Below are comments we received for topics that were raised in the November-December and January-February issues, along with some general reactions.
On being a staff scientist
The distinction between a principal investigator (PI) and staff scientist did not exist in 1980 when I was tenured. Staff scientist now appears to be a designation for scientists who are not considered to be good enough to be PIs, but nevertheless perform some essential function. Comments by some scientific directors indicate that they view this category of NIH employee with disdain, and that they consider staff-scientist appointments to be "back-door conversions to permanent positions." While tenure-track PIs get a memorandum of agreement, staff scientists have had nothing comparable in writing. Promises could be made and broken without consequences. It is essential that the staff-scientist position be defined so that those who are put into that position know exactly what the rules are. In the past, the rules have been arbitrarily made and changed. Also, it should be possible to switch from staff scientist to PI by demonstrating an ability to carry out a high-quality independent research program. Requiring competition in a nationwide search to achieve such a step seems unreasonable, and older staff scientists who are already tenured or who have permanent positions at NIH would have to compete at a distinct disadvantage.
- Anonymous Staff Scientist
Mindful of the confusion and concerns raised by our previous system, the Board of Scientific Directors has completed its new staff scientist policy, described in detail in this issue. We hope to clearly define and identify all staff scientists at NIH by this fall. Because of the enormous investment in resources for our tenured staff, searches will continue to be required unless the candidate is already in a tenure-track position.
- Michael Gottesman, DDIR
On the Clinical Center design
Suggestion for commercial establishments in the new Clinical Center:
- Peter Herscovitch, CC
I do not support commercial development on campus - downtown Bethesda is close enough, and what is present on campus (R&W, cafeterias, bank) is also enough for the immediate needs. Rather, the day-care facilities should be enlarged, since it appears that architects can design space for non-lab and non-administrative buildings. Of course, I am not optimistic, because video stores and restaurants make more money than do investing in basic education and in improving the every-day life of postdocs on campus.
- Rosaura Valle, CBER, FDA
More on postdoc concerns
As an individual who started his career at NIH as one of the visiting people, I feel I must comment on the weeping and bitter training experience by contemporary postdocs who, obviously, feel very sorry for themselves. If NIH is such a horrible place, as described by the NIH Fellows Committee, how come everybody wants to come here and stay here? It is apparent that what the NIH postdocs of the '90s need is a nanny and, perhaps, a shrink.
- Paul Kovac, NIDDK
On some name changes
Your view of NIH training is excellent. Let me congratulate you! But I do want to provide an update. The Office of Education was recently merged into the Office of Science Education, whose mission includes both intramural training and science education. Michael Fordis is now the director of the Intramural Research Training Division in the Office of Science Education. Our commitment to outstanding training remains as high as before, and we anticipate that there will be some new programs to support trainees better, especially in the area of career development.
- Irene Eckstrand, Acting Director, Office of Science Education
On the Dent cartoon
Although very humorous, the attitude [expressed in "National Institutes of Radiation Safety Blues"] is of concern. I have been involved in the radiological health field for more than 15 years. I want researchers to know that suspending you is the last thing in the world that personnel in the radiation safety community want to do. Our job is to assist you in doing your job safely and effectively, with minimal disruption in your research.
- Shawn Googins, Deputy Radiation Safety Officer, NIH
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