NIMH Workgroup Releases Report on Training Next Generation of Researchers

The National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) Workgroup on Research Training released a report, Investing in the Future, on November 1 that advises NIMH on opportunities for attaining a workforce by 2020 with knowledge and expertise that will enhance the research mission of the Institute.

The National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) Workgroup on Research Training released a report, Investing in the Future, on November 1 that advises NIMH on opportunities for attaining a workforce by 2020 with knowledge and expertise that will enhance the research mission of the Institute. The NIMH mission is more narrowly defined than in years passed with a greater focus on mental illness. As stated in its new Strategic Plan, NIMH’s objective is to “transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure.”

NIMH Director, Dr. Tom Insel, charged the workgroup with advising the NAHMC on the Institute’s investment in research training and to offer specific recommendations about how NIMH “could better achieve its goals of recruiting, training, and retaining a workforce capable of integrating novel technologies and approaches across multiple levels of analysis in its NIMH-relevant research.”

In its report, the workgroup encourages the Institute to make changes to its portfolio in order to meet the needs of a new generation of health researchers. The report offers nine recommendations to help NIMH achieve its goal of recruiting and retaining an exceptional health research workforce.

One of the recommendations is to refocus current funding in order to free up funds for other initiatives. As an example, the workgroup recommends that NIMH discontinue its support of professional associations for training interdisciplinary investigators (through the T32 mechanism) because analyses showed that the additional training and mentoring “did not provide any detectable added value” with respect to NIMH’s measured outcome - the proportion of trainees who applied for or received NIH funding. Funding from other federal agencies or private foundations was not included in the measured outcome. Several professional associations, including the American Psychological Association, the Society for Neuroscience, the American Sociological Association, and the Council for Social Work Education are already slated to lose their Minority Fellowship Programs, which are funded through the T32 grant mechanisms. The end result is a diminished investment in the behavioral research pipeline at a time when mentorship and professional networking are critical. 

The workgroup’s other recommendations include targeting support to MD/PhD students; maintaining the NIMH budget for research training and career development at its current level; expanding support for systematic research training/education opportunities at NIMH-supported centers; implementing best practices for institutional training; assessing and monitoring programs; and strengthening dissemination and communication with the extramural research community.