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AWIS in Action! January 2013 - NIH guidelines
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   January 2013
In This Issue
NIH Plans to Address Training Program Shortcomings
Where are several serious concerns with the way we train scientists and advance their careers in this country. Less than a quarter of graduate students in biomedical research currently wind up with tenure-track positions in academics, yet a stigma still remains around training them for anything but that type of job. Much emphasis right now is given to getting more kids into STEM, yet a small but important group has been stressing that right now we are educating more chemists and biologists in Ph.D. programs than there are currently jobs available for in industry, academics, and other employment sectors. A study published in Science last year by AWIS members Donna Ginther, Ph.D. and Laurel Haak, Ph.D., et. al examined the rate at which minorities receive grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and, after normalizing for other factors, found that they are less likely to get funding. Lastly, a study published in December in PLOS One looked at the gender gap in scientific publications across disciplines. The study showed that the more resource-dependent the field (such as biomedical research and chemistry), the less women published, but if the discipline was more theoretical and required little more than a computer, then the gender gap in publishing went away.
Last summer an NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) convened to presumably address some of the problems in training, including diversity. Many of the offered recommendations mirror those from a similar panel convened in 1998, having been largely ignored by the NIH when they were first recommended over 14 years ago and many problems remain the same. For example, the 1998 group expressed concerns that we are training more students than there are jobs available after 5-8 years of minimum pay and training of highly variable quality. Since then the number of grad students in training has doubled.
Last month the NIH responded to their recommendations of the ACD from this summer. Sally Rockey, Ph.D., deputy director of the NIH, shared them on her blog and Francis Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIH, was interviewed in Nature. Some of the "suggestions” the NIH will address include supporting greater diversity through stronger mentoring opportunities, increased awareness of implicit bias in the peer review process, and, theoretically, a new Chief Diversity Officer position for a NIH intramural program scientist. Another component will be to improve the training experience for graduate students and post-docs, which brings us back to the 1998 study. In the former, they voiced concern about the lack of opportunities for graduates and the concern that increased funding from research grants, rather than training grants, would enable primary investigators to treat trainees as worker bees. To this end, the NIH has suggested it will try to adopt individual development plans, increase the postdoc stipend by $3,000, and increase the number of K99/R00 and early independent research awards. However, none of this really addresses the actual problems, like training more people than there are jobs and the failure to encourage and provide opportunities to trainees to develop their skill set beyond work done in front of a bench or computer. Then again, a hallmark of politicking is "recommending” or "encouraging” change, while things fundamentally remain the same.
In This Issue


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