Author: Jeremy Berg

Headshot of Jeremy Berg.

As former NIGMS director, Jeremy oversaw the Institute’s programs to fund biomedical research and to train the next generation of scientists. He was a leader in many NIH-wide activities and also found time to study a variety of molecular recognition processes in his NIH lab.

Posts by Jeremy Berg

Workshop for Transitioning Postdocs

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We’re holding a two-day workshop for postdoctoral fellows that will help them transition to their first independent positions. It will take place on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, March 11-12, 2010.

NIGMS Workshop for Transitioning to Independent Positions - March 11-12, 2010.  Registration deadline: Novermber 2, 2009The workshop is called “Advancing Biomedical Research Workforce Diversity: NIGMS Workshop for Postdocs Transitioning to Independent Positions.”

The agenda covers all stages of this transition process, from identifying the institutions that best fit their needs, to preparing for the job search, negotiating a start-up package, setting up a laboratory, applying for research funding, and receiving tenure. Although the focus of the workshop is on academic positions, participants will also have an opportunity to learn about other scientific careers. The workshop will emphasize special aspects of the transition process as they apply to postdocs with diverse backgrounds, especially those from groups underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

We want to provide a personal and meaningful experience for all participants, so attendance at this meeting is limited. Priority will be given to those who plan to complete their postdoctoral training within the next year and whose career plans would benefit from this workshop. Participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Applications are due by November 2, 2009. Individuals selected to attend the workshop will be reimbursed by NIGMS for travel and per diem expenses.

If you are a postdoc and believe this meeting would be of benefit, I encourage you to apply. If you are an investigator with eligible postdocs, I urge you to share this information with them.

Update on Awarding Recovery Act Funds

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As I noted in my previous post, we are actively working to make Recovery Act awards. Below is a plot of the cumulative investment of NIGMS Recovery Act funds as a function of the award start date. This includes awards made through the middle of August.

This graph shows that the rate at which we have made Recovery Act awards from July to mid-August has accelerated.

As you can see, the rate at which we are making awards is accelerating. Many more awards are in process. Our advisory council will review Challenge Grant, GO Grant, and Faculty Recruitment (P30) applications in mid-September, and we plan to make awards by the end of that month.

Welcoming the New NIH Director

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On Monday, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., became the 16th director of the National Institutes of Health. He was nominated by President Obama on July 8 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 7.

Dr. Collins is well known in the scientific community and is very knowledgeable about NIH at all levels, serving as the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993-2008 and being a productive intramural investigator. NIH issued a news release with more biographical information.

Screenshot of NIH All-Hands Town Meeting with Dr. Collins

Shortly after being sworn in, Dr. Collins held a town hall meeting with NIH staff. In his remarks, he eloquently outlined his vision and priorities, which include securing stable funding for biomedical research, training the next generation of scientists and nurturing early stage investigators.

I had my first opportunity to work closely with Dr. Collins soon after I came to NIH in 2003. It was in the context of the Molecular Libraries Initiative of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which includes the PubChem database. As a chemist, I was very interested in the initiative’s potential for building new linkages between chemistry and biomedical research.

In these and other interactions, Dr. Collins impressed me with his passion for principles, strategic thinking and careful preparation. I share the sense of excitement and optimism he expressed at the town hall meeting regarding the opportunities that lie ahead.

I encourage you to watch the hour-long video of the town hall event.

Recovery Act Status

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Recovery Act Logo - Recovery.govYesterday, we posted a request for stories on the impact of Recovery Act funding. Comments to this post revealed some areas of frustration and misunderstanding that I would like to address.

First, I’d like to say that one of the big Recovery Act stories is the scientific community’s huge response with exciting ideas. Indeed, we’ve received many more proposals—including requests for administrative supplements—than we can fund, even at the high level of the Recovery Act allocation. We know how much effort is involved in preparing applications, and we’re deeply grateful to the large number of scientists who have agreed to help review these proposals.

Screenshot of NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool Expenditures and Results (NIH RePORTER)At any time, you can use the NIH RePORTER site to view Recovery Act projects funded by NIGMS and other components of NIH.

To date, we have awarded approximately $50 million of the $500 million allocated to NIGMS over the two-year period of the Recovery Act. Of these, approximately 130 are supplements to ongoing R01s, 40 are two-year R01s, and 60 are supplements to other award types. Many more awards are in progress!

Just as it has been new for you, much of the process related to the Recovery Act has been new to NIH. Since the Recovery Act was passed, NIH staff has been working hard to develop and implement systems that allow decisions and awards to be made quickly while maintaining the standards of fairness, accountability, and rigor that the scientific community and taxpayers rightfully expect.

