Report: Support early-career investigators, high-reward research

MIT's Horvitz helped draft AAAS recommendations


Targeted programs and policies to support early-career investigators and high-risk, high-reward research are needed to preserve U.S. leadership in science and technology, according to a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released Tuesday, June 3. The report was produced by a blue-ribbon panel of experts that included Nobel laureate H. Robert Horvitz, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology at MIT.
 
The report, ARISE: Advancing Research in Science and Engineering, documents obstacles facing faculty as they launch their independent careers, as well as the dearth of support for potentially transformative science and technology research. It contains specific recommendations for action by government funding agencies, universities, and private research institutes that will help overcome those barriers.
 
The committee tasked with producing the report was convened by the academy and chaired by Nobel laureate and Howard Hughes Medical Institute President Thomas Cech. Committee members include some of the nation's preeminent scientists and policy leaders from government, academia, and business.
 
"In its report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, the National Academies described critical challenges facing science and technology in this country," said Leslie Berlowitz, chief executive officer and William T. Golden Chair of the American Academy. "The ARISE report complements that important work and offers pragmatic approaches to address two of the most critical pieces of the puzzle - nurturing young faculty and investing in riskier, but potentially high-payoff research."
 
"While the level of government investment in science and technology research will inevitably fluctuate, we much ensure that the available funds are spent wisely," added Cech. "Regardless of the size of the pie, strategic support for early-career investigators and potentially transformative research will be integral to the long-term competitiveness of our economy."
 
Noting that the average age for first-time recipients of primary research grants from the National Institutes of Health is 42.4 and rising, and that the success rate for first-time grant applicants has declined from 86 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 2007, the ARISE report sets out a series of steps that government, academic research institutions, and private foundations can take to maintain a steady pipeline of science and engineering talent. Recommended actions include targeted grants and seed funding programs for early-career faculty, formalized mentoring for early-career scientists, adjustments to university promotion and tenure policies, and attention to the needs of primary caregivers.
 
According to the report, many science and technology funding agencies have become overly conservative, shying away from high-risk, high-reward research and thus limiting the prospects of achieving breakthrough results with the potential to transform a field. The authors recommend rebalancing the nation's research portfolio by investing in targeted grant mechanisms to foster potentially transformative research and adopting policies that nurture riskier research in all award programs.
 
Among the other recommendations are that federal research agencies re-evaluate peer review systems, invest in program officers, and more systematically track demographic data on investigators on a government-wide basis.
 
The ARISE report can be downloaded from the American Academy web site at http://www.amacad.org/ARISE.


Topics: Bioengineering and biotechnology, National relations and service, Nobel Prizes

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