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Senate Bill Proposed to Help Young Scientists Struggling in Weak Funding Environment

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – US Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D – Wis.) plans to introduce legislation aimed at helping provide opportunities for young scientific investigators amid a long-term trend of flagging federal research funding and the sequestration cuts

Baldwin said this week that her Next Generation Research Act would launch an initiative at the National Institutes of Health that would focus some resources on helping young investigators who are looking to launch their careers in an uncertain funding environment.

According to a document outlining the proposal, the bill does not call for a specific funding amount to be directed toward younger researchers, but instead is aimed at developing and supporting policies and programs that benefit young scientists, and it would authorize the money that is required to support such programs.

The act would create the Next Generation of Research Initiative in NIH's Office of the Director, which would direct all current and new NIH policies that target new researchers.

Policies that the NIH already has in place and which would fall under this initiative include the Pathway to Independence Award, which provides funding and mentorship to researchers with postdoctoral degrees; the NIH Director's New Innovator Award, which supports new investigators who propose innovative projects that might have a big impact; and grant review procedures aimed at early-stage investigators that seek to ensure these new researchers have a fair chance to get funded.

The act also would implement proposals from the NIH Office of Extramural Research to improve mentorship between new and veteran researchers, seek to enhance workforce diversity, and pursue new ways to improve success rates for researchers seeking their second NIH grants.

Baldwin's proposal also would charge the National Academy of Sciences with producing a report to study the barriers that make it difficult for early-stage investigators to get their careers moving. NAS would examine legislative, administrative, educational, and cultural barriers, and study the impact of the sequestration and budget constraints on early-stage investigators. Based on those findings, NAS would issue recommendations to Congress and the NIH that would incentivize new investigators and make it easier for them to launch and sustain their careers.

Baldwin pointed to NIH Director Francis Collins' warning that waning NIH funding, which has led to a decrease in the agency's purchasing power of around 22 percent over a decade and all-time low success rates on grant proposals, is "putting an entire generation of scientists at risk."

Baldwin intends to introduce the legislation when the US Senate reconvenes next month.