NIH STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO THE NAS REPORT:  ADDRESSING THE NATION'S CHANGING 
NEEDS FOR BIOMEDICAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENTISTS

Release Date:  March 22, 2001

NOTICE:  NOT-OD-01-027

National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has analyzed the recently 
issued report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Addressing 
the Nation's Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists 
and has prepared a statement that describes NIH intentions to implement 
selected recommendations. The NIH offers the statement below for 
comment in order to determine the views of the extramural community 
prior to implementation.  The original NAS report can be found at 
http://grants.nih.gov/training/outcomes.htm. 

Please post all comments to the email address:  PersonnelNeeds@od.nih.gov.   
Comments must be received on or before April 30, 2001.

Email Address for Comments:  PersonnelNeeds@od.nih.gov 

Additional inquiries may be directed to:

Walter Schaffer, Ph.D.
NIH Research Training Officer
Office of Extramural Research
6701 Rockledge Drive, Rm. 6184
Bethesda, MD  20892-7911
301-435-2687
Email:  schaffew@nih.gov  


NIH Statement in Response to the NAS Report: Addressing the Nation’s 
Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists

The NIH would like to thank the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) 
Personnel Needs Committee for the report Addressing the Nation’s 
Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists.  Copies can be 
found at http://grants.nih.gov/training/outcomes.htm. This report 
provides an insightful analysis of the training environment experienced 
by health-related graduate students and individuals in postdoctoral 
training. Additionally, the report offers a number of useful 
recommendations designed to improve the nature of graduate and 
postdoctoral training to more appropriately meet future needs. 
 
With the following statement, the NIH addresses its intention to 
support and implement selected recommendations from the Biomedical and 
Crosscutting sections of this report.  Other sections of the report may 
be addressed in subsequent statements.  We include here plans that 
encompass the funding of the National Research Service Award (NRSA) 
training grants and fellowships as well as students and postdoctorates 
supported by NIH funded research grants.  This statement also describes 
areas in which NIH plans depart from the findings and recommendations 
of the NAS Committee.  We hope that the statement will encourage a 
broad discussion within the scientific community and will inform the 
next quadrennial study of research personnel needs.  
 
Within Addressing the Nation’s Needs, the Committee describes a life-
sciences enterprise that is highly productive but is dependent on 
graduate students and postdoctorates for much of the day-to-day work of 
research.  The Committee concludes that current levels of research 
training may be higher than necessary to maintain the biomedical 
workforce.   They encourage the development of a more permanent 
laboratory workforce and at the same time they caution against a broad 
reduction in PhD production that might delay or disrupt research 
progress. The NIH generally supports these observations, but differs 
somewhat from the Committee’s approach for systematic improvement.  The 
specific recommendations from the report are laid out below along with 
the NIH position and a specific plan for implementation. 

BIOMEDICAL
 
Recommendation 2-1.  There should be no growth in the aggregate number 
of Ph.D.s awarded in the basic biomedical sciences.
 
The Committee used a life-table model of the biomedical workforce (see 
Appendix D of the NAS Report) to describe the expected replacement and 
expansion demand for biomedical scientists over the next several 
years.  The model predicts that between 1,571 and 3,031 new biomedical 
PhDs will be needed each year to meet employment demands by the year 
2005.  This compares to a current annual biomedical PhD output that is 
close to 5,400.  In spite of the fact that the Committee believed there 
is a substantial overproduction of biomedical PhDs, it recommended 
continuance of current production rates to avoid disruption of research 
progress.  While the NIH agrees that there is no rationale for growth 
in the number of PhDs in the basic biomedical sciences, we are less 
convinced of the need to take any specific steps to curtail the entry 
of students into science.  
 
The Committee observed a tension between an apparent overproduction and 
the need to keep a successful enterprise functioning. We also would 
like to emphasize the uncertainties in predicting future growth and 
needs in specific fields.  There are concerns about the reliability of 
replacement needs calculated using existing workforce models. Such 
limitations must be taken in context as we face an explosion in post-
genomic sciences and an expansion of linkages between biology and the 
allied disciplines. Emergence of a new era of biological inquiry 
imposes even greater uncertainties on future projections and suggests 
that requirements for highly trained scientists are unlikely to 
decline.  Uncertainties about future demands for researchers also must 
be considered in light of recent reports indicating stability or 
contraction of graduate enrollments (see 
http://grants.nih.gov/training/GSS1999/GSS.html) and PhD production 
rates (see http://www.norc.uchicago.edu/studies/sed/sed1999.htm) in 
biomedical sciences.  

