Cover Story

The number of science PhDs awarded in the United States each year is enough to keep pace with economic growth and to replace investigators who will leave the workforce in coming years, according to a recent National Research Council report. But, the report concludes, members of ethnic minorities are "greatly underrepresented" among doctoral-level researchers and opportunities for interdisciplinary scientific training are too few, particularly in the behavioral sciences.

The congressionally mandated report, "Addressing the Nation's Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists," was convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and authored by experts in biomedical, behavioral and clinical research, labor economics and demography. The committee was asked to estimate the coming supply of and demand for biomedical, behavioral and clinical scientists and to provide recommendations for the National Research Service Award (NRSA) program and other sources of research training support.

Although the committee found that the total number of PhDs awarded in each of the fields of science will likely continue to be sufficient, they expressed concern that the number of MDs who pursue clinical research, including in fields such as clinical psychology, epidemiology and nursing, is declining.

Importantly, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans continue to be underrepresented among doctoral-level researchers, the committee observed, urging that the NIH and other agencies "more carefully examine the results of existing policies and programs intended to increase the diversity of the research workforce." In addition, the committee advocated boosting opportunities for minority students in secondary schools.

The committee also recommended that the NIH encourage a more interdisciplinary approach to research training, especially in the behavioral sciences. The agency could, for example, emphasize interdisciplinary training in predoctoral and postdoctoral NRSA-funded training, draw more NIH institutes into behavioral and science research training, and work to ensure that more MD-PhD students are offered the opportunity to pursue research in the behavioral and social sciences.