University policies, practices on biomedical scientific workforce to be surveyed

Faculty-led committee to make recommendations for helping individuals excel in this critical field

A new faculty-led committee has been charged with surveying the university's policies and practices regarding the biomedical scientific workforce and proposing recommendations to help individuals excel in this critical field.

The Committee on the Biomedical Scientific Workforce will explore a range of topics, such as resources for early-career and established investigators, the development and promotion of alternative career paths, such as staff scientists, and the strengthening and staffing of the core facilities that support many of these alternative careers.

The committee's mandate, posted on the Office of the Provost website, notes that biomedical researchers in the United States have driven discovery and innovation while the use of competitive peer-reviewed grants to independent scientists has fueled the development of an unparalleled biomedical workforce. But in the past few years, challenges facing this group have gained attention.

In an email message to faculty, staff, and graduate students, university President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar outlined those difficulties. There has been a persistent decline in the purchasing power of NIH funding, affecting the entire scientific workforce, they said, and for early career biomedical investigators, the period between the conferral of doctoral degree and the receipt of independent research grants has widened. Also, they said, observers point to tightening opportunities for careers in academia and a lack of well-developed pipelines for alternative careers in industry and other nonacademic settings.

For those who do obtain a faculty position, burdensome grant application and regulatory demands divert time and energy from their research, Daniels and Kumar continued. They must navigate growing tension among research, teaching, and clinical responsibilities, and some observers cite a creeping conservatism in the science that receives grants in an age of budget austerity.

The president and provost said that most of the recommendations by government and nonprofit agencies to date have focused on the role of NIH and less on research universities.

"We believe that Johns Hopkins, as one of the leading institutions of biomedical research in the world, and a university that throughout its history has sought not only to honor but to define best practices, should stand at the vanguard of the search for answers," they wrote in announcing the formation of the committee.

It will be co-chaired by Pierre Coulombe, the E.V. McCollum Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Wendy Post, professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. They will be assisted by a broadly representative group of faculty members, staff, and graduate students from across the university.

The committee will draw on innovative practices and initiatives for career development, mentoring, and partnering with outside stakeholders that are already underway in various schools. It has been asked to provide a report by the end of the academic year.

"We are certain that the committee will bring the same traditions of exploration, rigor, and evidence-based inquiry that have defined our university's biomedical science for more than a century to the question of how best to support and nurture that science for the century to come," Daniels and Kumar wrote.

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