The second point is that the NIH is not in a position to control 
graduate enrollments. The NIH supports only about 30% of all biomedical 
graduate students at any point in time considering both NRSA and 
research grants.  Although the NIH provides substantial support for 
graduate training, responsibility for enrollments will continue to 
reside with the universities. We believe universities should continue 
to select individual students based on their prospects for scientific 
contribution.  They should retain the ability to increase enrollments 
in emerging or expanding scientific fields and to reduce enrollments in 
fields that appear to be contracting.  Some universities have been 
guided in this process by analyzing the career outcomes of former 
students and postdoctoral trainees.  This type of information also has 
been used effectively to inform and shape the career expectations of 
prospective and current students. We encourage all schools to take a 
broad view of the likely placements of their students and provide 
appropriate career advice.  
 
Recommendation 2-2.  Support for NRSA training grants and fellowships 
at the predoctoral and postdoctoral levels should be gradually 
increased.  At the predoctoral levels, the NIH should seek to provide 
at least 50 percent of its research training support through training 
grants and fellowships.  
  
This recommendation was based on the assumption that by managing the 
numbers on research grants and training grants, the support for 
students could be stabilized at current levels.  However, this is not 
consistent with the functions of these mechanisms.  Training grants are 
not used as a generic mechanism for graduate student support.  Their 
primary purpose is to stimulate and encourage specific programmatic 
goals by supporting only the best institutions and the best students.  
Research grants are used to award support for research projects, and 
that support is provided with a maximum degree of flexibility.  We 
believe that attempts to manipulate these mechanisms for the purpose of 
controlling Ph.D. numbers would run counter to their primary purposes.
 
The recommendation to shift student support from research grants to 
training grants also derives from a recent, as yet unpublished, report 
that shows that recipients of at least nine months of NRSA research 
training support are more likely to attain a faculty appointment and 
are more likely to apply for and receive an NIH research grant than 
their colleagues without NRSA support. We believe that training grants 
offer optimal developmental experiences for the early years of graduate 
research training.  But, part of the relative success of NRSA 
recipients is almost certainly related to the fact that training 
program directors are motivated by a stringent review process to select 
the best students for appointment to the grant. 
 
We agree that universities should ensure that all individuals in 
graduate and postdoctoral training have access to appropriate training 
and career development information and opportunities, that a faculty 
committee frequently monitors training progress, and that there are 
effective means for resolving grievances.  Many of these principles 
have been effectively described in two recent reports: At Cross 
Purposes:  What the experiences of today's doctoral students reveal 
about doctoral education (http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/phd-survey/) and 
Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers 
(http://www.nap.edu/books/0309069963/html/).   Further, the NIH 
recognizes that institutions differ in terms of access to institutional 
funds to support students early in graduate training.  Nevertheless, we 
believe that as a general rule, recently enrolled graduate students 
should not be immediately supported on research grants, but should be 
permitted and encouraged to attend classes and engage in rotations 
prior to selection of a dissertation subject.  

We also believe that universities should try to constrain the duration 
of both graduate and postdoctoral training.  The NIH supports the 
concept that federal funding from any combination of NRSA and/or 
research grants should not exceed six years for graduate training and 
five years for postdoctoral training. Universities should consider 
conversion of all individuals in postdoctoral training to staff or 
faculty appointments at the earliest possible opportunity.  Certainly, 
by five years of postdoctoral training experience, training should be 
completed and individuals who are being retained at the institution 
should be converted to non-training positions that provide appropriate 
levels of income and a benefit package that includes such items as 
retirement, leave, and health insurance.   The increased costs 
associated with such positions have been and will continue to be 
allowable under NIH research grants. Principal Investigators are 
encouraged to build such costs into the budget request for future 
competing grants.  
 
Recommendation 2-3.  The NIH should consider at least a small increase 
in dual-degree training in the basic biomedical sciences.
 
The NIH supports a small increase in our contribution to the support 
available for MD/PhD, DDS/PhD, RN/PhD and other forms of dual degree 
training.
 
