ASBMB recommends improvements to T32 program administration
Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award, or T32, programs provide and/or enhance an institution’s ability to conduct predoctoral and postdoctoral training in biomedical, behavioral and clinical research. In 2021, the National Institutes of Health awarded more than $650 million to 100 institutions, carrying out 1858 projects. This program constitutes a significant investment from NIH to train the next generation of scientists but faculty members in the ASBMB experience significant undue burden and stress as a result of this program. Changes can be made to T32s to lessen this burden while still providing vital resources to train the next generation of scientists.
The ASBMB has compiled the below recommendations to alleviate the administrative burden of these programs so that they may be more efficiently and fairly managed by the administering faculty.
Reduce administrative burdens
A major challenge is to provide sufficient information to allow a training program to be adequately evaluated, while limiting administrative burden. Applications for T32 programs can result in 400- to 650-page documents that place unrealistic demands on applicants and reviewers to respectively prepare and then provide a thorough assessment. The ASBMB recommends that NIH consolidate and/or simplify the number of required documents that faculty and staff must prepare and allow/increase percent effort to better align with application requirements and the capacity of reviewers to evaluate.
Increase support for faculty
We have heard many reports that institutions fail to incentivize these awards and refuse to count T32 contributions toward tenure-track or other promotions. This situation may arise from the lack of indirect funds to the institution and the fact that faculty percent effort and fringe costs are prohibited. These barriers make it difficult for faculty to manage a T32 program on top of existing duties, i.e., running their own research labs and participating in teaching and service. The ASBMB recommends that NIH provide a portion of salary and fringe costs associated with a given percent effort for T32 principal investigators.
To further reduce administrative burden, NIH should consider allowing flexibility in the program budget to fund a full or partial administrative staff position to assist in program management and preparation of program materials.
Provide resources for program evaluation
The NIH also emphasizes the evaluation of T32 programs as a scored criterion for obtaining and/or renewing T32 training grants. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has previously stated it intends to take responsibility for developing an evaluation tool and/or evaluation guidelines for training programs and facilitate comparison and sharing of best practices. However, the NIGMS does not yet have these tools available, nor does it provide sufficient funding for the mandated evaluation. Until these resources can be made available, the ASBMB requests that NIH provide a template to standardize evaluations but still allow customization by programs. Additionally, evaluation criteria and guidelines should include a variety of career paths that draw from the training obtained as a positive metric of program success.