Supporting young scientists

Published in Protocols & Methods

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People have been expressing concern for years about the the continual increase in the age of US scientists receiving funding from the NIH. See for example this post and the links contained therein. Part of the concern is due to the observation, highlighted by a 1993 study, that most scientists do their groundbreaking work early in their careers and these people aren’t being adequately supported by the current system.

The National Academies organized a public workshop in 2004 to explore ways to address this issue and released the “Bridges to Independence” report in 2005 with a chilling but probably not too farfetched possible future outlined in the Foreward. The report called for many useful changes in funding and support by 2010 in an effort to promote effective independence for early career investigators. The NIH has implemented some of thse recommendations. Other countries are also attempting to improve funding prospects for young investigators.

An editorial in the March issue of Nature Methods discusses a different model, pioneered by EMBL and adopted to varying degrees by Janelia Farm and the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing, which involves selective recruiting of talented scientists at an early stage of their careers and providing them with a high level of support that frees them from the need to compete for funding with established scientists and focus instead on high risk innovative research.

Neither model is sufficient on its own and even together they won’t fix the problem overnight but each has unique benefits and stronger efforts on both fronts would help turn things around before we find ourselves in a future similar to that envisioned in the “Bridges to Independence” report.

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