Recommendation 2-4.  The NIH should expand its emphasis on 
multidisciplinary training in the basic biomedical sciences.  
 
As the Committee points out, a multidisciplinary and multi-departmental 
approach has been a hallmark of NRSA supported training.  We agree with 
the Committee that all entering graduate students should be educated 
and trained in an environment that will allow them to collaborate 
effectively with investigators in other fields.
 
Recommendation 2-5.  The NIH should increase its efforts to identify 
and support programs that encourage and prepare underrepresented 
minority students for careers in basic biomedical research.  
 
We agree with the Committee that gains in the participation of 
individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the 
biomedical sciences have been very slow in spite of decades of intense 
NIH effort.   Although some of the NIH minority programs have recently 
been evaluated, we agree that the current array of NIH minority 
programs should also be reviewed.   We also agree that the continuing 
underrepresentation probably stems from restricted educational 
opportunities far earlier in the educational career of minority 
students.  The NIH supports the concept of improving the quality of 
elementary and secondary education for all students, but notes that the 
responsibility for this effort is very clearly within the purview of 
other federal agencies such as the Department of Education and the 
National Science Foundation. 
 
CROSSCUTTING ISSUES

Recommendation 5-1.  Led by the NIH, the agencies with responsibility 
for health research training should strengthen their efforts to ensure 
diversity in the research laborforce.
 
See response to Recommendation 2-5.
 
Recommendation 5-2.  The NIH, AHRQ, and HRSA should encourage research 
training programs to expose participants of all backgrounds to issues 
associated with economic, cultural, and ethnic disparities in health.
 
The NIH has recently issued a statement about health disparities that 
is available at http://www.nih.gov/about/hd/strategicplan.pdf.   This 
document describes the nature of such disparities and offers a 
comprehensive plan to address these issues.  One aspect of this plan 
involves training and supporting new investigators who are interested 
in exploring the pathophysiology related to disparities in health.   To 
explore this approach, the NIH recently launched the NIH Academy, which 
is completely dedicated to training in the area of health disparities.  
This program is described at 
http://www.training.nih.gov/student/Pre-IRTA/previewpostbac.asp?AppType=academy. 
 
Recommendation 5-3.  The NIH, AHRQ, and HRSA should consolidate their 
oversight of research training and training related activities and 
thereby shape and manage the workforce as envisioned by Congress when 
it established the NRSA program.  
 
The Committee refers to the following forms of oversight of the 
training related activities in the biomedical sciences:  
 
o  Tracking predoctoral and postdoctoral research assistants and 
associates in the same way that the NIH tracks NRSA recipients.
o  Gather more complete information on students and postdoctorates 
supported by the NIH in terms of the number supported, their levels of 
income, field of training, and prior education.
o  Analyze the workforce by linking information on recipients of NIH 
training support to other national databases.
o  Analyze labor market trends more frequently than is afforded by the 
quadrennial NAS studies of research personnel needs.   
 
The NIH supports these recommendations.  NRSA recipients are currently 
tracked and their career outcomes are periodically studied as a means 
of evaluating the effectiveness of these training programs.  One 
component of that process involves linking NIH information with 
databases managed by the National Science Foundation, the Association 
of American Medical Colleges, the Institute for Scientific Information, 
and other sources.  We also support the concept of collecting 
identifying information on graduate and postdoctoral trainees supported 
by research grants.  Such data collection should begin after a period 
of public discussion and the development of a simple, web-based 
information collection module.   Finally, we support the concept of 
more frequent analyses of labor market information.  We have 
tentatively agreed with the NAS to make the quadrennial personnel needs 
studies a more continuous process.  In that way, NAS staff will be 
available to consider mid-course corrections to labor-force models and 
to incorporate information from the biennial updates of the NSF/NIH 
Survey of Doctoral Recipients.  This information will be provided to 
the NIH and future NAS Personnel Needs Committees on a more regular 
basis.    
 
Recommendation 5-4.  Stipends and other forms of compensation for those 
in training should be based on education and experience and should be 
regularly adjusted to reflect changes in the cost of living.  
 
