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Senate to discuss Career Development Awards and lab safety culture today

The Faculty Senate will consider action on a measure that would allow a modest extension of the university's policy on principal investigator eligibility as it relates to postdoctoral fellows in the School of Medicine. Members also will hear a preliminary report on a review of Stanford's lab safety culture.

At its meeting today, the Faculty Senate will consider a proposal to extend the definition of "Career Development Awards" on a trial basis to an initial National Institutes of Health RO1-type grant, in order to enhance and advance the training and competitiveness of a select group of MD and PhD postdoctoral trainees as they seek their first academic posts.

Specifically, the proposal would allow for a modest increase in RO1-type grant applications (and awards) from Stanford's MD and PhD degree-holding postdoctoral trainees.

In December 2010, the senate approved a proposal to implement and evaluate a School of Medicine request for "trial period" exceptions to Stanford's policy on Principal Investigator (PI) eligibility – and to evaluate the effectiveness of those exceptions for four years.

The exception allowed School of Medicine clinical fellows and postdoctoral fellows holding MD or MD/PhD degrees to submit one proposal for a traditional, investigator-initiated research award.

"We suggest that the current trial period, beginning in 2010, which has pertained only to clinical fellows and MD postdoctoral fellows, has provided sufficient information and lessons learned to consider extending eligibility to a highly selected group of exceptional PhD postdoctoral trainees at the School of Medicine," physics Professor Peter Michelson, chair of the Committee on Research, wrote in a May 1 letter to the senate.

The proposal said the transition to independence for postdoctoral scholars in biomedicine is now significantly longer and more difficult, due in part to the ongoing national economic downturn and to the flat budgets of national science funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

"Some exceptional postdoctoral trainees, both at Stanford and elsewhere, have the scientific credential and experience to be productive PIs by the later years of their postdoctoral or instructor training periods," the proposal said.

The new proposal, which amends the 2010 proposal, adds another four years to the evaluation process, which will be monitored by the Committee on Research and Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research at Stanford.

"We believe that the current evaluation and selection process can be used to identify exceptional PhD trainees eligible for this expanded exception program, and that the proposal will allow us to gather data about the effectiveness of this program that addresses a unique career development challenge," Michelson wrote. "We think the trial period will permit an assessment of the usefulness of the exception and an informed recommendation at its conclusion about whether it should be continued."

Michelson's letter, as well as a School of Medicine markup of the proposal and a final version of the five-page proposal, can be found on the Faculty Senate website.

In addition to Michelson and Arvin, Harry B. Greenberg, director of Spectrum, the Stanford Center for Clinical and Translational Research and Education, will present the proposal.

Advancing the culture of lab safety

The senate also will hear a presentation on some of the preliminary findings of the Task Force for Advancing the Culture of Laboratory Safety at Stanford University.

The task force, which was convened in October 2013, held eight town hall meetings to solicit thoughtful and scholarly input from the Stanford community on the current state of the safety culture in research labs and how it might be improved.

The 12-member task force also created a Community Input Questionnaire and conducted the Stanford Laboratory Safety Culture Survey in February and March.

The co-chairs of the task force are Bruce Clemens, a professor of materials science and engineering and a professor of photon science at SLAC; Robert Waymouth, a professor of chemistry; and P.J. Utz, a professor of medicine.

The senate meeting will begin at 3:15 p.m. in Room 180 of the Law School.

Discussion is limited to members of the senate, but members of the Stanford community may request to attend the meeting by contacting the Academic Secretary's Office at (650) 723-4992 or Trish Del Pozzo at delpozzo@stanford.edu.