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011: The 8.5 fixes that will save biomedical science

Biomedical science is broken.  Funding is unpredictable, training programs drag on indefinitely, and some of our best scientists are drawn to careers outside of the university or drowned in paperwork if they stay.  Can anything be done to support research staff and boost lab productivity?

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Two of the fixes are the bottle opener and the cork-screw. A little bit of ethanol makes everything better!

Saving Science

These topics are regularly debated in the literature, but a recent meta-analysis by Pickett et al. in PNAS works to find the consensus among a dizzying number of suggestions.  Their paper, Toward a sustainable biomedical research enterprise: Finding consensus and implementing recommendations, could be re-titled “8 Ways to Save Science.”  And while these 8 ideas may appear across the literature, they’re not without controversy.

This week on the show, we unpack the 8 recommendations and debate their merits.  Should all graduate school programs be limited to 5 years?  Should the federal government increase overall funding?  Should post-docs receive higher pay?

To summarize, the 8 recommendations are:

  1. Make funding predictable from year-to-year
  2. Increase the total amount of money the federal government hands out
  3. Reduce regulations
  4. Pay post-docs more
  5. Shorten graduate school to 5 years
  6. Train students and post-docs for “alternative” careers other than faculty PI
  7. Change how trainees are funded
  8. Increase opportunities for staff scientists

Josh throws in a bonus recommendation that didn’t quite make the top 8: increase diversity in the biomedical enterprise.

Did you applaud every item on this list, or did the authors miss the mark?  Leave your comments below and let us know what you’d add or remove to make biomedical science a more sustainable enterprise.

Also in this episode, we pay tribute to all the Oregonians who don’t listen to our podcast by drinking Dead Guy Ale from Rogue.  It’s an Oregon beer and we’re pandering for listeners in that great state, so tell a friend!

References:

States in order by quality of their beer offerings.

Newt Gingrich (NYT April 2015): “Double the NIH budget”

PIs spend 42% of their time on administrivia

Stanford recently bumped starting postdoc pay to $50K

NIH recently started a funding mechanism called “Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST)”.