In June 2012, as Science Careers has reported, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Biomedical Workforce Working Group issued an excellent report on the problematic situation of young researchers. The report included some important and substantive recommendations.  In December 2012, NIH made public its implementation plans, which ignored some of the report’s key suggestions and disappointed some observers, including the working group’s chair, Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman. Nonetheless, NIH is moving ahead with implementation.

As part of that process, NIH has issued a call for comments and suggestions for how best to accomplish its goals. If you have ideas on how NIH can better the situation of graduate students and postdocs, you can send them  to this special Web site until 22 April.

Specifically, NIH wants advice on:

Developing Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for those in graduate and postdoctoral training supported by NIH funds from any source. NIH is seeking input about how institutions could include IDPs in their policies and procedures to help tailor the training experiences for each student and postdoc. Also of interest are methods by which institutions would indicate adherence to these practices to NIH.

Encouraging timely completion of doctoral study by establishing expected limits on the length of time NIH will provide support for graduate students. The Working Group felt that graduate training leading to the doctorate in general should last less than 6 years. To inform this recommendation, it is important to consider how institutions currently monitor graduate student support and time to degree, as well as to better understand challenges to potential reductions in the duration of training, and strategies that may mitigate the effects of such changes.

Providing more uniform benefit packages for postdoctorates, which might include health insurance, contributions to a retirement plan, sick leave, etc. Information about the benefits currently provided to postdoctorates supported through NIH research grants, as well as those supported by NIH training grants and fellowships, would be useful in formulating implementation strategies for this recommendation.

Developing a system for gathering information about individuals receiving NIH support for their training. One option the implementation team is considering is to incorporate graduate students into the eRA Commons. In addition, the ongoing Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae (SciENcv) project that will permit the development of a Federal-wide researcher profile also may be useful in implementing this recommendation, particularly through gathering information on individuals who are no longer in the NIH system. If NIH were to develop an electronic system for capturing information on graduate students, what challenges could impede providing high-quality data?

Reporting by institutions of aggregate career outcomes of graduate students and postdoctorates on a public web site. Institutions have a number of ways of communicating the success of their programs. NIH is interested in assessing the willingness of institutions to participate in this effort and hearing strategies that would facilitate some standardization of this approach. The goals of these strategies would be to ensure that career outcomes are noted for all trainees, so that individuals contemplating biomedical research training and selecting a training institution would have access to current information about the career outcomes of students and postdoctorates from those institutions.

Considering the following in training grant applications:

  • A range of career outcomes as indicators of success.
  • Outcomes of training for all graduate students and postdoctorates in relevant programs, whether or not they are supported by the training grant.

Launching a dialogue with the extramural biomedical research community to assess the construct of NIH support of the biomedical community, including faculty salaries. The implementation team currently is considering what types of data should be gathered to inform this dialogue, and would appreciate input from the community. In addition, the community’s experience with the recent decrease in the rate at which NIH can pay individual’s salaries, from Executive Level I of the Federal Executive Pay Scale ($199,700) in FY2011 to Executive Level II ($179,700) in FY2012, may provide useful information about the effects of changes in salary support.

For more information, look here.

Beryl Lieff Benderly writes from Washington, D.C.

10.1126/science.caredit.a1300058