In June, ASN hosted its first-ever PhD Summit. Chaired by ASN Physiology and Cell and Molecular Biology Advisory Group Chair Jeffrey H. Miner, PhD, and ASN President Bruce A. Molitoris, MD, FASN, the summit focused on identifying ways the society can advance PhD interest in kidney research and improve the environment for its PhD members.
Dr. Miner and Dr. Molitoris were joined by a diverse group of 16 PhDs. Participants included ASN members and nonmembers from academia, industry, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Prior to attending the summit, participants completed a survey to identify barriers to PhD trainees pursuing careers in nephrology research. The survey highlighted several common themes, including the perception of kidney research as less important and respected compared to other basic science or clinically relevant disciplines (such as cardiology and oncology), poor integration of renal physiology in student programs, and concerns about research funding.
Today, there is greater competition within NIDDK and across the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to secure research funding than in the past. Since the doubling of NIH’s budget ended in 2002, the agency’s budget has essentially been undoubled after adjusting for biomedical research inflation. As a result, research budgets have been slashed, programs have been axed, and grant application success rates have fallen from 31.2% of grants funded in 2002 to 17.6% of grants funded in 2012 (Figure 1). As a consequence, scientists are leaving the research field, and the best young minds may never enter the profession.
“Today there is a decline in PhDs entering kidney research, and that must change if we want to find a cure for kidney disease,” Dr. Miner said. “The purpose of the ASN PhD Summit was to figure out ways to do that. The list of participants was impressive. All of them are at the top of their professions, and all of them came to the summit with excellent ideas for generating more interest in kidney research.”
ASN Council commended the summit participants for developing a number of high-quality recommendations that it will soon consider. The list of recommendations includes ways to raise awareness about the kidney and research, foster entry into PhD careers in kidney research, and create a more welcoming environment for PhDs at ASN Kidney Week, the society’s annual scientific meeting.
“ASN represents the entire spectrum of kidney health professionals and scientists, including PhDs,” Dr. Molitoris said. “I am confident that the recommendations of the ASN PhD Summit will ensure that the society is meeting the needs of its PhD members. PhDs play a crucial role in achieving the mission of ASN to lead the fight against kidney disease. Their research unlocks the mysteries of how the kidney works and functions, which is key for identifying opportunities for better treatments and possible cures for kidney disease.”