Toward a sustainable biomedical research enterprise: More work required

On Monday, members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology published a Perspective in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Toward a sustainable biomedical research enterprise: Finding consensus and implementing recommendations” describes eight recommendations addressing some of the most pressing problems faced by the enterprise. Today’s post will discuss the ASBMB’s next steps toward sustainability. Monday’s post focused on an author’s perspective of this paper. Tuesday’s post discussed the coordinated implementation of recommendations.

Implementing consensus recommendations will require effort from all sectors of the research enterprise. To address these issues, the ASBMB will convene a summit that incorporates viewpoints from multiple phases of a scientific career – trainees to senior scientists and administrators – and from the different enterprise stakeholders – academia, industry and government. Having attendees from many career stages that have all followed different career paths will ensure a diversity of opinions on these complex issues.

For each recommendation, summit attendees will have four tasks. The attendees will: (1) determine exactly how much progress has already been made to implement the consensus recommendations; (2) identify the barriers that block complete implementation; (3) define specific people to approach and specific activities needed to overcome these barriers and (4) devise a timeline for completion of implementation. In addition, attendees will determine which, if any, recommendations need coordinated implementation to smooth any transition. Ultimately, this meeting will produce a detailed advocacy platform that the scientific community can use to initiate real change.

An important component of overcoming barriers to implementation is devising implementation metrics for each of the consensus recommendations. This will allow the community to evaluate the progress of implementation and determine if it should continue. Metrics can be designed to determine the beneficial effects of recommendations as well as detect any negative side effects. These negative side effects could include a disproportionate negative effect on specific populations such as small labs or programs.

While the above activities will take most of the time of the summit, attendees will also be asked to identify some of the most pressing issues that did not reach consensus. Some recommendations that were near consensus included capping the amount of salary a faculty member can charge to a grant, simplifying grant application requirements and creating terminal degrees other than a Ph.D.

The conversations around the eight consensus recommendations we identified should shift toward implementation, while those around other recommendations should continue. However, implementation of these eight consensus recommendations is only one important step in making essential changes to improve the sustainability of the research enterprise. We must also flesh out other important issues to move us closer to a sustainable research enterprise.

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