New study on next generation of researchers begins

Today, the Board on Higher Education and Workforce at the National Academies of Science announced the formation of a 16-person committee to work on the Next Generation of Researchers study. This study was commissioned by the U.S. Congress in the fiscal 2016 omnibus appropriations package that passed in December 2015. Similar legislative language has been championed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Chairing the committee is Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University and member of the Rescuing Biomedical Research Steering Committee. Daniels has been a vocal advocate for reform in the research enterprise to improve the environment for graduate students, postdocs and young faculty members.

Daniels’ committee has a tall order. The legislative language directs the committee to conduct a comprehensive study of policies affecting the next generation of researchers. But many groups, including other National Academies committees over the past 20 years, have weighed in on these policies and what changes need to be made. So what can this committee say that others haven’t already said?

A clue to this answer lies in the people working with Daniels. Many committee members are veterans of previous efforts at addressing issues around training and sustainability of the research enterprise, like Judith Kimble, who led efforts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Daniels committee will also incorporate the views of young scientists on the committee by including Gary McDowell, executive director of Future of Research, Jessica Polka, director of ASAPbio and president of Future of Research, Kafui Dzirasa, assistant professor at Duke University and Giovana Guerrero-Medina, executive director of Ciencia Puerto Rico.

Diversity and inclusion were conspicuously absent in a number of recent reports analyzing the ailments of the research enterprise, but the Daniels committee will likely pay significant attention to these issues. Guerrero-Medina, Joan Reede, dean for Diversity and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School, David Burgess, professor of Biology at Boston University, and Maria Elena Zavala, professor of Biology at California State University-Northridge, have spent much of their careers addressing diversity and inclusion in the biomedical research enterprise.

With these and the other highly qualified and committed people on the committee, the Next Generation Researchers study has the potential to make new recommendations that push the conversation on training reform forward. This committee should make suggestions that go beyond the recommendations that have been made time and again and identify specific action items to begin implementation. Given the diversity of experience in this committee, they also have a chance to make new recommendations that have not been considered before, but that may be readily achieved.

Rescuing Biomedical Research looks forward to seeing the fruits of the Daniels committee and moving forward with making real change in the biomedical research enterprise.