September 13, 2011 - Request for Feedback on the Future Biomedical Research Workforce

Dear Colleague:

As you may be aware, the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) has established a working group to examine the future of the biomedical research workforce in the United States and announced a Request for Information (RFI): Input into the Deliberations of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director Working Group on the Future Biomedical Research Workforce (see for working group charter, member roster and RFI).  The goal is to develop a model that will help inform decisions about how to train the optimal number of people for the appropriate types of positions.  

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) will provide input to the RFI.  As Chair of the Biomedical Research Committee of the ASM Public and Scientific Affairs Board, I am writing to you to give us your thoughts on some of the points we believe are the most important considerations as well as others that we may have overlooked.  Additionally, as a past Chair of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Principal Investigator for many years of NIH T32 and T35 Institutional Training Grants, I believe that each of you as a Departmental Chair and/or PI of an Institutional training grant from NIAID, are in the best position to know what is needed for the future work force in biomedical research in the area of the microbial and immunological sciences.  Therefore, I urge you to take time to share your thoughts on these important topics.

In its initial deliberations, the working group of the NIH ACD identified the issues listed below as important to consider when developing a model of the future biomedical research workforce.  I have noted in red, other information that I believe might be most helpful which includes not only looking toward the future but also where you have observed disturbing trends over the past few years.  Please feel free to provide input in any format you wish, including bullets under each topic. 

  • The balance between supply, including the number of domestic and foreign trained PhDs and post-docs, and demand, i.e. post-training career opportunities.
  • Characteristics of PhD training in biomedical research, including issues such as
    • The length of the PhD training period.
    • Recommendations for changes to the PhD curriculum.
    • Training for multiple career paths (including bench and non-bench science).
  • Characteristics of clinician-research training including issues such as
    • The balance between MDs and MD/PhDs
    • Career development of clinician-researchers.
    • Recommendations for changes to the curricula for training clinician-researchers.
  • Length of Post-doctoral training.
  • The ratio of PhD students and postdoctoral fellows on training grants to those supported by research grants.
  • Possibilities for professional/staff scientist positions and the level of training required for such positions (e.g. PhD or MSc degrees).
  • Issues related to the attractiveness of biomedical research careers (e.g. salary, working conditions, availability of research funding)
  • The effect of changes in NIH policies on investigators, grantee institutions and the broader research enterprise.

In addition to the topics above, we would value your input on the following:

  • Have you observed a change in the number or qualifications of your applicant pool, domestic and foreign?
  • Do any changes correlate with reduced job opportunities inside or outside the US?
  • Do you feel there should be institutional training grants that would provide cooperative training for pre- and postdoctoral experiences in other countries, including the EU, Japan, China, Africa?
  • What changes in funding mechanism would you recommend to facilitate training of pre- and postdoctoral students as well as physician scientists as well as junior faculty?
  • Has the funding provided for training from your institution declined in the past 5 years?  If so can you provide the data?
  • Given NIH’s four decade effort to recruit underrepresented minorities (URM) and women into the biomedical sciences, how have these programs impacted your institution?  Have these efforts enabled you to very successfully contribute to the biomedical research training of these groups, in particular in the areas of independent “bench” research scientists?  Looking at your overall progress with these initiatives, how do you see the potential role of these programs at your institution in making substantial contributions to the biomedical research workforce?
  • Other comments

Due to the October 7 deadline for submission of our response to NIH, we need your response no later than September 22.  Please respond to Janet Shoemaker at the ASM Public Affairs Office at I look forward to hearing from you.


Gail H. Cassell, Ph.D., DSc. (hon)
Chair, Committee on Biomedical Research, PSAB
Visiting Professor
Department of Global Health and Social Medicine
Harvard School of Medicine



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