Jul 27 2012
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Toward a New Generation of PHSSR Researchers

Developing the next generation of researchers who will examine how the organization, financing and delivery of public health services affect population health is the goal of a new funding opportunity — the Mentored Research Scientist Development Awards — from the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The goal of the grants is to provide relevant information to public health practitioners and policy-makers, which is critically needed to help to improve the quality, efficiency and equity in public health practice, and the nation’s health.

The grants are aimed at supporting early-career investigators for two years for up to $100,000 per scholar. The grants will help the investigators establish independent research careers in PHSSR, and are designed to enhance the researchers’ career development experiences, help them attain advanced research skills in PHSSR and position them for other funding opportunities.

“Solid, relevant research requires that we attract the best and brightest minds to our discipline,” said F. Douglas Scutchfield, M.D., director of the National Coordinating Center for PHSSR, which is funded by RWJF and housed at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. “We must accelerate, encourage and support a new generation of PHSS researchers, and [these new grants] are designed to bring outstanding scholars to the field and provide them with the support and resources they need to become the next research leaders in PHSSR.”

NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Scutchfield recently, about creating this new generation of PHSSR scholars.

NewPublicHealth: Who are you trying to attract with the Scientist Development Awards?

Dr. Scutchfield: The notion is to identify some rising superstars in public health services and systems research and to help them make the transition to more senior scholars from their current situation.

NPH:  So, where might they be in their careers right now?

Dr. Scutchfield: They would be probably three to six years post PhD or relevant doctoral degree, essentially at the stage where they were preparing to or beginning to make their transition from assistant to associate professor.

NPH:  How is the decision being made?

Dr. Scutchfield: It will be juried, very much like an NIH process. We will send out the grants for technical review, and the technical reviewers will score those proposals. The National Advisory Committee will review those and make a recommendation to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who will then make the final decision for funding. We anticipate that we’ll notify the recipients of the rewards in October and that they’ll be able to start in December of 2012.

NPH: What research categories are important to fund for PHSSR?

Dr. Scutchfield: The recently published PHSSR research agenda is the best place to look. The research agenda is centered on the four major areas in PHSSR including workforce, financing, organization and structure, and data and information systems. We anticipate that the scholars will respond to the research agenda.

NPH: What are critical components you’d like to see in the applications?

Dr. Scutchfield: In addition to a good proposal from the scholars, several goals will obviously be important. First is that a research mentor is committed to working with the researcher on their activities. The second is we’re looking for the awardees to have a connection not only to an academic mentor but also to a practice mentor. Someone who can help them understand the implications for practice and the capacity and interest in disseminating the results appropriate for practice and to modify practice. And the third aspect is that we anticipate some degree of institutional commitment, so we’re asking them for a matching portion of the scholar’s salary in order to support protected time for the research that they need to do in order to grow and develop those senior researchers.

We’re really interested in seeing the extent to which the institution is committed to the career development of the scholars. My previous experience has been that when an institution has a commitment to young people and their development of young people that we see those individuals develop. But if that kind of support and encouragement is not there, it’s infinitely harder to see the researcher make the transition to a more senior status.

Tags: PHSSR, Q&A