NIH has launched the Next Generation Researchers Initiative to address longstanding challenges faced by researchers trying to embark upon and sustain independent research careers, and to take steps to promote the growth, stability and diversity of the biomedical research workforce.
On August 31, 2017, NIH announced the Policy Supporting the Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NOT-OD-17-101) which amended the early stage investigator (ESI) definition; updated ESI policies; introduced a new policy for early established investigators (EEIs); and described how NIH would implement the policy and determine impact on the NIH portfolio. Concurrently, a working group of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) was launched to advise the ACD on this new initiative, and provide input on how best to sustainably support a robust and diverse workforce.
Based on preliminary work by the ACD working group and other stakeholder input, NIH announced an EEI flag would not be used in application and review systems as previously planned. Instead, an interim strategy to consider “at risk investigators” would be used until deliberations of the ACD working group are complete (NOT-OD-18-214).
Learn more about NIH policies to support ESIs
NIH and its stakeholder community have for many years been concerned about the long-term stability of the biomedical research enterprise. Too many researchers vying for limited resources has led to a hypercompetitive environment. Many highly meritorious applications go unfunded. This has too often resulted in misaligned incentives and unintended consequences for talented researchers at all career stages who are trying to succeed and stay in science. The current environment is particularly challenging for many new- and mid-career investigators.
Over the last several years, NIH has taken numerous steps to balance, strengthen, and stabilize the biomedical research workforce.
- Special council review policy
- New Investigator/Early Stage Investigator Policies
- Initiatives from the Advisory Council to the NIH Director
- Programs for early-career investigators
- New funding mechanisms for sustained research funding (R35)
However, these measures have only taken us so far. While the percentage of NIH awards that support early-career investigators has gone from declining to flat, these gains have been offset by a decline in the percentage of NIH awards that support mid-career investigators.
The 21st Century Cures Act, enacted December 13, 2016, includes a section entitled, “Investing in the Next Generation of Researchers” that requires the Director to “Develop, modify, or prioritize policies, as needed, within the National Institutes of Health to promote opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence, such as policies to increase opportunities for new researchers to receive funding, enhance training and mentorship programs for researchers, and enhance workforce diversity”. NIH must encourage successful, independent careers for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) in a way that enhances workforce diversity, and must create a sustainable workforce across all career stages to ensure the long term stability of the biomedical research enterprise.
- ICs will develop evidence-based strategies to identify, grow and retain investigators across these critical career stages.
- The NIH Office of the Director will centrally track and maintain an updated census of the status of early stage investigators.
- NIH will encourage the development and testing of metrics that can be used to assess the impact of NIH grant support on scientific progress.
- NIH will also place greater emphasis on NIH funding programs aimed at early stage investigators.