Next Generation Researchers Initiative

NIH has launched the Next Generation Researchers Initiative to bolster support for early-stage and mid-career investigators to address longstanding challenges faced by researchers trying to embark upon and sustain independent research careers.

Three young researchers in labcoats looking at a test tube

Background

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.

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. 

To ensure the long-term stability and strength of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, the pool of NIH-funded researchers must be balanced such that the greatest number of early stage and mid-career researchers are enabled to tackle tough research questions to improve the health of all Americans. This conclusion is widely shared both within and outside of NIH. In fact, the 21st Century Cures Act, which became law in December of 2016, instructs the NIH Director to promote policies that will encourage earlier independence and increased funding for new investigators.

With feedback and input from the research community, NIH is proposing a number of steps to enhance the potential of the next generation of researchers:

Approach

NIH will take a multi-pronged approach to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators and stabilize the career trajectory of scientists by:

  • Further extending the payline for R01 equivalent applications from early stage investigators, with an aim of funding most applications that score in the top 25 percentile (or receive a score of 35 or less if not percentiled)
     
  • Providing additional support for mid-career investigators, defined as investigators who are within 10 years of receiving their first NIH R01 equivalent award, whose applications score in the top 25 percentile (or receive a score of 35 or less if not percentiled), by:
    • Extending the payline for those about to lose all NIH funding
    • Prioritizing funding of an additional concurrent research project grant award for particularly promising mid-career investigators currently supported by a single ongoing award
  • The total cost of these measures, to be derived in each IC by rearranging priorities in other categories, is estimated (pending availability of funds), at:
    • ~$210 million the first year  
    • Ramping up over 5 years to reach approximately $1.1 billion per year
  • NIH will also place greater emphasis on current NIH funding programs aimed at early-stage and mid-career investigators, such as:   
    • NIH Common Fund’s New Innovator Awards
    • National Institute of General Medicine Sciences Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA)
    • National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research (SOAR) awards
    • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Supplements to Advance Research (STAR) from Projects to Programs
    • Other special awards from specific institutes
  • NIH will track the impact of NIH Institute and Center funding decisions for early-stage and mid-career investigators with fundable scores, to ensure this new strategy is effectively implemented
     
  • NIH will encourage the development and testing of metrics that can be used to assess the impact of NIH grant support on scientific progress