Summer 2018

Our Future Depends on Young Scientists

A message from the director of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

As I take on the role of center director and continue my research in the Vitamin K Lab, I realize that I need to give up some commitments. However, teaching and mentoring students won’t be among them.

Students nourish my intellect and spark my passion for research. The success of my science depends on their sharing new ideas and questioning conventional beliefs. I expect students, especially those adept at technology and pop culture, to mentor me.

The HNRCA’s practice of supporting graduate students from Tufts’ Friedman, Arts and Sciences, and Sackler schools—as well as undergraduates from Tufts, UMass, and Northeastern—is driven by our commitment to developing the next generation of scientists. We provide amazing hands-on lab experiences and challenging research opportunities that have students publishing, presenting at conferences, and positioned for academic honors ahead of many of their peers. Our graduates now hold important positions throughout the research community, academia, and industry.

Unfortunately, the probability of promising trainees being able to secure a slot on National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grants and other outside funds is diminishing. That’s why the HNRCA is building the Young Investigators Endowment Fund to provide student stipends to relieve their tremendous financial burden. This effort is being led by Dr. Ronenn Roubenoff, head of Novartis’ Global Translational Medicine for Musculoskeletal Diseases and a former HNRCA lab director, who knows how critical it is to build a robust pipeline of young scientists.

When I was a young researcher in the 1990s, the success rate for securing NIH funding by age 39 was 46 percent. Today, it’s about 19 percent. This is very discouraging to many promising investigators—and forces far too many to switch careers. “We have a serious risk of losing the most important resource that we have, which is this brain trust, the talent, and the creative energies of this generation of scientists,” said Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH. In 2015, Collins warned that if trends continued, the United States would relinquish its international lead in biomedical research within the next decade.

Being a scientist is the second most respected profession (between doctors and firefighters), according to a 2016 Harris Poll. But scientists deserve greater financial investment from the public and private sectors, or else the occupation will soon become an endangered job in the United States.

Sarah Booth, Ph.D.
Director, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging

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