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young people who we hope will enter this field of biomedical research in future years.
As you have just heard from Dr. Alberts, this is a very, very exciting time to be a biologist. We have wonderful new molecular tools that we can use to solve all sorts of problems.
You would think with all the excitement in the field that young people would be flocking to the field and be really turned on and want to pursue careers in this area, and, in fact, I see young people in my lab who are undergraduates contemplating such careers, and they do get turned on in the lab and are excited about the work that they are embarking upon. Then they look around them, and they wonder about their future prospects. I think this has been very disheartening to them in the past few years.
At my home institution of Brown University, just since 1987 the number of undergraduates who go on to graduate school has dropped by more than 50 percent, and it stayed at that lower level. This, to me, is very, very concerning. I think that is happening not only at Brown but at schools around the country.
Concomitant with that, we have seen a large increase in the number of foreign students matriculating in Ph.D. programs. In the past decade from 1977 to 1987 there were only two foreign students in our program at Brown. Now there is roughly 50 percent of each entering class that is foreign students. In my own lab I now have two students who are from China, one from Russia, and only one is an American.
To me, this spells problems and worries me about the future. manpower needs of our country. These are very bright students, but there is no guarantee that the foreign students among them will stay in our country rather than go back to their home countries. So we have pressing manpower needs looming ahead of us and even unfilled job opportunities currently that are not being met.
One could ask, why is it if everything is so exciting on the scene that young people and young Americans in particular are not going on in this field of biomedical research for further training and research careers? I strongly believe it is because they look around them and they see what their faculty mentors are going through. They see that it is very, very hard to get research grants funded, and once they are funded they are cut dramatically, and so you have to fire people instead of hiring people. It is very hard to keep the projects going. So they wonder why they should go through all the training when they are not going to have future support for their work.
So it is for that reason I believe that to draw young people into this field we really have to create a rosier picture for them.
Now last year through the support of this committee and also the Congress in general, it was recommended that we have a goal of 6,000 grants, new and competing grants, and also that negotiated reductions be eliminated. Unfortunately, the money was not quite enough to meet those goals, and so we are still not quite there. So we still have a demoralizing scene as far as young people are con
cerned, and I urge you and your committee to continue your support for this cause so that we can reach those goals this year.
Thank you very much.
[The statement follows:]
STATEMENT OF SUSAN A. GERBI
Members of the Subcommittee, I thank you for this opportunity to testify on the fiscal year 1992 budget for the National Institutes of Health. I am Susan Gerbi; I have been on the faculty of Brown University for nineteen years, and am now Professor and Deputy Chair of the Section of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Training Director of our graduate program in those subfields. I have been a member of Council of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), which is a non-profit organization of about 7.000 basic scientists engaged in fundamental research on the structure and function of cellular components, and have been nominated to run for the Presidency of the ASCB. I speak to you today as a working scientist.
At the outset, Mr. Chairman, let me say that our members deeply appreciate the leadership and support which you and this subcommittee have given to the funding of biomedical research over the years. America's world leadership in science, medicine and biotechnology is due largely to your support. Specifically, we are grateful for your willingness to recommend a high level of assistance despite the difficult fiscal problems facing this country.
This is an exciting time to be a biologist. The many new advances in molecular biology have given momentum to understanding how cells work, and information from this basic research will have big payoffs in medical applications to conquer diseases and alleviate suffering. This intellectual excitement should be attracting students in droves to careers in biomedical research. Yet, in the past few years I have become increasingly concerned that the future productivity and viability of biomedical research in this country is in jeopardy, and the entry of talented young people into the field is being unintentionally discouraged. I am concerned about a potential future shortage of biologists in an environment of unprecedented research opportunity. The experience at my own institution is a case in point. Of about 1300 seniors who graduate from Brown University each year, the number who major in biomedical concentrations has dropped precipitously from 17% in 1975, which was typical of the late 1970's and early 1980's, to an all time low of 10.8% in 1988 where the numbers still hover. Superimposed on this has been an equally dramatic decline in the number of biomedical majors who go on to graduate school. In 1986, 12% of our graduating majors pursued graduate education, which is a percentage typical of the earlier 1980's. However, this plummeted to 5% in 1987 and dropped still further to 3% in 1988. In the same time period, the number of Brown graduates with biomedical majors who went to medical school remained constant at 42%. Although the sample size of just one school is small, these trends scem real as they are beyond the scatter in the data.
