NIH Statement: Changing the Culture of Science to End Sexual Harassment

Last week, NIH Director Francis S. Collins issued a statement about the pervasive problem of sexual harassment in science and reaffirmed NIH’s commitment to address it. He noted that NIH is working to bolster its policies and practices to foster a culture of respect wherever NIH research activities are conducted, and to ensure that sexual harassment is not tolerated or ignored.

NIH has launched a new website on anti-sexual harassment activities. I encourage you to explore the site and become familiar with NIH’s policies, practices, and initiatives.

Consistent with NIGMS’ strong commitment to research training, the Institute recently announced that applications for our predoctoral T32 training programs must include in their required institutional support letters information about the institution’s policies and procedures to prevent discriminatory harassment and respond appropriately to allegations or findings of discriminatory harassment. Moving forward, NIGMS will require this information in institutional support letters for applications for all of our training programs.

NIGMS Grantees Receive Top U.S. Mentoring Award

I’m pleased to congratulate six members of the NIGMS community who are among the recipients of the 2018 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring Link to external web site. They include:

The award recognizes outstanding mentors whose efforts encourage the next generation of innovators and help to develop a science and engineering workforce that reflects the diverse talent of our nation, key goals of a number of programs here at NIGMS.

Awardees received a Presidential certificate and a $10,000 grant to continue their mentoring activities at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., last month. Please join me in congratulating all winners of this prestigious honor.

Ming Lei to Direct Research Capacity Building Division

Headshot of Dr. Ming Lei

I’m pleased to announce that Ming Lei will join NIGMS later this month as the new director of our Division for Research Capacity Building. Ming is a molecular geneticist with extensive experience overseeing fellowship, career development, and training and education grant programs.Ming is currently deputy director of the Center for Cancer Training and chief of the Cancer Training Branch at the National Cancer Institute, which he joined in 2008 as a program director. His experience before that includes leading the Genes and Genome Cluster in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation, serving as an associate professor of microbiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and working as a research scientist in the Division of Biotechnology at the Monsanto Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ming’s expertise in managing far-reaching and complex programs, and his ability to effectively engage with scientists and other stakeholders, make him an ideal choice for this key position and a valuable addition to our senior leadership team.

Please join me in welcoming him to NIGMS.

For more about Ming, see our news announcement.

Early-Career Speaker Describes Genomic Antics of Ancient Vertebrate, Answers Questions from Undergrads

The videocast from our April 17 Early-Career Investigator Lecture with Jeramiah Smith is now available. Jeramiah, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, gives a fascinating talk about his genomic research with sea lampreys. He then offers advice for students interested in biomedical research careers. I encourage you to take a look and share the video with students and postdocs in your labs and departments.

We launched this annual lecture series three years ago both to highlight the achievements of our early-career grantees, and to encourage undergraduates and other students to pursue careers in biomedical research. This year, a group of nearly 30 students from the ASCEND programLink to external web site at Morgan State University attended in person (and asked some outstanding questions!).

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Application and Funding Trends in Fiscal Year 2017

NIGMS is committed to ensuring that taxpayers get the best possible returns on their investments in fundamental biomedical research [PDF 702KB]. As part of this commitment to stewardship [PDF 7.89MB], we regularly monitor trends in our funding portfolio.

We recognize the value of a diversified investment portfolio and approach our research investments in a similar fashion. Sustaining a broad and diverse portfolio of talented investigators is a central goal of the Institute, as a wide variety of research questions can be studied by an investigator pool that comprises many different backgrounds, fields, and skills. To monitor this, we track the “cumulative investigator rate,” which indicates the proportion of unique investigators actively seeking funding who had an NIGMS grant in a given Fiscal Year (FY). As shown in Figure 1, the number of investigators seeking support consistently increased between FY 2006 and 2014, but the number of NIGMS-funded investigators remained relatively unchanged over that same period. As a result, the cumulative investigator rate steadily decreased. Since FY 2014, the cumulative investigator rate has steadily increased, as the number of applicants seeking support has stabilized and the number of investigators receiving support has grown by 14%. Currently, 37.4% of investigators seeking R01/R35 funding from NIGMS received support in FY 2017.

