Hello Dr. Collins, Dr. Tabak, and leadership. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to speak on behalf of Future of Research and represent the needs of the Early Career Researcher community today with regards to the creation of ARPA-H. That President Biden is requesting this budget allocation speaks highly of this administration’s commitment to public health and biomedical research.
We at Future of Research remain hopeful that such commitment can lead to truly fundamental changes to the biomedical research enterprise. Because of our extensive advocacy experience with the NIH, we do have concerns for the agency’s ability to enact the very change that ARPA-H seeks to foster, and have suggestions crucial to the visioning and implementation of this endeavor.
First and foremost, and as one of the few voices invited to speak solely on behalf of ECRs, we would like to point out that the NIH’s past responses to racism and bias, sexism and sexual harassment, and the plight of ECRs have been slow to implement and had minimal impact, raising concerns as to ARPA-H’s ability to be bold and innovative if housed within the NIH. NIH leadership has pointed out to more than a few of our advocates on multiple occasions its purported inability to enact radical change.
If NIH, by its own admission, is either unwilling or unable to push for cultural and systemic changes that are sorely needed, then it is crucial to have both internal and external measures of accountability set in place. For ARPA-H to commit to its ideals to serve marginalized communities and scientists, power and leadership must be given to Black and Indigenous scientists to envision, lead, and oversee that ARPA-H is truly held accountable to its stated goals. In a program officer led model, a diversity of leadership and program officers, particularly from the ECR community, is critical to prevent power and funds to continue accumulating in the hands of the few. ECRs must have a voice in how ARPA-H is run and how funding priorities are set.
Second, past expansions of the NIH budget have been temporary, and inevitably led to an increase in the number of graduate students and postdocs, flooding an already hyper-competitive market and leading to greater instability.
To limit reckless, uncontrolled expansion and mitigate harm to ECRs, minimal starting salaries for postdocs funded through ARPA-H fellowships should be set according to past recommendations and adjusted for cost of living and inflation. These levels should have required periodic increases to reflect experience and encourage transition to more permanent roles. ARPA-H funding should also incentivize the creation of more permanent staff scientist and non-tenure track positions available in biomedical research. Additionally, ARPA-H should invest in junior scientists with novel grant mechanisms, such as the NIH DP2 and DARPA young faculty award mechanisms. ESI status should be protected in multi-PI awards and postdocs should be allowed to apply for grants directly.
And finally, to foster inclusive cultures of training for the next generation of leaders, ARPA-H funding must require constructive, evidence-based mentoring for trainees that support transitions to research independence. ARPA-H funding should require institutional training and mentoring plans for grant applications funding students and postdocs, and continue to provide open and protected mechanisms for the reporting of negligent mentoring, harassment, and abuses of power.
These recommendations are not new. Our advocates have voiced them through participation in the National Academies’ Breaking Through, Sexual Harassment, and the Science of Mentoring reports, and the NIH’s own NGRI working group. Many of these recommendations have yet to be enacted, even when data shows they are desperately needed. A new institute will only mitigate issues if it fundamentally challenges the status quo and redistributes resources equitably from those currently in power with access to program officer relationships. ECRs drive the diversity, bold ideas, and passion for broad societal change ARPA-H seeks to foster. Investment in ECRs will, in and of itself drive innovative, life saving research. Please, don’t let all our work on past reports be in vain. Let ARPA-H fundamentally change biomedical research by valuing people over flashy science. Thank you.