Brown undergraduates are superb, and have entered the best graduate schools in our country. I do not believe that the declines I just described for Brown University are unique to our institution, but rather are nation-wide, creating an impact on all graduate programs in biomedical sciences. Concommitant with the recent decline of top quality American students matriculating in predoctoral programs, the number of foreign graduate students has escalated considerably. I have been lucky to have attracted excellent predoctoral students, and I am proud that the first three graduates from my laboratory are now wellestablished faculty members at Clemson University, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin in Madison. These first three students are all American citizens, in contrast to the current composition of equally talented predoctoral students in my laboratory where two are from China, one is from Russia and only one is an American. The changes in my laboratry group are mirrored in our graduate program of about 60 students in Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry, of which I am the training director. When credentials are equal, we give preference in our graduate admissions to American citizens. Indeed, there were only two foreign students who obtained Ph.D.'s from our graduate program from 1977-1987. However, by 1988 the number of foreign students newly matriculated in our graduate program had climbed up to 50%. By the late 1980's the attrition rate of predoctoral students who left our graduate program to pursue other careers jumped from essentially zero percent in the 1970's and early 1980's to as high as 36% of the entering class in 1988. The students who leave are not marginal students having academic difficulty; instead, they are usually among the brightest in their class and are predominantly American citizens.
At the national level, these trends forecast that we are falling short of our current and projected manpower needs in the biomedical sciences. According to the 1989 National Academy of Sciences report the refreshment rate (number of new biomedical Ph.D.'s entering employment) dropped from 8.6% in 1974 to 5.4% in 1987, and if one subtracts from this the attrition rate (leave employment due to retirement, death,etc.) which was 2.0% and 2.8% respectively, the number left for growth in the field dropped from 6.0% in 1974 to 2.6% in 1987. Growth in the biomedical sciences is evidenced by the increase from the average of 3660 job openings annually in the 1970's to the average of 4500 job openings annually in the 1980's. Nonetheless, the annual biomedical Ph.D. production has not kept pace, increasing from 3520 in 1973 to only 3960 in 1982 and has been flat ever since. Therefore, while there was 1 job opening per new biomedical Ph.D. in 1973-1979, this has risen to 1.2 job openings per new Ph.D. in 1979-1981. Clearly, the supply is not keeping up with the demand, and we are falling short of meeting our national needs.
These data from my own laboratory, from undergraduate and graduate programs at Brown University, and at the national level show that in the late 1980's American students became disinclined to pursue careers in biomedical research to meet our national needs. What factors changed in the late 1980's which might be related to these downward trends?
First, the number of National Research Service Award (NRSA) institutional predoctoral trainees supported by NIH fell from an average of 4760 in 1980 and 1981 to an average of 3880 in 1985 and 1986, which was almost a 20% reduction, and remained at this lower level for the next few years. Although initially research grants picked up the costs of graduate students no longer on traineeships, this became more difficult as grants were cut. I support the National Academy of Sciences recommendation that the number of NRSA institutional predoctoral trainees should be increased in increments of 300 more per year to arrive at a level of 5100 by 1993. I concur with the report of the FASEB forum (3/28/1991) that we try to meet the NAS target of an annual growth of 7.5% in predoctoral positions and 2.5% in postdoctoral positions. With the help of Congress, NIH is already close to meeting these goals.
Although it is important to entice excellent American students into biomedical careers by the availability and growth in predoctoral traineeships, indicating that this is a field of emerging growth, this is not sufficient. Certainly the prospect of hard work for five to six years of predoctoral training at stipends lower than the minimum wage is not in itself appealing. A typical graduate student works about 55 hours per week and the 1991 yearly stipend for a NRSA predoctoral trainee is $8800, translating into $3.08/hour. I applaud the FASEB forum recommendation that the NRSA predoctoral stipends be raised to $14,000 in FY 1992 and adjusted for inflation thereafter.
But, probably even more important than the level of predoctoral training support, are the future career prospects that attract our best American students into biomedical careers. The intellectual challenges of scientific discovery whet the appetites of most undergraduates I encounter at Brown University for a career in biomedical research. Nonetheless, before even considering the means of support they might garner for graduate study, they are exposed to the realities of how hard it has become in the past few years to obtain research grant funding. Scientists are not looking for a handout, but simply the chance to compete successfully if they have good ideas worth pursuing. Yet, undergraduates and beginning graduate students see the enormous difficulties that their respected faculty mentors have in obtaining sufficient levels of research support. The prospect of having exciting research results and even more exciting future experiments that could reveal the intricate mechanisms of cellular activities only to be told that adequate funding is not available is disheartening, to say the least. Instead of carrying their research programs forward, faculty waste precious hours rewriting grant applications and reviewing the rewritten grant applications of others. The rigor of our peer review system to select the best research proposals is why the American scientific enterprise is foremost in the world, but it cannot judge if a grant ranked in the top 14% is indeed better than a grant ranked in the top 15%, when in fact the top third of all grant applications are deserving of funding. Even when fortunate enough to finally get funded, biologists find it difficult to carry out the full scope of their proposed research as the appropriate funding levels recommended by study sections become cut significantly. Is it any wonder that the declining morale of bench scientists turns students away from future carcers in biomedical research? I believe that this is the chief reason that our bright undergraduates are shunning graduate training, and why there has been an increased attrition in beginning graduate students.