Figure 1. Number of NIGMS R01/R35 Applicants, Awardees, and Cumulative Investigator Rates, FY 2006-2017. The number of investigators actively seeking NIGMS R01 and R35 support (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) increased steadily from FY 2006 to 2014 but has stabilized more recently. These applicants were defined as anyone who submitted a competing NIGMS R01 or R35 application in the fiscal year shown or any of the previous four fiscal years. The NIGMS R01 and R35 awardee counts (green squares, solid line; left axis) remained relatively stable from FY 2006 to 2014 and have increased somewhat over the past three years. As a result, the NIGMS cumulative investigator rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) declined from FY 2006 to 2014 but has begun to recover since then.

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Proposed Reorganization of NIGMS Scientific Divisions

UPDATE: The NIGMS reorganization became official in January 2018. Please see our Overview for more information. 

I’d like to make you aware of a proposed reorganization of the Institute’s scientific divisions that we are considering.

Currently, NIGMS has four scientific divisions: Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (BBCB); Cell Biology and Biophysics (CBB); Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB); and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC). We would like to shift to a structure in which there are only three scientific divisions: Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB); Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (GMCDB); and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry.

In broad strokes, the current CBB cell biology branch and most of the grants it manages would move to the new Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology division, and the CBB biophysics branch would move to the new Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences division. A few grant portfolios from CBB would be transferred to the existing Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry.

This proposed reorganization does not reflect any change in scientific emphasis or interests by the Institute. Rather, it is an attempt to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our support for fundamental biomedical research, consistent with two goals outlined in our strategic plan [PDF, 702KB]: enhance the effectiveness of our support for fundamental biomedical research and improve the efficiency of our internal operations.

The proposed restructuring also includes establishing the Center for Research Capacity Building as a full division, consistent with its unique place in the Institute. In addition, based on a recommendation from the Steering Committee of the Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), we plan to transfer the office to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Because of NINDS’ strong expertise in and support for clinical research related to emergency medicine, it is extremely well-suited to promoting the mission of OECR.

You might wonder what the proposed reorganization will mean for your current or future funding. Our commitment to funding fundamental biomedical research and research capacity building programs remains the same, so the amount of money allocated to these areas will not change as a result of the proposed reorganization. We also expect that most grantees will continue working with their current program directors and grants management specialists.

Soliciting input from the community is among the steps that need to occur before any changes can be implemented. We invite you to share your thoughts on these plans by commenting here or by email. Input will be received through December 4, 2017.

Four NIGMS Grantees Recognized With 2017 Nobel Prizes

I’m delighted to congratulate four members of the NIGMS community who became Nobel laureates this week. Early this morning, the Nobel Academy announced Joachim Frank, Ph.D., of Columbia University as one of today’s winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules. On Monday, the Academy recognized current and former NIGMS grantees Jeffrey C. Hall, Ph.D., of the University of Maine; Michael Rosbash, Ph.D., of Brandeis University; and Michael W. Young, Ph.D., of Rockefeller University, with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.

Our Institute has a strong track record of funding scientists who receive Nobel Prizes. Since its creation in 1962, NIGMS has supported the work of 87 Nobel laureates—43 in physiology or medicine and 44 in chemistry. These investigators perform cutting-edge basic research in many different organisms and experimental systems that is the foundation for understanding normal life processes and disease.

The importance of investigator-initiated basic biomedical research, the NIGMS bedrock, was summed up brilliantly during this morning’s Nobel Prize announcement Exit icon. In response to a reporter asking why most of this week’s Nobel laureates are from the United States, Professor Göran K. Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, stated:

The United States has … allowed scientists to perform fundamental research to focus on important questions in science; not forcing them to immediate applications, not controlling them in a political way; and that freedom combined with very good resources have been very helpful to the United States.

Dr. Hansson noted that the United States is not alone in its philosophy, also recognizing the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, for providing resources for basic, foundational science “that have turned out to pay off in practical applications later on. …”

To learn more about NIGMS Nobel laureates, see our fact sheet; also see our resources on circadian rhythms and cryo-EM.

Once again, congratulations to Drs. Frank, Hall, Rosbash, and Young on their exceptional recognition. These are also great wins for basic, foundational biomedical research.

Avoiding Hype and Enhancing Awareness in Science Communication

When I joined NIGMS about four years ago, I was struck by the number of press releases from journals and grantee institutions that came across my desk each day. Many of them focused on a recently published paper and failed to explain how the work fit into the broader field. Others overstated the research results to make them sound more exciting and closer to clinical application.

