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Don’t Bury the Next Generation of Researchers Under Billions in NIH Funding

sciencetists plus funding equals discoveries and more scientistsThe NIH has about $10 billion from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pour into job-creating grants and research infrastructure. The Scientist reports that the new Challenge Grants program will direct $200 million of that money towards areas of high-priority research. One opportunity here, as Abel Pharmboy points out at Terra Sigillata, is for those grants to support the crop of younger researchers who might currently have limited access to the upper echelons of their fields. He writes: “My hope is that review of the current proposal rankings will focus on those junior, tenure-track investigators who have been shortchanged by the worst NIH paylines since the early 90s.”

SP contributor Beryl Benderly tackled precisely this issue in her January piece, reporting that mismanagement of future NIH growth could have devastating ramifications for the long-term health of the research community in the United States:

Labor market experts agree that without major structural reforms in how research is organized, additional funding will not remedy—and could substantially worsen—a central failing of the nation’s scientific enterprise. That failing is the dismal and worsening career prospects of young Americans who want to spend their lives doing scientific research. Like other students with the talent and drive to excel at rigorous studies, the scientifically gifted hope for a profession that will afford them at least a comfortable middle-class lifestyle and reasonable financial security. The current university-based research structure severely inhibits that quest.

Pharmboy is equally blunt: “We’ve got to show restraint and responsibility by not training another few thousand postdocs who still won’t have faculty slots to pursue in three years.”

In their recent SP column, Neal Lane and Leslie Berlowitz expand on this to argue that funding high-risk, high-return research, along with young scientists, should be a priority for situations just like this:

Federal agencies should set up, or in some cases expand, programs that are devoted exclusively to funding early-career investigators and the most innovative, potentially transformative research. If the research budget increases, then these programs should be the first to get new funds.

With swift deadlines and lots of funding to move, readers may have their own applications open in front of them. Any additional thoughts on ways to ensure that we support up-and-coming researchers?

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