Modern challenges for the field of biomedical research include difficulties in obtaining research funding, lack of workplace diversity, and a decreasing proportion of young investigators, according to a viewpoint piece published in JAMA. To improve these circumstances across all research modes, authors argued, the federal government, academia, and industry must collectively shoulder the burden of reform.
The past 2 decades of biomedical research have seen a substantial increase in “hypercompetition” for funding, which is prohibitive for people pursuing careers in the field. Illustrative of this effect are data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): Between 1998 and 2014, the proportion of NIH investigators older than age 65 increased from 5% to 12%, but the proportion of investigators younger than age 50 decreased from 54% to 39%. Though many institutions identify the federal government as responsible for “[system] shortcomings,” authors argued that other research organizations, particularly universities, should be held accountable for employment deficiencies.
Though the 11% loss in NIH funding since 2003 is a clear contributor to the crisis of employment in biomedical research, authors argued that the “absence of policy… and innovation” also contributes to the shrinking workforce. Drawing from proposed policy reforms from the Committee on the Next Generation Initiative Board on Higher Education and Workforce Policy and Global Affairs, authors recommended that research universities practice transparency with students and postdoctoral fellows. Universities must inform their students and fellows on the outcomes of investing time in their training programs; otherwise, retention in the research industry will continue to decline. Authors also addressed the structural changes proposed by the committee: The public and private research sectors must collectively share the burden of reform by supporting workplace diversity, promoting transparency, and increasing the number of available research positions.
The strong legacy of biomedical research in the United States does not guarantee continued success in the arena. Incentives and resources must be appropriately distributed to cultivate the next generation of capable and innovative scientists.
Daniels R, Dzau V. Supporting the next generation of biomedical researchers. JAMA. 2018;320:29-30.