Opinion

Biomedical Science Programs Make a Positive Impact on Research

About

The Pew Scholars Program and The Pew Latin American Fellows Program support promising early-career scientists from North, South and Central America in the health sciences — particularly young researchers with innovative approaches and ideas. By backing them early in their careers, this program enables our most promising scientists to take calculated risks and follow unanticipated leads to advance human health. Anita Pepper, Director of the Pew Programs in the Biomedical Sciences, explains the benefits of the programs. 

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Q: Two new reports from the National Institutes of Health and National Academies of Sciences say that the United States is not providing enough competitive funding to allow early-career researchers the independence and ability to follow their own curiosity and take risks.  How do Pew's Biomedical Sciences programs address this issue?

Pepper: Pew designed the Programs in the Biomedical Sciences to be an “insurance policy” to encourage risk taking.
Data shows that it is increasingly harder for early-career researchers to find or get funding. The average age when a scientist receives his or her first NIH independent research grant has risen from 36 in 1981 to 42 today.  Investigators must have proven results to secure funding, which can squash innovation.   

Pew provides unrestricted funding, which affords young investigators the freedom to pursue their most intriguing data and untested leads to improve human health. 

Q: Both reports say promising researchers are not receiving the mentorship they need to be leaders in their fields of science. How does Pew's program ensure young researchers receive mentorship and networking from experienced scientists? 

Pepper: Just this past month, Science magazine published  an editorial  authored by one of our national advisory committee members, Ruth Lehmann, and one of our Scholars, Aaron Gitler, who decided to join forces at an annual Pew-sponsored gathering.  This is one of many collaborations that have occurred over the years.

Networking and mentorship are critical components of biomedical discovery.  To ensure that our scholars become part of the scientific network that is the Pew Scholars program, each year we host a five-day scientific meeting where Scholars discuss their research and bounce ideas off one another.  It is there that our newest class of researchers gets to interact with and learn from past scholars, as well as our advisors.   

I am proud of the strong and engaged community the Scholars have become.

Q: How long has Pew been supporting early career scientists? Is your program successful? 

Pepper: While the concept of funding early-career scientists has recently become a national issue, Pew has supported the careers of young, ambitious investigators for the past 27 years.

We have more than 500 alumni who are positively affecting the future of biomedical research.  Our Scholars are increasingly offered key leadership roles in academia and industry, while also earning numerous accolades, including three Nobel prizes in the last decade, MacArthur Fellowships, and the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.  In July, four of our Scholars were awarded the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.