Policy ForumRESEARCH CAREERS

Improving support for young biomedical scientists

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Science  18 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6390, pp. 716-718
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8405

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Summary

Over the past several years, we and others in the biomedical research community have become increasingly concerned that younger scientists are not being adequately supported as independent academic investigators and that, of equal importance, these newly launched investigators are being strongly discouraged from tackling novel scientific problems (16). Both issues can prevent talented trainees from aspiring to careers in biomedical research, despite the extraordinary opportunities offered by new technologies and recent discoveries. We view this situation as an existential threat to our profession, demanding that we urgently confront the underlying problems. It is widely recognized that career pathways for young scientists have changed dramatically and that over 80% of those who receive biomedical Ph.D.'s today will be employed in positions other than academic faculty (1, 5). The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently released a report that addresses many important aspects of these cultural changes (7). Here we focus on the problems faced by those who will renew the ranks of academic research faculty, with proposals that complement the recommendations in that report. Drawing on lessons from Europe and the United States, we propose three steps that could be taken by funding agencies, specifically the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) but also others across the world, to support young investigators in more constructive and effective ways.