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The Obama administration has taken steps to keep its promise to aid young scientists.
First, money from the economic stimulus package passed in February 2009 is flowing to younger scientists.
Ten of the 55 new awardees for "New Innovator" grants were supported by stimulus funds, according to the National Institutes of Health. The New Innovator program predated the Obama administration; it is designed to boost new scientific investigators with innovative ideas but less of the preliminary research data typically required under NIH's peer review system.
The New Innovators are one of three existing programs focused on early-career scientists; the others are Pioneers and Transformative R01's. (As a general category, R01 grants are the oldest established grant mechanism used by NIH, supporting health-related research and development.)
Combined, these three programs are spending $348 million over five years, according to NIH. At an award ceremony for recipients of funding from the three programs, NIH director Francis Collins called the efforts "a celebration of innovation" and said that they support "outside-the-box" thinking. He said he wants to maintain funding levels "or grow" them in the coming years.
Separately, the stimulus created a new $20 million program: the Summer Research Experiences for Students and Science Educators, which will provide summer jobs for high school and college students, and for teachers to work in science labs.
The program is geared toward students "who are contemplating a career in science and intend to go to graduate or medical school for advanced degrees," according to the solicitation for applications. It would provide an opportunity "to participate in laboratory science, be a member of a research team, attend experiment planning and analyses sessions, perform experiments, and/or present your results. You may also have the opportunity to attend major scientific seminars at the host institution. You will learn first-hand how top tier biomedical science is accomplished, providing you insight into a career in science."
Because the mechanism for providing money to promising early-career researchers was already in place before Obama took office, it was not hard for his administration to keep this promise. But his administration did allocate stimulus money for this purpose, including by establishing a new summer science program for students, and the NIH director has spoken of the importance of early-career researchers, with a hope of increasing funding in the future. That's enough for us to rate it a Promise Kept.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,
of provisions and funding for the National Institutes of Health
National Institutes of Health, fact sheet on NIH Director's New Innovator's Award, accessed Nov. 3, 2009
National Institutes of Health, fact sheet on Summer Research Experiences for Students and Science Educators, accessed Nov. 3, 2009
National Institutes of Health, web pag e on New and Early Stage Investigator Policies, accessed Nov. 3, 2009
National Institutes of Health, fact sheet on R01 grants, accessed Nov. 9, 2009
NIH Record, " Pioneers, Innovators Celebrated at Ceremony ," Oct. 16, 2009, accessed Nov. 3, 2009
E-mail interview with Barry Toiv, vice president for public affairs at the Association of American Universities, Oct. 4, 2009