Since this is an NIH-wide and, indeed, a government-wide effort, these processes are extensive. After a recommendation is made and approved to fund a particular award at the NIGMS level, our grants management staff must prepare the award, working with your sponsored research offices to determine the precise amount of the award and to make sure that any outstanding issues are resolved. Some awards can be processed more quickly than others. Then, award recommendations are consolidated at the NIH level and processed further. While we have made considerable efforts in streamlining these steps (and, as noted above, many awards are now working their way through this process), it still takes time, and we are not able to provide much information to applicants until the process is complete.

The bottom line is that we are working as hard as we can to get these awards out, in addition to the awards we make with our regular appropriation. If you have not heard anything, it does not mean that your Recovery Act application will not be funded! We will let you know any definitive information—positive or negative—as soon as we can.

Also, no awards have been made for any of the trans-NIH initiatives such as the Challenge Grants, GO grants and P30 Faculty Start-Up grants. The Challenge Grants have recently been reviewed and scored. NIH, through the Office of the Director, had committed to funding 200 Challenge Grants. Many institutes and centers have set aside funds to support additional Challenge Grants. My best guesstimate is that something like 600 Challenge Grants will be funded NIH-wide. The review processes are still under way for the GO grants and P30 Start-Up grants. None of these awards will be made until close to the end of the fiscal year (September 30), as these applications must all go through review by the advisory councils.

I hope that this helps clarify some of the major points of concern. Please let me know if you have additional questions.

A Diverse Recovery Act “Portfolio”

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We know you’re eagerly awaiting Recovery Act funding decisions and curious about how we plan to distribute these funds. Although we still don’t have all the information we need to make firm allocations, I can provide the following snapshot of what we’re currently projecting.

About three-quarters of NIH’s Recovery Act appropriation was distributed to the institutes and centers, which have considerable flexibility in how they invest these funds. Our strategy at NIGMS is a diversified one, as shown in the figure below.

Estimated Distribution of NIGMS Recovery Act Funds

Applications in the first five categories (RPG Supplements, Two-Year RPGs, AREA Grants, SBIR/STTR and Training) were submitted and reviewed prior to the Recovery Act. The next three categories (GO Grants, Challenge Grants and Faculty Start-Up P30) are Recovery Act programs that solicited new applications, which are now being reviewed. The final category (Other) includes supplements to research centers, research management and support, and some other programs. RPG supplements is the largest category, followed by Two-Year RPGs. The remaining categories are much smaller.Applications in the first five categories (blue) were submitted and reviewed prior to the Recovery Act. The next three categories (red) are Recovery Act programs that solicited new applications, which are now being reviewed. The final category (black) includes supplements to research centers, research management and support and some other programs.

Some institutes that had very low R01 success rates are using nearly all of their Recovery Act funds for two-year grants to support previously submitted and reviewed applications for R01s and other grants. NIGMS has maintained a higher success rate, in part by making relatively large administrative budget adjustments to funded grants. We know that this approach can make it difficult to achieve some grant aims in a timely manner. The Recovery Act offers an opportunity to accelerate the pace of this previously peer-reviewed and funded research while creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

Because our success rate is higher than those of most other institutes, we are making a relatively large number of Recovery Act awards for administrative supplements and revisions. The next largest category, two-year research project grants, will support exciting proposals that we were not able to fund with our regular appropriations.

We are not making awards in a formulaic manner, but rather on a case-by-case basis. For two-year grants, each applicant can renegotiate specific aims as appropriate.

We are working to award Recovery Act funds as quickly as possible to benefit the economy and drive scientific progress. Applications for the GO, Challenge and faculty start-up P30 grants are now in, and peer review is under way. Once this review is complete, we will make funding decisions consistent with the areas of interest we stated in the funding announcements.

But even applications that were previously peer reviewed must go through additional steps before we finalize each award.

To help the American public see the distribution of Recovery Act funds in their communities, NIH recently launched a beta version of a Recovery Act funding map. You may be particularly interested in the option to list all grants at an institution, available by clicking on a state in the drop-down list or the table below the U.S. map.

As we move ahead in making these awards, we are also looking forward to tracking the impact of the funding on stimulating the economy, creating and retaining jobs, and producing exciting new results. We look forward to hearing from you about these outcomes and will be providing additional mechanisms to make this easy for you to do.

Getting More Women into Science

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Recently, John Whitmarsh, one of my colleagues at NIGMS, pointed out a short article called “The Glass Ceiling’s Math Problem” Link to external web site from the May 31 edition of the Washington Post. It highlighted a study Link to external web site by researchers associated with the National Bureau of Economic Research that focused on 9,500 U.S. Air Force Academy students from 2000-2008. The findings showed that female students (but not male students) performed better and were more likely to go on in science when they were taught by female faculty members.