I have been fortunate to have had eighteen years of continuous support from NIH for our research on ribosomes, the subcellular machines that synthesize proteins. Our work has been gratifying and productive, but it has become harder and harder to proceed towards out goals with the cuts in our budget that increase in severity each year. "Downward negotiations" cut the continuation years of our grant budget from that recommended by study section by 5% in 1987, 15.2% in 1988, 19.0% in 1989 and 22.4% in 1990. Last year, despite our frugality, we ran out of money to purchase supplies and pay salaries of research personnel one month before the end of our fiscal year. Thus, I am delighted that Congress has mandated the abolition of "downward negotiations". Unfortunately, the amount of money allocated to NIH in the FY 1991 budget, although generous, fell short of that needed to respect this mandate. Instead, under the new guise of "cost containment", the 1991 continuation year of my NIH grant was cut a whopping 24.8% from the funding level recommended by study section.
For 1987-1990 the total number of research project grants funded by NIH leveled off at an all time high of roughly 20,000. Why then are scientists gloomy? Why do we feel that the USA is underinvesting in biomedical research at a time of great opportunity? From 1987 to 1990 the number of NIH approved new and competing research project grants rose from about 16,748 to 19,077, but the award level dropped from 6453 to 4845 grants. In consequence, the funding success rate for principal investigators steadily declined from 35% in 1987 to 24% in 1990. This precipitous drop in the number of new and competing investigator initiated grants getting funded caused a decline in morale of the scientific community, and caught the attention of Congress last year which provided NIH a generous $700 million increase over FY 1990 with the goal of funding 6000 new and competing research project grants. We praise the efforts and foresight of your Committee on this front, and major strides have been made to correct a negative situation, but much remains to be done. Despite severe cost containment measures, only 5785 new and competing investigator initiated research grants could be funded in FY 1991. We sincerely hope that your Committee will continue the job well started but still unfinished to meet this goal. We concur with the FASEB request for 6143 new and competing research project grants to recognize growth in this field, which is only 2.4% above the number recommended by Congress last year and still below the number of new research grants funded by NIH in 1987.
We are aware of the economic difficulties faced by our nation, but we firmly believe that we should capitalize on the unprecedented research opportunities that will lead to a healthier, more productive population and a reduced national health care bill. Despite these economic challenges, we
hope that Congress will reaffirm the importance of federally funded biomedical research to this nation's health and well-being. There are also unanticipated benefits which have come with funding biomedical research: a boost has been given to the newly emerging biotechnology industry, and a spillover of that technology has led to applications in agriculture. These results have exceeded the goals of the original investment, so Congress and the taxpayer have gotten a lot from each research dollar. Stability and predictability in funding biomedical research are essential to ensure the future in this field. As stated by Dr. Leon Rosenberg, Dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, our "first priority is to create an environment in which talented young people choose careers in health-sciences research, because without them our future will be blighted" (Time magazine, Dec. 1991). We must improve their chances to compete for research funding and we must adequately fund the grants they receive. Individual investigator initiated research grants should be the very top priority in the NIH budget. The foresight and enunciated goals for biomedical research stated by Congress last year were very encouraging to the scientific community. However, biologists are disappointed that we still fell short of those goals only 5785 and not 6000 new grants were funded, and severe budgetary cuts were imposed on research grants as part of "cost containment” rather than "downward negotiations Therefore, Congress has unfinished business to complete to reach the goals and priorities set last year. We hope that your committee will complete this business by allocating sufficient resources to fully fund without arbitrary cuts 6143 new and competing grants and 22,176 total investigator initiated research grants for FY 1992 at levels recommended by study sections.
We have great opportunities to meet in biomedical research, and it is ironic that despite these exciting developments there is a low morale among scientist which dissuades young people from pursuing careers in this field. Your committee has the ability to change this. We are grateful for your previous support and your foresight to act on these problems despite the fiscal constraints of our country. Thank you for the chance to present our concerns to you.
BIOGRAPHY OF SUSAN A. GERBI
Robert P. Brown Professor of Biology.
Deputy Chair of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Section,
Providence, Rhode Island
Principal Investigator on three NIH grants:
(a) GM 20261, "Fine Structure of Ribosomal RNA"
(b) GM 35929, "Gene Amplification: Sciarid DNA Puffs"
(c) GM 07601, Training grant in Molecular and Cell Biology
National activities on research training:
(a) member of Basic Biomedical Service Panel advisory to the committee on a study of National Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Personnel organized by the National Academy of Sciences (1/78-12/80; ad hoc 11/86)
(b) member of NIH study section for Genetics training grants (7/80 6/84)
(c) member of NIH study section for Cell and Molecular Biology training grants (12/79; 11/81)
Other service to the profession:
(a) member of NIH Cell Biology study section (3778)
(b) member of NSF Genetics research grants review panel (4/79-6/80)
(c) member of ACS Cell and Developmental biology study section (6/79)
(d) editorial board member of "Chromosoma" (1989 - present)
Society member of:
(a) the American Society for Cell Biology
program chair for annual meeting (1986),
member of Council (1988-1990),
member of public policy committee (1989 - present)
(b) Genetics Society of America
committee chair for booklet on careers in genetics (1983-1987)
(c) Sigma Xi
National Lecturer (1981-1982)
(d) Society for Developmental Biology