May 2010

FASEB Focuses on Scientific Training

 

For more information

•FASEB’s letter to Francis Collins asking to increase stipends for postdoctoral researchers.

• The National Postdoctoral Association’s core competencies.

• FASEB’s individual development plan for postdoctoral scholars.

• FASEB’s resources for underrepresented minority students and scientists.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology recently has been engaged in a number of activities relevant to graduate and postdoctoral trainees and the next generation of scientists.

Postdoctoral Stipends

In a letter to National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, FASEB urged the agency to incorporate into its future budget requests an increase in stipends for postdoctoral researchers supported by Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards. In 2001, responding to a National Academy of Sciences report stating that NRSA stipend levels are “unduly low,” the NIH recommended a $45,000 stipend for postdocs and noted that it would incorporate 10 to 12 percent annual increases in its budget requests until that level is reached. These increases were realized in 2002 and 2003— the tail end of the doubling of the NIH budget— but the agency was not able to meet its target in the following years as funding for science declined. Stipends for entry-level postdocs currently stand at $37,740.

FASEB also expressed appreciation for recent stipend increases, as well as for President Obama’s request for an additional six percent increase in 2011. However, FASEB cited concern that even with that proposed boost, compensation for postdocs is not commensurate with their education, experience and contribution to the biomedical research enterprise. To that end, FASEB recommended raising stipends for entry level NRSA postdocs to $43,000— the approximate level at which stipends would be set at had they been adjusted annually for cost of living since the program’s inception— and providing annual cost of living increases thereafter.

Noting that many institutions benchmark pay for all of their postdocs to the NRSA level, FASEB recommended that the NIH develop a mechanism by which investigators could request supplemental funding to increase compensation for postdocs supported on research grants if NRSA stipends are raised beyond the cost of living. This would be a step toward ensuring that postdocs supported on research grants receive the recommended level of compensation, encourage parity in postdoctoral salaries within institutions and allow investigators to absorb additional training costs without drawing on funds budgeted for research equipment and supplies.

Career Resources

In addition to advocating for trainee stipends, FASEB has been developing tools to help postdoctoral scientists prepare for the next stages of their careers. FASEB staffer Jennifer Hobin worked closely with the National Postdoctoral Association to create their core competencies. This guidance on the skills necessary for an array of career options is designed to serve as a self-evaluative tool as well as a framework for seeking out additional training opportunities working with mentors, institutions and advisers. In a similar vein, FASEB is working on updating and enhancing its individual development plan for postdoctoral scholars, which outlines a planning process to help postdocs identify their short- and long-term career and professional development goals and serves as a tool to facilitate communication about these goals between postdocs and their mentors.

Finally, FASEB recently has launched a Web site that provides information on the programs, activities and resources developed by FASEB and its member societies aimed at enhancing diversity in science.

Carrie D. Wolinetz (cwolinetz@faseb.org) is director of scientific affairs and public relations for the Office of Public Affairs at FASEB. Jennifer A. Hobin (jhobin@faseb.org) is associate director of scientific affairs for FASEB OPA.


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