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AND PERSONAL: RECRUITING
FELLOWS TO NIH
WE HAVE TO LOOK AS
AS THEY LOOK TO US.
OFTEN, THAT MEANS
SIMPLY ENSURING THAT
THEY IN FACT KNOW
WHAT SORT OF PLACE NIH
At last count, NIH had more than 3,000 postdoctoral and research fellows on our rollsa cohort of individuals who play a large and vital role in conducting research at NIH. There is no question that the quality of NIH research reflects the quality of our postdoctoral fellows. How can we ensure that the very best fellows come to work at NIH?
There are two sides to the answer to that question. First, we have to use wise selection criteria and good judgment when we offer positions. Secondand this is where most of this column will focuswe have to look as attractive to prospective postdocs as they look to us. Often, that means simply ensuring that they in fact know what sort of place NIH is.
Fellows choose to come to NIH primarily because they are familiar with, and impressed by, the work of our scientists. We make contact with fellows every time we publish a paper, give a lecture at a university, or speak at a meeting. Speaking engagements, especially, offer the opportunity not only to display ones own scientific wares but also to extol the research environment at NIH.
That said, trainees still tend to stay in academia for postdoctoral experiences because they are networked into universities through their professors, their mentors, and their own comfort level. One way to raise the comfort level of potential postdocs who might not think of a government institution as an appealing research setting is to have them visit NIHand see for themselves that this is a real campus with a decidedly academic bent. We know that students who have been here are much more likely to come back as fellows. Moreover, some of our efforts to recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds involve visits to the NIH campus, and these always pay off with increased recruitment of high-quality fellows.
The research environment is one component of a decision to come to NIH; our reputation for caring about the career development of our trainees is another. Our recent emphasis on improved training and mentoring of our fellows can only help us recruit postdocs. We have anecdotal information suggesting that fellows trained at NIH do extremely well in the academic and industrial job markets or, if they are visiting fellows, return to their home countries and become scientific leaders. We will eventually be able to access data about the jobs NIH trainees take when they leave here, but in the meantime, it is definitely a usefulstrategy to let people know what happens to fellows who have left your lab.
There are several institutional strategies that can be used to improve fellows quality of life. More and more, fellows have families and other responsibilities and, given the increasing length of postdoctoral training (based both on job conditions and the growing complexity of biomedical research), they deserve higher stipends and better living conditions. The various NIH intramural campuses offer attractive environments in which to live, and our stipends will be increasing 6 percent this yearwith similar increases anticipated in subsequent years until a competitive stipend is reached. We hope to be competitive with postdoctoral positions in other disciplines and reduce the suffering traditionally associated with the postdoc training period.
NIH is also sponsoring more daycare slots for infants and children: A new daycare center is going up on Wisconsin Avenue near the Natcher building, and another is planned on the Old Georgetown Road side of the campus off Center Drive. There is also a large daycare center at Executive Boulevard that has a shorter waiting list. We may never satisfy all the childcare needs of the NIH community, but at least the waiting list can get short enough that slots dont have to be reserved before conception.
Almost all of our intramural programs now have dedicated training personnel who can help in the recruitment of potential postdocs, and NCI has developed an office devoted to this endeavor, including helping new fellows find housing and making them feel welcome. The increasing spirit of collaboration and intellectual stimulation on the NIH campus, reflected in our lecture series, activities of special interest groups, and state-of-the-art resources (not to mention the gradually improving quality of our research space), has to have a positive influence on recruitment of fellows.
As to the other issueour ability to make a reasoned judgment before offering someone a positionone complaint that I hear frequently is that we have no way to evaluate potential visiting fellows before they come here, especially from developing countries where we do not have longstanding ties to the scientific establishment. We have been exploring various options to aid in this evaluation, but the most useful is to accelerate the development of networks with senior scientists working in these countries. As the scientists we have trained return to their home countries, opportunities to establish these networks grow. In addition, I strongly recommend that potential fellows be interviewed whenever possible, preferably in person in their home country or by bringing them to NIH for a visit, before committing a postdoc position at NIH.
I welcome your ideas on how best to enhance recruitment of fellows to NIH.
Deputy Director for Intramural Research
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