Four NIH Institute directors, as well as senior NIH staff responsible for peer review and grants management, traveled to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island on Mar. 14 to meet with over 300 early-stage investigators about careers in biomedical research. This was a unique opportunity for us to interact with assistant professors and those completing post-doctoral fellowships -- Ph.D.s, M.D.s and M.D./Ph.D.s -- from research institutions throughout the Northeast. These researchers had wide-spanning interests in cancer, heart disease, neuroscience, infectious disease, and various other areas of biomedicine. Most were new hires seeking advice on getting their first NIH grant.
The excitement and enthusiasm of our young scientists is always contagious and inspiring. It gave us an opportunity to address their primary concerns: "Now that I am through my training, how do I get -- and stay -- funded? How do I manage my career as I become independent, work as part of a team, assemble collaborators, and craft a sustainable pathway?"
The conference, organized by Dr. Sally Rockey of the NIH Office of Extramural Research, featured presentations from Institute directors Dr. Griffin Rodgers (NIDDK), Dr. Thomas Insel (NIMH), and Dr. Harold Varmus (NCI); Dr. Cheryl Kitt, deputy director of CSR; and myself. Collectively, we sought to give these newly trained researchers advice about pursuing successful careers in modern biomedicine, and, yes, how to get funded. We all emphasized that the scientific staff in NIH extramural research divisions are eager to help. NIH scientific staff are a critical resource in helping applicants navigate the funding process. I was delighted to hear the positive feedback from many of these young investigators about how helpful they have found NHLBI program officers.
We emphasized that NIH funding represents the investment of U.S. taxpayer dollars in biomedical research, and that this comes with obligations. Through the NIH, the American public invests in the work of independent researchers. Studies have shown that the public values both basic and translational research, and does not expect an immediate return on this investment. Funded researchers are invited to pursue their own curiosity, expand knowledge, and work toward finding new treatments and even cures. They have a responsibility to report back to the public -- to be citizen scientists, sharing knowledge, resources, and enthusiasm with peers and the public, letting their representatives and the public know what they are doing. Educating their elected officials is the best way to ensure that those who appropriate funds fully appreciate the value of their investment.
These opportunities to engage with the next generation of biomedicine are one of the best parts of my job. Knowing that the future is in such good hands reinforces the urgency of our responsibility to nurture them at this crucial stage of their development.
Modified March 17, 2011