It has been very gratifying to see outstanding female scientists appropriately recognized in the Nobel Prize announcements this month. However, a variety of evidence reveals that, in many fields of science and engineering, women’s careers progress along different trajectories than do men’s careers. As I noted in a previous post, NIGMS has led an initiative to support social science research directed toward examining and developing a rigorous evidence base regarding the factors that influence women’s careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences and engineering. This effort resulted in a new funding opportunity, and NIH announced last week that it had awarded 14 R01 grants.
In addition to studying causal factors, such as family, finances and culture, the new research projects will also look at the role of mentoring, environment, funding support and other interventions. To learn more about the projects, search NIH RePORTER by RFA-GM-09-012. With a total of $16.8 million in funding from 15 NIH institutes, centers and programmatic offices, these grants reflect NIH’s broad commitment to addressing these issues.
We look forward to following the results over the next four years. I expect that they will have broad implications with regard to programs that promote the advancement of women’s careers in science and engineering, especially at critical junctures.
A select number of graduate students will have the unique and exciting opportunity to meet and learn from dozens of Nobel Prize winners next summer in Germany during the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Now’s your chance to nominate your most outstanding students.
If you are unacquainted with this program, you can visit the official Web site or watch a video about the 2009 meeting. The 2010 meeting will feature Nobel laureates from chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine.
Last year, NIGMS was a sponsor of the meeting, and we are pleased to be one again in 2010. As I described in an earlier Feedback Loop post, the 2009 meeting gave students the opportunity to meet 23 chemistry laureates.
The 2009 U.S. delegation included about 65 graduate students, and I attended as the NIGMS representative. The energy and talent in our group of students were extraordinary! The students, who came from universities all over the country, found this to be a uniquely rewarding experience, with extensive opportunities for networking and international community-building in addition to one-on-one and small-group discussions with the Nobel laureates. Here are a couple of comments from NIH-supported students:
“[It] was an amazing and life-changing experience that is hard to put into words. The meeting gave me inspiration, motivation and hope for my future in science. I was able to learn secrets of success from some of the most highly regarded individuals in the field of chemistry and meet other young researchers [who] will help shape the future of scientific research. Most of all, it helped me realize that being in science is the correct choice for me and that I can, and will, accomplish many things throughout my scientific career.”“Such an experience drives people to reach for the big ideas in science. The short-term effect is a comprehensive shaking up of our perception of chemistry, but the long-term effect is the higher standard we set for our research and ourselves.”
The nomination and selection process will be exceptionally competitive, as the scientific coverage will be much broader than last year. Each university may nominate only one student per sponsoring agency (NIGMS, NSF and DOE). Keep in mind that nominees for NIGMS sponsorship must be involved in projects supported by NIGMS or supported by an NIGMS training award. Additional information about the meeting, including student eligibility and the nomination procedure, may be found at this Web site . Nominations are due by October 30 and should be submitted directly to the Lindau organization using an electronic submission form.
Please contact the organizer of the U.S. delegation, Sam Held, with questions about the 2010 event or nomination procedures. You may also e-mail me or Mike Rogers at NIGMS, especially with questions about eligibility for NIGMS support.
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.
The 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.
John Schwab here, reporting from the 59th Meeting of Nobel Laureates on the Island of Lindau on Bodensee, near the point where Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet. Since 1951, the annual Lindau meetings have sought to educate, inspire and connect generations of scientists. There are 583 young scientists here from around the world, including about 70 graduate students from the United States. NIGMS is sponsoring the participation of 16 of these students, and this is the first year that NIH has joined DOE, NSF and others in supporting graduate students to attend.
This year’s meeting is dedicated to chemistry. As you know, NIGMS supports lots of basic science, which includes different “flavors” of chemistry. Many chemistry Nobel laureates are, or have been, NIGMS grantees. Several of them—such as Robert Grubbs, Richard Schrock and Roger Tsien —are among the 23 laureates attending the Lindau meeting.
During the week-long symposium, our students are networking with their international colleagues, being exposed to the entire spectrum of chemistry laureates and participating in discussions about science and society. The students are generally in their second or third year (some are in their fourth). They’re a very bright and motivated group. They’re experienced enough to understand much of the science, and they’re really excited to be here.
The talks so far have covered quite a range. Here are a few highlights:
Gerhard Ertl spoke about surface science and showed time-resolved images of individual atoms moving around and self-organizing on a surface. Amazing!
Sherwood Rowland and Paul Crutzen spoke about atmospheric chemistry, greenhouse gases and global warming. This was the science behind the project for which Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. Very exciting yet sobering.
Ryoji Noyori gave a pure science talk about asymmetric catalysis.
Hartmut Michel spoke about the structure and function of cytochrome C oxidase, a membrane protein.
One of the most interesting and unconventional talks was given by NMR spectroscopist Richard Ernst and titled “Passions and Activities Beyond Science.” He talked about the inspiration and pleasure he has gotten from his study of Buddhism and Tibetan art. His interest ranges from history to culture to fine art to the science of restoration of ancient artwork. His message was an important one for the students: that science need not be the only passion of a productive and creative scientist—that being a scientist doesn’t have to mean being narrowly focused!
I’ve been enjoying “spreading the word” about what NIGMS is all about, and I’m looking forward to yet more stimulating science and fun interactions with a group of bright, creative students.
NIH has just reissued program announcements for Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) individual fellowships at the predoctoral (F31), postdoctoral (F32) and senior (F33) levels.
If you plan to apply, be sure to read the recent NIH Guide notice applying to NRSAs. Effective with the August 8, 2009, submission date, NIH will only accept electronic applications for F-series programs. There are other changes, too, including how letters of reference are submitted, how many amended applications you may submit (only one), and how review is structured (there are now five review criteria). In addition, reviewers will use the new scoring system for individual fellowships starting with applications reviewed at the summer 2009 study section meetings.
I am happy to answer your questions about the F32s and F33s, and Adolphus Toliver can answer questions about the diversity-oriented F31s.
As some of you may know, I recently became the acting research training director at NIGMS after John Norvell retired this past March. For more than 20 years, John provided outstanding leadership for training at NIGMS and across NIH, and he brought about many significant improvements.
I welcome your input on training matters and look forward to working with you in my new role.
Recently, John Whitmarsh, one of my colleagues at NIGMS, pointed out a short article called “The Glass Ceiling’s Math Problem” from the May 31 edition of the Washington Post. It highlighted a study 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.
This 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.
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.