Category: Director’s Messages

Getting More Women into Science


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.

Scientific Workforce Development, Diversity and the Power of Basic Research


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


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

Your Grants and the Draft Stem Cell Guidelines


Comment on NIH Draft Stem Cell GuidelinesNIH’s draft guidelines for human stem cell research (link no longer available) are now published in the Federal Register for public comment (link no longer available) within the next 30 days. I encourage you to read them and submit your comments.

Here are a few key points about the draft guidelines:

  • They allow NIH funding for research using human embryonic stem cells derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and no longer needed for that purpose.
  • They describe the conditions and informed consent procedures required during the derivation of human embryonic stem cells used for NIH-supported research.
  • They support continued research using adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells.
  • They do NOT allow NIH funding for research using human embryonic stem cells derived from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis and/or IVF embryos created for research purposes.

If you currently have a grant, have a pending competing grant application, have an application for an administrative supplement, or are planning to submit an application involving human stem cells, you should read NIH Guide NOT-OD-09-085. It describes the status of ongoing research using human stem cells and how NIH will handle stem cell applications—including those in response to Recovery Act funding announcements—while the guidelines are being finalized.

Use the “Post a Comment” or e-mail links above to send me your questions about these grant policies.

Answering Your Recovery Act Questions


Recovery Act Logo - Recovery.govWelcome to the new Feedback Loop site, the place to get NIGMS news as it happens.

For this first post, I want to update you on NIH and NIGMS Recovery Act funding plans and opportunities. If you have questions about administrative supplements, revisions or two-year R01s, you should read the FAQs we just posted on the NIGMS Recovery Act Web site.

We want this resource to be as useful as possible, so I encourage you to let us know if you have questions that aren’t answered in our FAQs or in the NIH FAQs we link to. One way to do this is by submitting a comment to this post.

Also be sure to visit our updated NIGMS Recovery Act guidance document. It includes information on three recent NIH notices:

We plan to make new Feedback Loop posts about once a week and focus on one or a few topics each time, so you can quickly get the information you need. We’ll also organize previous posts by topic so you can easily find them.

If you would like to get new content automatically, you can sign up to receive it by e-mail or RSS feed. Of course, you can change your subscription options at any time.

Please tell your colleagues about the site and encourage them to subscribe, as well.