The NIH concurs with the committee’s observation that NRSA stipends are 
unduly low in view of the high level of education and professional 
skills involved in biomedical research.  NRSA stipend targets have been 
identified for both predoctoral and postdoctoral recipients.  NIH plans 
to develop budget requests that will permit an increase in stipends by 
10 to 12 percent per year for the next few years in order to reach 
those targets.  Once the targets have been attained, annual cost-of-
living adjustments will be instituted so that stipend levels remain 
relatively constant in real value.  The appropriateness of stipend 
levels will be examined in future years to maintain comparability to 
levels of income available to students and postdoctorates from other 
sources.

Recommendation 5-5.  The NIH and other federal science agencies that 
support research training should articulate clear goals regarding the 
education of foreign students and should modify their grant policies 
where necessary.   
 
The NIH concurs with this recommendation and reiterates the importance 
of funding opportunities for international students and 
postdoctorates.  The presence of foreign students and postdoctoral 
fellows provides important benefits to the individual, the United 
States, the nation of origin, and the larger scientific community.  
This type of international exchange facilitates scientific advances 
that better help prevent, treat, and control diseases in both the US 
and the world population.  When foreign researchers return to their own 
nations with state-of-the-science knowledge, advanced techniques, and 
research skills, they serve as crucial international collaborators in 
the design and conduct of ongoing research programs.  Support for 
foreign students and postdoctoral trainees permits the conduct of 
multi-national natural history and epidemiology studies, international 
clinical trials of drugs and vaccines, as well as basic biomedical and 
behavioral research. The continued support of foreign students and 
postdoctoral trainees with NIH research grants is essential.  It is 
also important for the NIH to develop the means to monitor and track 
these students so that we have a better understanding of their numbers, 
their countries of origin, and their fields of study.  We should also 
seek to ensure that the training experiences of international students 
and postdoctoral trainees are equivalent in quality to those offered to 
their domestic counterparts.  
 
SUMMARY OF PLANS TO IMPLEMENT THE RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE NAS REPORT
  
The following is a summary of NIH positions on the recommendations and 
plans for implementation. 
 
o  The NIH supports the concept that all entering graduate students 
(domestic and foreign) should receive a broad, multidisciplinary 
education and an opportunity to rotate through several different 
laboratories prior to selection of a dissertation project.

o  The NIH supports the concept that universities should encourage the 
earliest possible completion of graduate and postdoctoral education and 
training.  To foster this objective, the NIH proposes to limit the use 
of federal dollars from any source for the support of graduate training 
that exceeds six years and postdoctoral training that exceeds five 
years.

o  The NIH supports the concept that postdoctoral trainees should be 
converted to non-training staff or faculty positions at the earliest 
practical opportunity.  Individuals in such positions should receive 
appropriate levels of income and benefits.  These costs are allowable 
under NIH research grants. Such costs should be built into future 
competing applications.

o  The NIH will continue to support a wide variety of education and 
training programs designed to increase the racial and ethnic diversity 
of the biomedical laborforce and will continue to devote effort to the 
issue of health disparities.

o  The NIH supports the concept that labor market analysis should be 
carried out more frequently than once every four years as currently 
required by law.  We announce our intention to make the data collection 
and analysis of workforce data a more continuous process.

o  The NIH supports the continued funding of research training 
opportunities for graduate students and postdoctorates from foreign 
countries.  The NIH endorses the recommendation that the training 
environment and the level of support for international students and 
postdoctoral trainees should be identical to that offered to domestic 
students and postdoctoral trainees

o  The NIH supports the idea of tracking graduate students and 
postdoctoral trainees supported by research grants.  A web-based data 
collection strategy that is both easy to use and reliable will be 
designed.  This information will provide information about the number 
of students and postdoctoral trainees supported by the NIH and will be 
used in future evaluation studies.  

o  The NIH supports higher stipends for NRSA recipients and therefore 
announces tentative targets of $25,000 for graduate and $45,000 for 
entry-level postdoctoral stipends.  Future budget requests will 
incorporate 10 to 12 percent stipend increases until these targets are 
reached.  After attainment of these targets, the real value of stipends 
will be maintained with annual cost-of-living adjustments.

o  The NIH will align the philosophy of limited training periods with 
stipends paid to pre- and postdoctoral trainees. For example, 
graduations in the NRSA postdoctoral stipend scale could be 
discontinued after 5 years (see 
http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-01-011.html). 
The NIH will attempt to gain a clearer picture of the impact of such a 
policy before final implementation.  


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