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May 1, 2001 - National Institutes of Health Plan for Trainees

The American Society for Microbiology, which represents over 41,000 members in the microbiological sciences, generally supports the plans of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to implement and respond to certain recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report Addressing the Nation's Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists. In particular, the ASM agrees with NIH's intention to raise stipend levels for predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees. Although the NIH states that it is not convinced of the need to take any specific actions to curtail the aggregate number of doctorates in the biomedical sciences, it should be recognized that, in the absence of increased funding, the net effect of raising stipend levels will no doubt have the impact of reducing the number of trainees. The ASM, therefore, recommends that NIH provide a support mechanism for increased trainee stipends on continuing and new research grants.

We agree with the NIH assessment that there are uncertainties in predicting future growth in specific fields and that limiting Ph.D. production is not in the interest of evolving scientific needs and opportunities. In 1996, the ASM published the results of The Employment Outlook in the Microbiological Sciences which identified specialized fields that had strong demand relative to the supply of qualified personnel, including the areas of microbial physiology and infectious diseases. There is evidence that training in areas essential to the development of biotechnology is being neglected by academic departments. The ASM recommends that the NIH review areas where training should be intensified in order to address significant gaps that could affect research advances.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. We would be pleased to respond to questions or to assist the NIH as it pursues the implementation of policies for research trainees.