Even though I have heard discussion of the concept over the years, I must admit I was a bit stunned to see the Request for Information (RFI) from NIH regarding a "Potential Emeritus Award for Senior Researchers". The introduction for this RFI reads (in part):
An important issue for NIH is the long term succession planning for the research we support. Over the years, NIH has been persistent and creative in efforts to support early career investigators through policy changes and new programs. But we must also consider the needs of our senior investigators and how NIH can assist with the continuation of their well-established research programs, should they wish to transition to new positions. While many senior investigators may be happy pursuing their research questions in the laboratory, others may be looking to move into other roles, such as full time teaching and mentoring. Our senior investigators have invested their careers to establish the intellectual and technical infrastructure needed to pursue their research questions, and even if they wish to pursue new roles, they may not wish to dismantle their long-standing programs.
I find many aspects of this request surprising. These include:
(1) This problem already has a solution. An investigator can (with approval from the relevant IC) name a new Principal Investigator for a grant. Assuming the PI is qualified and NIH approves, this is an effective transition strategy that has been used many times.
(2) For most research programs, is "succession planning" something that NIH staff are worried about? Given that many investigators train numerous younger scientists over the course of their careers and that the system is currently flooded with accomplished younger scientists, the solution to this problem without any mechanism seems to be at hand.
(3) Even proposing such a mechanism seems quite inappropriate and tone deaf at this juncture when so many younger scientists are struggling to establish and maintain their careers.
Let me add two more personal observations. First, as someone who has changed roles several times over the course of my career, I know it can be done without any formal mechanism. Changing career directions can be a bit scary but I have been blessed with some tremendous opportunities and am glad that I have followed combinations of my heart, my brain, and my family to pursue them. I have developed many new skills and have had the privilege of going through the tenure process four times. In my experience, you just have to try to do the right thing, for yourself, your family, and your communities.
Second, when I was at NIH, I discovered that a senior and very accomplished faculty member had not tried to renew his R01. I emailed him and asked what was up. He said 'I have sources for some other funding and it is time to give someone else a turn'. I have considerable admiration for many senior scientists who have accomplished much over the course of their careers, but there does come a time when it is time to give someone else a turn.
NIH's requests information about:
- Community interest in an emeritus award that allows a senior investigator to transition out of a role or position that relies on funding from NIH research grants
- Ideas for how one would utilize an emeritus award (e.g., to facilitate laboratory closure; to promote partnership between a senior and junior investigator; to provide opportunities for acquiring skills needed for transitioning to a new role)
- Suggestions for the specific characteristics for an emeritus award (e.g., number of years of support; definition of a junior faculty partner)
- Ways in which NIH could incentivize the use of an emeritus award, from the perspectives of both senior investigators and institutions
- Impediments to the participation in such an award program, from the perspectives of both senior investigators and institutions
- Any additional comments you would like to offer to NIH on this topic
I hope you all will take advantage of the opportunity and share your thoughts. I certainly plan to.