On Apr. 27, 2011, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the composition of a working group tasked with making recommendations about the training of the next generation of biomedical researchers. The group will be co-chaired by Dr. Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton University, and Dr. Sally Rocky, NIH deputy director for extramural research. Ten other scientists, most of them from academia, will complete the group.
The issues to be discussed by the group concern the size of the workforce in biomedical and behavioral research, the types of positions that should be supported to allow people to have successful careers, how those positions should be supported, and the types of training that should be provided. The group will gather input from all strata of biomedical research, to help inform decisions.
A recent series of editorials in Nature has focused on the types of problems the task force will be addressing, such as the much greater number of trainees (PhD students and postdoctoral scientists) compared to the number of jobs available in academia and industry, and the lack of preparation in traditional doctoral programs for careers other than academic research.
In an interview with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dr. Tilghman discusses the challenges of balancing the supply of biomedical researchers with demand. In the interview, she states, “Ultimately, we want to create a biomedical enterprise that produces the best science and brings out the best in the people engaged in it.” She adds, “At the root of the problem is the fact that we are overproducing PhDs. As a consequence, there are too many people chasing too few jobs and too few grant dollars. This problem will only get worse in the next decade, given the current federal budget.”
The problem is not just academic. The future of the biopharmaceutical industry depends on the strength of the scientists who support it.