I wondered why the population from the Air Force Academy was chosen for this study. I learned that Air Force Academy students are assigned to faculty randomly, and they all must take math and science courses. These characteristics minimized factors of self-selection bias due to students choosing particular faculty, which would confound similar analyses at many other institutions. I encourage you to read the study and welcome any comments you may have.

Women in Biomedical Careers Web Site BannerThis recent work aligns with an ongoing effort at NIH to encourage the advancement of women in research careers. As part of this effort, NIGMS has led an initiative to identify and support research related to understanding the factors and interventions that encourage and support the careers of women in biomedical and behavioral science and engineering. I’m pleased to say that there was a strong response to the request for applications and that we expect to make awards soon.

Now Showing: Budget Testimony

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As part of the budget development process, I submit testimony each year to the House and Senate appropriations committees. My most recent statement is now online, as are previous ones.

This year, we decided to try something different and also offer a video version of the testimony. We deliberately kept it simple and want to know what you think of it.

Download free QuickTime Player Link to external web site to view the following video.

Dr. Jeremy Berg's Appropriations Subcommittee Statement on the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget - May 21, 2009

Do you like having the option of watching a video in addition to reading the text? Should we keep doing this? Do you have suggestions for other approaches we should consider?

Changes to Peer Review—the Reviewer’s Perspective

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NIH has posted a video on the Enhancing Peer Review Web site that details recent changes to the peer review system from the reviewer’s perspective. Running about 13 minutes, “What Reviewers Need to Know Now”, (Transcript [PDF, 79KB]) offers valuable information for current and prospective peer reviewers. You’ll find other resources in the PowerPoint presentation and related links that accompany the video.

Dr. Alan Willard discusses What Reviewers Need to Know Now - March 19, 2009

Many aspects of the new peer review system are already being used in study section meetings. If you have participated in any of these meetings, I am very interested in your comments and reactions.

I’d also like to mention that NIH’s Center for Scientific Review, NIGMS and other institutes and centers have a critical need right now for reviewers to help evaluate the tremendous number of applications submitted in response to Recovery Act funding opportunities. If a Scientific Review Officer asks you to participate on a review panel, I hope that you’ll agree to serve if at all possible.

Scientific Workforce Development, Diversity and the Power of Basic Research

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As part of our strategic plan, Investing in Discovery, we pledged to “expand and extend the NIGMS commitment to facilitating the development of a diverse and inclusive biomedical research workforce” and “adopt a comprehensive, systems-based approach to address future workforce development issues.” In keeping with these goals, we convened a workshop to examine the benefits and feasibility of developing computational models of the biomedical workforce that would aid in program development and evaluation. Based on the discussions, we issued a new request for applications last week to develop computational models of U.S. scientific workforce dynamics. I encourage individuals or groups who are interested in this challenging area to consider applying, and I and others at NIGMS are looking forward to interacting with these researchers once awards are made.

The scientific workforce was also a focus of last week’s address by President Obama to the National Academy of Sciences. He made many important points about the ways that science impacts society, as well. I have included several excerpts below.

The President spoke of the potential impact of basic research, the need to support it and its benefits, saying:

No one can predict what new applications will be born of basic research: new treatments in our hospitals, or new sources of efficient energy; new building materials; new kinds of crops more resistant to heat and to drought.

History also teaches us the greatest advances in medicine have come from scientific breakthroughs, whether the discovery of antibiotics, or improved public health practices, vaccines for smallpox and polio and many other infectious diseases, antiretroviral drugs that can return AIDS patients to productive lives, pills that can control certain types of blood cancers, so many others.

Because of recent progress — not just in biology, genetics and medicine, but also in physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering — we have the potential to make enormous progress against diseases in the coming decades.

As you know, scientific discovery takes far more than the occasional flash of brilliance — as important as that can be. Usually, it takes time and hard work and patience; it takes training; it requires the support of a nation. But it holds a promise like no other area of human endeavor.

The President challenged scientists to “use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation,” adding:

So I want to persuade you to spend time in the classroom, talking and showing young people what it is that your work can mean, and what it means to you. I want to encourage you to participate in programs to allow students to get a degree in science fields and a teaching certificate at the same time. I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.

He also spoke of the need to “create research opportunities for undergraduates and educational opportunities for women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields, but are no less capable of inventing the solutions that will help us grow our economy and save our planet.

I recommend taking the time to watch, listen to or read his entire presentation.

Justifying the NIGMS Budget

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Every year, we develop a Congressional budget justification that supports our appropriation request for the upcoming fiscal year. We just posted our FY 2010 budget justification. It contains both retrospective and prospective information that might interest you, including:

  • Director’s Overview
  • Program Descriptions and Accomplishments
  • Budget Mechanism Table
  • Budget Graphs