Francis Collins says that postdoctoral training, which has become an integral part of the research career trajectory in recent years, has "proved a double-edged sword for some — and possibly for the whole field," as it can significantly lengthen the time it takes for investigators to begin independent careers. Further, Collins adds, the community "must develop ways to liberate our brightest minds to pursue high-risk, high-reward ideas during their most creative years." For their part, the National Institutes of Health has rolled out the Early Independence Award program, which aims to support 10 young investigators with $250,000 in direct costs annually for five years "to pass almost immediately from completing a PhD to running their own laboratories" through the NIH Director's Common Fund, according to Collins. This pilot program is unique in that "applicants will need to work with the institution's academic leaders to negotiate an independent position," and "the institution must provide the young investigator with space and resources, and a level of mentoring equivalent to that provided to assistant professors," Collins says. The NIH director says that the agency will issue its first awards through this highly competitive program next year, and adds that "unleashing that capability at all stages of a scientist's career should be a priority for us all."
In comments to this story, readers express their concerns. John Laughlin writes that "this is a very small bandage on a very big problem." Reader John Smith adds: "How the NIH and Francis Collins believe they will solve the postdoc crisis by awarding 10 grants to PhD graduates is beyond me."