Statement of the NHLBI Director
Fostering the Independence of New Investigators
I am strongly committed to ensuring the continuing vigor of the research
enterprise through training and career development of new investigators.
The nurturing of young talent was a high priority during my tenure in
academic medicine, in particular because it coincided with a time of constrained
budgets that resulted in the virtual loss of a generation of promising
young investigators. Thereafter, as Scientific Director of the NHLBI,
I created an Office of Education to raise the visibility and stature of
training and mentoring in our intramural research program.
It is clear that much, if not most, of the momentum in this arena must
continue to come from the scientists in our laboratories and clinics who
are in a position to recruit and mentor young researchers and show them
the path to a rewarding career. Nonetheless, as we confront another spell
of budget constraints I believe that the NHLBI can and should look for
innovative ways to spark this effort. Most particularly, we need to create
a better springboard to launch junior investigators into independent careers.
In practical terms, that entails increasing the rate at which trainees
achieve independent funding through an NHLBI research project grant (RPG).
We have taken several noteworthy steps to do so.
The Institute has increased the R01 payline for new investigators by
5 percentile points. Currently, for instance, we are paying to the 14th
percentile for general applicants, but reaching to the 19th percentile
for new (i.e., type 1) R01 applications from new investigators.
Full Award Duration
To meet the requirement that the average project period not exceed 4
years, the NHLBI typically applies a formula that reduces the duration
of some of its grants. We are now excluding new investigator grants from
this calculation and funding all such awards at the level recommended
by the initial review group (IRG). We believe that full-term funding will
increase the productivity of investigators during their initial period
of independence and, thereby, render them more competitive for subsequent
Beginning in fiscal year 2006, the NHLBI will enable an expedited review
for type 1 R01 applications from new investigators that “miss” the
payline by 5 percentile points or fewer. Rather than requiring investigators
submit amended applications for a full round of review—a process
that takes 6 months—we will permit them to address IRG concerns
in a communication for administrative consideration. If NHLBI staff
determine that IRG concerns have been addressed satisfactorily, the application
will be funded promptly.
The NHLBI has for many years been a strong supporter of K-series awards
as an avenue to research independence. To broaden the accessibility and
maximize the utility of such awards, we recently revised the special leave
guidelines to accommodate personal and family circumstances (e.g., medical
conditions, disability, childrearing, elder care). The new policies permit
eligible awardees to take a leave of absence during the award period,
train at a lower level of effort for a longer period of time, or pursue
part of the training period at another institution.
Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of K-awardees are successful in
obtaining RPGs. We are anxious to understand the reasons for this phenomenon
and to develop strategies that may increase the yield of K-awards. In
this regard, the NHLBI plans to join the NIH in supporting
a standardized career transition program that would include a phase I
mentored K-series award that transitions to a phase II R-series award
contingent on securing an independent research position.
The NHLBI also is exploring the feasibility of expanding its current
training program into a comprehensive network that includes significant
mentoring and career development components, laboratory and project management
training, and grant writing experiences. In addition, we are contemplating
working with professional societies to establish a “mentoring bank”
as an asset for new and established investigators and, especially, for
individuals who are training at non-research-intensive institutions.
Resources for Applicants
Let me mention the following resources developed by the NHLBI to assist
applicants for its training and career development programs.
- “Helpful Hints” for applicants preparing K-series applications—currently
available for K08,
- “Model Applications” for K-series awards—currently
available for K08,
awards. Model applications for K25 awards are being developed.
- Database of active
National Research Service Award Training Grants. Grants can be sorted
by location, institution, department, type of training (predoctoral,
postdoctoral, short-term), or principal investigator.
The Institute plans to conduct an internal assessment of its training
and career development programs and, thereafter, to solicit the assistance
of scientific leaders in identifying new opportunities and priorities.
We look forward to meeting the challenge of creating and sustaining a
workforce commensurate with the vitality and dynamics of our research
enterprise. We are counting on our colleagues in the research community
to join us in this critical endeavor.
Last updated: February 10, 2006