The NIH Office of Extramural Research (OER)

Mar 02 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

In many discussions including a recent one at Drugmonkey, issues around the role of the NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research (DDER) (a position currently held by Sally Rockey) have arisen. DDER is a big job with many responsibilities. Below is the Organizational Chart of OER.



As you can see, OER is responsible for including extramural policies and programs, data analysis and sharing (e.g. NIH RePORTER), laboratory animal welfare, and administrative operations.

OER has a limited role in communications, specifically related to extramural research. This role expanded with the founding of Rock Talk blog. As Sally Rockey has credited the NIGMS Feedback Loop blog which I started when I was at NIGMS as a model for this blog, I take some pride and responsibility for the existence of this blog. With that said, I share many of the concerns that have been raised about NIH's reactions to comments of this blog.

8 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    I think that the OER's workforce, i.e., the extramural NIH grant funded scientists, are very frustrated at the way Dr. Rockey has used the Rock Talking blog as a one-way PR machine.

    I'm not saying she needs to actually take the advice of all commenters, nor that she needs to respond comment by comment to everyone. But on the big issues for which she apparently is seeking community input (going by her phrasing at times) and for which there is considerable input given, finding some way to respond that indicates she actually *hears* what is being said would go a long way.

  • datahound says:

    I agree completely. At the Feedback Loop, we made it a practice to not ask for input unless we were interested in hearing the input, responding to it, and, depending on circumstances, changing our plans based on that feedback and subsequent analysis. If something was a done deal, then we tried to make that clear.

    In many ways, fake transparency is worse than no transparency.

  • physioprof says:

    Rockey couldn't be a worse mouthpiece for NIH to interface with the extramural community. They need someone who can empathize (or at least credibly pretend to empathize) with their constituency, because they have been there. Thrusting someone who has never even been a biomedical scientist, let alone managed other scientists, into this role has been absolute lunacy. Sure, let her manage the various bureaucratic entities under her in that org chart, which is almost all essentially IT business process shittio, but for fucke's sake, get the damn microphone out of her hands.

  • datahound says:

    Physioprof: There are substantial policy issues under DDER in addition to the IT/business/process stuff. But I agree that her lack of biomedical research career experience is a real handicap in the DDER role, both in terms of understanding and credibility.

    From my time at NIH, I would say that was one of my biggest concerns. Many folks in influential and senior positions had either limited research careers or had spent their entire research careers in the intramural program. This led to a lack of deep understanding and empathy for those in the extramural trenches.

  • physioprof says:

    IC directors, such as yourself, have *always* (I think) been exceedingly distinguished extramural investigators. I assume this has been an intentional effort to establish credibility of the hugely important life-or-death decisions ICs make about extramural investigators' careers. How is it that the director of OER is not viewed equivalently?

  • datahound says:

    IC directors often come from the extramural community. Some exceptions at present are Tony Fauci, Richard Hodes, and Steve Katz (who have spent essentially their whole careers in the intramural program). Recruiting for IC directors is somewhat easier since they have power to make important and interesting decisions (which grants to fund, which programs to develop) whereas the DDER position is more process and policy focused. It would be hard to move into the DDER position completely from the outside (as I did when I moved to NIGMS) because there is so much process-related material to master. With that said, it is important to truly understand the extramural (biomedical) world. Sally Rockey's predecessor as DDER, Norka Ruiz Bravo, spent some time in as a faculty member (at MD Anderson, I think) before moving to NIH, first as an SRO, then a program director, the Associate Director of Extramural Activities at NIGMS. She knew the extramural world fairly well.

    • drugmonkey says:

      Fauci started as a doc, right? I was recently reminded he was my gramma's doc- failed to cure her Case-Report worthy condition as it happens. But he must've changed disciplines/disease categories at some point.

      • datahound says:

        He still is a practicing physician and researcher at the clinical center. He came to NIH out of his residency as a clinical associate and moved up through the ranks, particularly as he played important roles in the treatment of early AIDS cases.

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