NIH Statement in Response to Addressing the Nation’s
Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 (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
The Committee refers to the following forms of oversight of the training related
activities in the biomedical sciences:
- Tracking predoctoral and postdoctoral research assistants and associates
in the same way that the NIH tracks NRSA recipients.
- 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.
- Analyze the workforce by linking information on recipients of NIH training
support to other national databases.
- 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
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
The following is a summary of NIH positions on the recommendations and plans
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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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