I moderated one of the panel discussions.

Around the same time, science communicators started writing articles and conducting studies about the effects of hyped research findings (e.g., Schwartz et al., 2012; Yavchitz et al., 2012 Exit icon, Sumner et al., 2014 Exit icon; Vox, 2017 Exit icon). While these discussions focused on clinically oriented research, we at NIGMS began thinking deeply about how the issue relates to basic biomedical science. On the heels of our work with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) on enhancing rigor and reproducibility in biomedical research, we started talking to them about this topic as well. Two years later, we were pleased to host their Workshop on Responsible Communication of Basic Biomedical Research: Enhancing Awareness and Avoiding Hype Exit icon.

The June 22 meeting brought together a diverse group of science communicators Exit icon [PDF, 22KB] who included early and established investigators, researchers who study science communication, academic and corporate communication officers, policy advisors and journalists. Each panelist represented a stakeholder group with a role in what panelists later called the “hype cycle” and shared his or her perspectives on the problems of hype, the incentives that cause it and recommendations for avoiding it. The meeting focused on basic biomedical research, but the discussions were also relevant to other areas of science.

In her keynote address Exit icon, veteran science journalist Erika Check Hayden defined hype as “exaggerating the outcomes of research, for whatever motives people have, leading to potential negative effects due to inaccurate portrayal of research.” She credited this definition to Judith Greenberg, our deputy director.

The keynote address by Erika Check Hayden focused on new directions in science communication.

The subsequent discussions highlighted the shared responsibility among all the stakeholder groups for improving science communication and changing the incentives for it. Panelists acknowledged that scientists sometimes oversell the conclusions of studies hoping to get their work published in “better” journals or to improve their chances for obtaining funding; journals may decide on manuscripts to publish based on which ones they think will be cited the most or get press attention; communication officers and journalists are often judged by how many hits their stories get; and universities and research institutes may consider the fundraising potential of scientific news stories.

Here are some of the topics discussed during the workshop that really resonated with me. Continue reading

Early Career Scientist Shares Her Passion for Basic Research, Mentoring and More

I recently sat down with NIGMS-funded early career scientist Namandjé Bumpus to talk about her research and career path. Questions came from undergraduates across the country, including Thorne Varier in the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I invite you to watch the archived videocast and share it with students and postdocs in your labs and departments.

The Q&A was part of the Second Annual Early Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students. We launched the lecture series last year to highlight the achievements of our early career grantees and encourage students to pursue biomedical research careers.

Namandjé, an associate professor in the department of medicine, division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, started with a scientific presentation that walked us through her research investigating the mechanisms involved in HIV drug activation and metabolism. She also described an exciting new project that involves genotyping people to identify genetic variations that may also influence these processes. Then, during our conversation, she talked about when she knew she wanted to be a scientist (a professional society played a major role), how mentors have supported her along the way, what she would have done differently and why basic research is so important for medical advances. Some other highlights from the lecture are on Twitter (#ecilecture).

Much of what Namandjé shared relates to scientists at any career stage. I hope you and your trainees find the lecture as inspiring as I did.

Namandjé Bumpus on ECI 2017 lecture

During the 2017 NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture, Namandjé Bumpus discussed her research on drug metabolism (left), answered questions about her career path (middle) and met with undergraduate students (right).
Credit: Christa Reynolds and Emily Carlson, NIGMS.

Second Annual Early Career Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students

NIGMS' Early Career Investigator Lecture with speaker Namandjé N. Bumpus, Ph.D.

Last year, we launched the NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture series. Open to everyone in the scientific community, the lectures are directed at undergraduate students to introduce them to cutting-edge science while inspiring them to pursue biomedical research careers. The series also highlights the achievements of some of NIGMS’ early career grantees.

I’m excited to share that the 2017 lecture will be presented by Namandjé Bumpus, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine-division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Namandjé is an NIGMS-funded recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Her lecture, “Drug Metabolism, Pharmacogenetics and the Quest to Personalize HIV Treatment and Prevention,” will take place on the NIH campus on Wednesday, April 5, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT. It will be videocast and archived on the NIH videocasting site.

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