Some research institutions are shaking up the traditional model of how labs are staffed by relying on staff scientists, writes Steven Hyman from the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute at Nature News.
He notes that at his own institution, professional staff scientists — researchers who aren't on the tenure track and don't oversee graduate students — take the lead on a number of projects. Similarly, he says that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus, the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences, and Allen Institute for Brain Science also rely on a combination of faculty members and staff scientists.
However, Hyman adds that there has been some resistance to such a model, as figuring out how to pay staff scientists can be challenging as some funders assume graduate students or postdocs could do the work more cheaply. Additionally, he says there is sometimes resistance from faculty members who don't want to compete with staff scientists for space and resources.
"If adopted judiciously, these positions would enable institutions to take on projects of unprecedented scope and scale," Hyman says. "It would also create a much-needed set of highly rewarding jobs for the rising crop of talented researchers, particularly people who love science and technology but who do not want to pursue increasingly scarce faculty positions."