NIH needs your advice

NIH building

Credit: Corbis

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking information on important topics that affect the scientific community. NIH wants to know how it can “improve the impact and sustainability of the NIH-funded biomedical research enterprise.” NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has also put out a separate call for information; it seeks input for a “strategic visioning process that will shape the scientific priorities for the Institute and guide our funding strategies over the next decade.”

The NIH Request for Information (RFI) solicits ideas for “new policies, strategies, and other approaches that would increase the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research.” Impact, NIH tells Science Careers, means “advancement of research that results in fundamental knowledge of living systems and the application of this fundamental research to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability—NIH’s core mission.” That seems fairly straightforward. 

The NIH Request for Information (RFI) solicits ideas for “new policies, strategies, and other approaches that would increase the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research.”

The key word may be “sustainability.” A vital element of sustainability—though the RFI does not mention this—is the ability to attract rising generations of able researchers and retain them for the long haul. The nation’s longstanding policy of doing research on the cheap with graduate students and postdocs now threatens that goal, as the supply of young scientists far exceeds the number of research-career opportunities available and the competition for funding becomes correspondingly more severe. Recent proposals for reforms have included calls for more of the work of academic research to be done by staff scientists with more stable jobs and for funding for trainees to be transferred away from research grants and toward fellowships and training awards.

NHLBI Director Gary Gibbons has posted a video inviting ideas. Recruitment and retention appear high on NHLBI’s agenda; developing “workforce and resources” is one of the four strategic goals mentioned in its appeal—and that includes “cultivating a diverse next generation.”

Given all the complicated issues and interests involved in making serious reforms, revamping a system that depends on producing too many scientists who then must chase too few opportunities will take all the good ideas the scientific community and its friends can muster.

Do you have suggestions? Submit them to NIH here through 17 May. You can submit feedback to NHLBI, and also view and comment on ideas already submitted, here through 15 May.

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