essentially a fellowship. Without any requirement for a professorial appointment and minimal actual research component. The important point being that it is applied for, awarded to and evaluated for renewal by the career scientist with every expectation that this is a career award. There would be details of course. You’d have to have a host lab at most times- but allow for transition if one lab loses grant support or something. Nice and easy for the supported career scientist to find a new lab, don’t you think? “Hey, PI Smith, I have my salary supported and I’d like to come play in your lab…” would go over quite nicely. Progress could be evaluated just as with any other award, keeping the pressure on for the individual to publish

Well, this new report says:

There was much support among individual commenters to create permanent career staff scientists positions. They saw this as a way for all parties to reap the benefits of training support provided by NIH. Institution commenters where divided, some taking a cautious approach to the idea of utilizing staff scientist in the lab, citing possible adverse effects including potential loss of innovative ideas (currently provided by graduates) and the reduction in project budgets to cover the salaries for these positions.

and ends up with the “NIH Action Recommendation” of

Provide grant mechanisms and change the funding policy to increase project budgets to support the costs associated with permanent staff.

Emphasis added. I will be fascinated to see how closely the eventual initiative on this hews to my proposal. Fascinated.

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No Responses Yet to “Initial report on the NIH RFI on the Biomedical Research Workforce”


  1. Provide grant mechanisms and change the funding policy to increase project budgets to support the costs associated with permanent staff.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Yeah, while we’re at it, let’s also “change the funding policy to increase project budgets to support the costs associated with” the endless increases in the NIH predoctoral and postdoctoral NRSA stipend scales that inexorably push R01-supported salaries up and up and up.

    Seriously, who comes up with this fucken nonsense? The problem is that THERE ISN’T ANY FUCKEN MONEY TO INCREASE ANYFUCKENTHING SUPPORTED BY NIH GRANTS BECAUSE GRANT BUDGET PURCHASING POWER–OF LABOR, SUPPLIES, ETC–HAS BEEN CUT YEAR AFTER YEAR AFTER YEAR FOR ALMOST A FUCKEN DECADE.

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  2. drugmonkey Says:

    If you read the entire report, you’d find a disturbing number of “NIH Action Recommendations” to boil down to increasing the NIH budget.

    So yeah, one wonders how serious this is.

    I do wonder what sorts of tactical evidence was deployed in the argument leading up to the start of the doubling interval, though. Perhaps this ticky-tacky pie in sky stuff contributes to the next attempt to get Congress to throw down more cheese?

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  3. whimple Says:

    Presumably what they’re talking about (other than just “give the NIH more money”) is a reallocation of resources away from early career training and into more long-term higher level support. So instead of getting cash to train three grad students, you get cash to support one staff scientist.

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  4. Brian Martinson Says:

    As one who weighed in substantially on what is being referred to as the “supply side” of this issue – I’m disappointed, but not particularly surprised by the response from NIH.

    Striking, though, that the most frequently cited issue was the mismatch of supply and demand of labor in the science workforce. Maybe that’s progress.

    But this is a complex system that has in all likelihood already passed its critical point and is in phase transition to a new “equilibrium” point. We’re in free-fall right now, but haven’t hit the ground just yet. NIH bureaucrats are in no position to provide a parachute big enough to break the fall from the “funding cliff” we’ve all jumped off of.

    Race you to the bottom.

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  5. […] Request for Information on the Biomedical Research Workforce.  Like the fewer than 220 (!) others who responded, I’m seeing some of my opinions reflected in the NIH’s report.  See in […]

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