NIGMS Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity Division Director Clif Poodry Retires

Clifton Poodry, Ph.D.Clifton “Clif” Poodry, Ph.D., director of the NIGMS Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity, retired earlier this month. Although he’s left federal service, Clif is continuing to pursue his long-held interest in improving science education as a senior fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Throughout his nearly 20 years at NIGMS, Clif championed—and in many cases, led—activities to build the biomedical research workforce of the future. This included initiatives for training and mentoring students from groups that are underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral research and advising on NIH-wide programs, such as the newly announced Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity program.

Clif has long been committed to using scientific approaches to understand interventions that promote interest in and pursuit of research careers. He consistently encouraged staff and colleagues to read the scientific literature on training and workforce diversity in order to develop a better understanding of biomedical workforce issues and challenges so that we could create and/or modify programs accordingly.

Clif’s long and distinguished career includes time as a biology professor, department chair, associate vice-chancellor for student affairs, and NIGMS grantee at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In the early 1980s, he served a 2-year stint at the National Science Foundation, where he helped create a program that later became a model for the NIH diversity supplement program.

Clif is a great and natural mentor who has touched the lives of numerous students and colleagues across the country, as well as those of us here at NIGMS and NIH. Many of those he mentored have gone on to positions in academia, government and the private sector.

Clif has had a huge impact in many areas, including the education and training of students from underrepresented groups, and we look forward to building on his legacy.

Funding Opportunities: NIH Big Data to Knowledge, Research Centers for Pharmacogenomics in Precision Medicine

You may be interested in these recent funding opportunity announcements:

NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K)

NIGMS is participating in additional BD2K Exit icon programs, an NIH-wide initiative that enables the biomedical research community to use various types of big data for research:

  • Development of an NIH BD2K Data Discovery Index Coordination Consortium (U24)
    (RFA-HL-14-031)
  • BD2K-LINCS-Perturbation Data Coordination and Integration Center (U54)
    (RFA-HG-14-001)
  • Mentored Career Development Award in Biomedical Big Data Science for Clinicians and Doctorally Prepared Scientists (K01)
    (RFA-HG-14-007)
  • Courses for Skills Development in Biomedical Big Data Science (R25)
    (RFA-HG-14-008)
  • Open Educational Resources for Biomedical Big Data (R25)
    (RFA-HG-14-009)

Research Centers for Pharmacogenomics in Precision Medicine (P50)
(PAR-14-075)

Purpose: This program will support a limited number of large-scale centers to conduct cutting-edge research studies designed to push the boundaries for understanding and predicting therapeutic drug responses.
Letters of intent due date: 30 days before the application due dates
Application due dates: September 25, 2014; September 25, 2015; and September 25, 2016.
NIGMS contact: Rochelle Long, 301-594-3827.

Advisory Council Meeting: Attend, Watch, Comment

The National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council will have its winter meeting on January 23-24, 2014. Although the first day is a closed session for the review and discussion of grant applications, Friday’s portion of the meeting is open to the public. The agenda includes presentations on NIGMS programs and policy changes as well as a public comment period.

You may attend the open session in person or watch the presentations and discussions live or later.

Wanted: Biomedical Technology; Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Branch Chiefs

We’re recruiting for two outstanding individuals to serve as branch chiefs within our Division of Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (BBCB), where they will oversee the scientific and administrative management of either the Biomedical Technology Branch or the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Branch. In addition, they will be responsible for advising, directing and evaluating program activities for a portfolio of research grants in one of the branch areas.

The vacancy announcement, which includes detailed descriptions of the job requirements and application procedures, is scheduled to post this weekend on USAJOBS.gov and remain open for a short period. We’ll update this post early next week with a link to the announcement and the closing date. In preparing an application, Applying for Scientific Administration Jobs at NIGMS may offer other useful information.

Now is a particularly exciting time for the division. In previous posts, I’ve talked about our efforts in big data and open science. But these are just two areas of BBCB interest. The main focus of the Biomedical Technology Branch is supporting the research and development of new or improved instruments, methods and approaches that have broad application to biomedical research. The Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Branch is primarily focused on funding basic biomedical research that leads to an integrative understanding of biomedical systems, as well as funding research to create or maintain databases and to develop methods to manage, visualize and analyze data.

Bolstering Our Commitment to Investigator-Initiated Research

As part of an ongoing examination of our grant portfolio to ensure that we invest taxpayer money as effectively and efficiently as possible, we recently analyzed changes over time in the distribution of investigator-initiated research compared to research funded through targeted funding opportunity announcements (FOAs).

Changes over time in NIGMS investments in investigator-initiated research (research grant funds not associated with targeted FOAs) (right axis) and research funded through targeted FOAs (left axis). The analysis does not include fellowship, career development and training awards; programs transferred to NIGMS from the former National Center for Research Resources; and some other programs. For more details about the analysis, which was performed by Jim Deatherage, chief of our Cell Biology Branch, see the NIGMS Funding Trends Web page.

The figure shows that in the early 1990s, 99% of NIGMS’ grant budget supported investigator-initiated research, compared to 80% today. During the budget doubling in Fiscal Years 1998-2003, the Institute’s investment in research funded through targeted FOAs increased dramatically, then continued to increase at a slower rate during Fiscal Years 2004-2009.

As I discussed in a previous post about our large-scale research initiatives and centers, there were many good reasons for using FOAs to target specific areas of research with some of the funds made available by the budget doubling. For example, FOAs allowed the Institute to experiment with catalyzing the development of such new and emerging fields as structural genomics, pharmacogenomics and systems biology.

Since the budget doubling ended, however, maintaining steady support for our targeted research portfolio has made it difficult to maintain steady support for investigator-initiated research project grants (RPGs). Partly as a result, the success rate for RPGs (the number of funded RPGs divided by the number of RPG applications) fell below 20% in Fiscal Year 2013. Although a number of factors have contributed to the declining success rate, a significant one is that targeted and investigator-initiated research grants compete directly with each other. To bolster the success rate, we need to decrease our commitment to targeted FOAs. Furthermore, because none of us knows where the next major advances will arise, the soundest investment strategy is to have a distributed portfolio in which researchers investigate a wide range of scientific questions. History strongly suggests that letting scientists “follow their noses”—which involves a combination of curiosity, expertise, creativity and serendipity—is the most productive route to findings that will eventually translate into medical and technological breakthroughs.

To rebalance our portfolio in order to renew and reinvigorate our commitment to investigator-initiated research, we will be reducing our use of targeted FOAs, generally reserving them for cases in which they are likely to have a major impact on a large segment of the biomedical research enterprise. These cases could include promoting the rapid development of accessible, cost-effective new technologies that enable major advances in understanding biological systems; more efficiently organizing the Nation’s basic biomedical research resources to provide scientists throughout the country access to high-end instrumentation and technical expertise; and, in some instances, using targeted FOAs with defined lifetimes to catalyze the rapid development of emerging research areas.

It is important to note that we are making a distinction between investigator-initiated research and targeted research, not between investigator-initiated research and team science. We strongly support team science, which can certainly be investigator-initiated, and we expect such collaborative efforts to increase as research probes more deeply into the complexities of living systems. Currently, team-based, investigator-initiated research can be funded through multi-PI R01s and can also occur through groups of individually funded PIs working together. In special cases, program project grants (P01s) may be appropriate, particularly for long-term, interdisciplinary collaborations that require dedicated core facilities. As we move forward with our strategic planning process, we will be exploring additional ways to support investigator-initiated team science. I invite you to send us ideas you have for how best to do this.