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Opinion: The Next Generation Researchers Initiative at NIH

  1. Francis Collinsa
  1. aOffice of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892

Growing concerns about the wellbeing and stability of the biomedical research workforce are well documented. Over the last 15 years (since the end of the doubling of the NIH budget), we have observed worsening “hypercompetition” as more scientists vie for fewer available dollars (1, 2). Within this hypercompetitive environment, the research workforce is growing older at a rate that is disproportionate to the general American labor force (3). Late-career investigators have been awarded a greater proportion of available research funding, raising concerns that early-career investigators risk being crowded out of the workforce before they have a chance to launch independent scientific careers (3). Other analysts have suggested that adverse effects are also being felt by midcareer investigators (4); large numbers of meritorious investigators may achieve research independence only to lose it because they are unable to renew their one grant or obtain a second new grant.

In our latest effort to tackle this problem, the NIH is launching the “Next Generation Researchers Initiative,” first announced in June. We believe this initiative will help ameliorate these difficult issues in a direct data-driven manner (5) by taking substantive steps to increase funding opportunities for early- and midcareer investigators.

Finding Remedies

It is not entirely clear why early- and midcareer investigators are disproportionately affected by hypercompetition. Some worry about a review bias that favors more-experienced and better-known researchers (5), making it easier for them to get their applications favorably received at peer review. Others have suggested a resiliency factor (4): experienced, well-networked scientists may hold more than one grant or have access to greater sums of grant and private money, making it easier for them to weather the effects of rejected applications. Regardless of …

?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: Michael.Lauer{at}nih.gov.

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