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NIH Advisory Committee to the Director's Biomedical Workforce Working Group Issues Draft Report

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The US National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee to the Director's Biomedical Workforce Working Group issued a draft report this week that summarizes data it has collected and includes recommendations "that can inform decisions about training the optimal number of people for the appropriate types of positions that will advance science and promote health," it reads.

In its report, the working group emphasizes the overall purpose of its research efforts and resulting recommendations, namely "to ensure future US competitiveness and innovation in biomedical research" through proper undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral training and to "attract and retain the best and most diverse scientists, engineers, and physicians from around the world," as well as domestically.

When it comes to graduate education, the working group suggests that NIH cap the total number of years a grad student can be supported by NIH funds, in order to encourage timely completion of PhD studies.

As for graduate career training, the working group says that because around 30 percent of biomedical PhDs work in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries — in both research and non-research positions — "their transition would be more effective if their training was better aligned with the required skill-sets for these careers." In addition, "institutions also could be encouraged to develop other degree programs — e.g. master's degrees designed for specific science-oriented career outcomes, such as industry or public policy ... as stand-alone programs or provide sound exit pathways for PhD students who do not wish to continue on the research career track," the group continues.

For PhDs who do wish to continue on with a postdoctoral fellowship, the working group suggests that NIH "create a pilot program for institutional postdoctoral offices to compete for funding to experiment in enriching and diversifying postdoctoral training," and adjust the current stipends for the postdocs it supports to better reflect their years of training.

In addition, the group recommends that NIH double the number of Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) awards it issues and shorten the eligibility period for applying to this program from five to three years of postdoc experience to encourage more PhDs to swiftly move into independent research positions. Likewise, the group suggests that NIH also double the number of NIH Director's Early Independence awards "to facilitate the skip-the-postdoc career path for those who are ready immediately after graduate school."

More generally, the Biomedical Workforce Working Group recommends that institutions receiving NIH funds ramp up their efforts to collect information on career outcomes of the grad students and postdocs supported by federal research grants.

Finally, the group suggests that NIH create a permanent unit in the Office of the Director that would work with the extramural research community, the National Science Foundation, and the agency's other institutes and centers "to coordinate data collection activities and provide ongoing analysis of the workforce and evaluation of NIH policies so that they better align with the workforce needs."

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