EB Sustainability Discussion...Input Sought

May 01 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

At the recent Experimental Biology meeting, the ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee organized a panel discussion on building a more sustainable biomedical research enterprise. This builds on a white paper produced earlier by the group.

To frame this discussion, I presented some data relating to impact of the NIH budget doubling

NIH Fig 1on the number of investigators competing for NIH support

426LineGraphand the number of PhD recipients.


The doubling occurred from 1998 to 2003 and the NIH appropriation has been slightly worse than flat since FY2003 (with the exception of the large bolus of funds associated with ARRA). The doubling, however, did encourage institutions to increase research capacity by hiring faculty, constructing research space, and building departments. Of course, this took time with some of the growth occurring during the last couple of the years of the doubling, but most of it coming after the doubling ended and the NIH budget was nearly flat. As can be seen above, the number of distinct investigators applying for grants over a five-year period grew from approximately 56,000 in 1998-2002 to approximately 83,000 in 2008-2012, an increase of 48%.

In parallel, the increase in available research funds during the doubling led to increases in the sizes of graduate school classes. These new PhD students started graduating in numbers in 2003. This produced an increase in basic biomedical PhDs from approximately 5300 in 2003 to approximately 7800 in 2009 and an increase from 3000 to 4000 PhDs in clinical sciences over the same period. Many of these young scientists went on to postdoctoral fellowships and have been entering the market for both academic and non-academic careers in recent years.

In response to the panel, BiochemBelle (who live-tweeted the panel discussion for ASBMB) posted concerns from trainees about how to avoid being excluded from discussions about building a more sustainable biomedical research enterprise. At least from my perspective, these sustainability discussions are largely about such young scientists and those who will follow them. Please feel free to use this forum to raise concerns, make suggestions, request data or analyses, or suggest other ways in which you would like your voices heard.

2 responses so far

  • PinkGlitteryBrain says:

    -Do the reports from employment rates for PhDs reflect the current job market (most reports I remember end in 2006-2011)?
    -If scientists with PhDs are increasing in number and are not going to academics, then they need to go somewhere else. Are any of those "alternative" fields growing? i.e. Are we, the trainees, screwed no matter where we go?

    • datahound says:

      Employment statistics are rarely truly up-to-date so data through 2011 is likely the best available data for the moment. My impression is that, for a variety of reasons, the pharmaceutical industry is in fairly poor shape in terms of hiring at present. Biotechnology is stronger, at least in some parts of the country. This is a particularly tough time with the constrained budgets (and high post-doubling demand) at NIH, the impact of the overall economic downturn and slow recovery, and challenges in the pharmaceutical industry. Your best bet would seem to me to be flexibility to pursue those opportunities that do exist.

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