Sharing Our Passion for Science

NIGMS Director Dr. Jon R. Lorsch explains a protein letter computer activity to a young participant at the USA Science and Engineering FestivalA few weeks ago, 23 NIGMS volunteers and I spent an amazing day with thousands of highly engaged kids, their parents and other science enthusiasts of all ages at the Washington, DC, Convention Center. We were participating in the USA Science & Engineering Festival, the largest STEM event in the nation.

The NIGMS booth was a big hit! Our theme was Cell-e-bration of Science,
with activities that included spelling names with protein letters and a
“selfie station” with science-related props.Festival participants at the NIGMS selfie station holding science themed props in front of a colorful backdrop of a cell

Getting young people interested in science is essential to building a vibrant and innovative research enterprise. The Science & Engineering Festival, with more than 365,000 participants, gave us a chance to share our passion for science with thousands of young people. Hopefully, some of the kids we met are now thinking about careers as scientists.

NIGMS staff volunteer demonstrating how the protein letter computer activity worksI encourage you to share your own enthusiasm for science with young people whenever you have the opportunity. Whether you judge a science fair, speak at a career day or have students visit your lab, you put a human face on science and help students see it as an exciting, fulfilling and worthy career choice.

 

Long-Time Scientific Review Chief Helen Sunshine Retires

Dr. Helen SunshineHelen Sunshine, who led the NIGMS Office of Scientific Review (OSR) for the last 27 years, retired in April. Throughout her career, she worked tirelessly to uphold the highest standards of peer review.

Helen earned a Ph.D. in chemistry at Columbia University and joined the NIH intramural program in 1976, working first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a senior research scientist in the Laboratory of Chemical Physics, headed by William Eaton.

In 1981, Helen became a scientific review officer (SRO) in OSR and was appointed by then-NIGMS Director Ruth L. Kirschstein to be its chief in 1989. During her career in OSR, she oversaw the review of many hundreds of applications each year representing every scientific area within the NIGMS mission.

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Small Business Opportunity to Develop Cell Line Identification Tools

Misidentified and contaminated cell lines are believed to be a significant cause of irreproducible and non-generalizable research results. Although this issue has been widely discussed, including on this blog, surveys have shown that many researchers find the costs, time and effort of cell line authentication to be barriers to using it as a routine quality-control measure. There’s a new trans-NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) initiative that aims to reduce these barriers and make cell line authentication affordable and routine.

Along with other parts of NIH, we’re participating in a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support SBIR projects focused on developing novel, reliable, rapid and cost-effective tools to assist researchers in confirming the identity and/or sex of the cells that they use in their work. The FOA will also support the development of tools for cases in which there are currently no good methods of identification, such as distinguishing between cells derived from inbred mouse lines. We encourage applications from all eligible organizations. Standard application due dates apply.

If you’re interested in applying and would like more information, you can email me, my NIGMS colleague Zhongzhen Nie or other NIH program staff listed in the FOA. We look forward to receiving your best ideas for developing and commercializing new cell line identification tools.

Distribution of NIGMS R01 Award Sizes

We have published median and mean direct cost award amounts for R01 grants, but these statistical aggregates can mask variations present in our grant portfolio. In this analysis, we illuminate two major differences in R01 award size distributions: those between single-principal investigator (PI) and multiple-PI (MPI) grants and those between new and competing renewal grants. It is worth noting that the numbers are per award values rather than the total NIGMS support provided to investigators and that award size can also be influenced by NIH-wide policies and NIGMS-specific policies that promote the consideration of multiple factors in making funding decisions.

The first major distinction in NIGMS R01s exists between single-PI and MPI awards. NIH has allowed applications that identify more than one PI since Fiscal Year 2007. Many MPI applications request, and receive, larger amounts of funding than do typical single-PI applications. As shown in Figure 1, single-PI awards have a size peak in the range of $175,000-200,000 in direct costs (funds typically directly associated with the research project rather than overhead costs), while MPI awards tend to have larger budgets and a broader size distribution. MPI awards are, on average, approximately 25% larger for each additional PI (data not shown).

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Meeting Showcases Innovations in Biomedical Graduate Education

NIGMS Symposium on Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education

NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch addresses attendees at the symposium, which is available on videocast.

On April 11, more than 150 people from across the country (plus many via videocast) participated in the NIGMS Symposium on Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education. The goals of the meeting were to convene stakeholders to continue the momentum for positive change within the biomedical graduate education community and to showcase innovative experiments and approaches in Ph.D. training.

The morning session featured presentations highlighting the training expectations of graduate students, institutional approaches to reshaping graduate education programs and attributes employers look for when hiring early career scientists. These talks converged on the theme of ensuring that graduate education equips Ph.D. students with the scientific and professional skills they need to be successful in their careers.

After a presentation focusing on assessing the effectiveness of educational innovations, the speakers in the afternoon session described a variety of experiments in graduate education that are currently under way in various settings. The nine innovations featured in this session were augmented by an additional 32 posters presented during the lunch period.

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