Academic medicine is sometimes described as a three-legged stool, balanced on the legs of three missions–education, research, and clinical care. I would make the case that our stool has four legs, with the fourth being people development, encompassing not only the education of our students and trainees but also the career development of our faculty and staff. People development is about creating an environment where all can thrive, and it is the underpinning of our strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Over the past year, a group of faculty and leaders in Yale School of Medicine led by Deputy Dean Linda Bockenstedt has been considering the career development and trajectory of our faculty in the research ranks. Faculty on the research track play critical roles in advancing science within a laboratory or research group and, ultimately, within the school. Today our research rank faculty number 751 in total–573 associate research scientists (ARS), 142 research scientists (RS), and 36 senior research scientists (SRS). Forty-five percent of faculty in the research ranks in YSM are women, and 45%, 42%, and 8% of research rank faculty identify as Asian, white, or underrepresented, respectively.
The Research Rank Review Committee reviewed the history of research ranks at Yale since 1965 and surveyed our peer institutions regarding similar tracks. They identified other non-ladder track faculty, as well as staff positions, that support the research mission. The committee then surveyed our research rank faculty. The overall response rate was 53%, with response rates higher among RS (69%) and SRS faculty (78%). The survey revealed several important findings. First, there may be conflicting expectations for a faculty member on the research track. Many associate research scientists join the faculty after a trainee position with the goal of becoming an independent (ladder track) investigator. For them, the ARS position is a stepping stone to a ladder track appointment. Because the faculty appointed to this track “are engaged in scientific research in association with a faculty member or as a member of a research group,” they may become frustrated by a lack of autonomy to pursue their own work. Other research rank faculty aspire to a career as a critical member of a research team or of a vital resource, such as a core, without the pressure of garnering funding for their own program. Second, many research rank faculty would like to receive more mentoring or feedback. Related to this, faculty may be unclear on criteria for advancement and promotion. Lastly, because appointments and compensation for research faculty “are conditioned upon the availability of salary support from specified sources, including external research sponsors,” faculty may feel insecure about the stability of their careers.
To address these concerns, the committee recommends that offer letters for faculty entering the research track be revised to ensure a common understanding of expectations when a faculty member joins this track. They further recommend that we create a modified Faculty Development Annual Questionnaire for members of the research ranks, as regular conversations will help to align expectations. The YSM Executive Group, comprising chairs and deputy deans, has enthusiastically endorsed these recommendations.
Over the longer term, the committee recommends that we create resources to facilitate development along specific career trajectories. Examples of career trajectories might include a lab/project director with specific scientific expertise and direct research activities, a core member/director, and a research administrator. We plan to create a clearinghouse for research track faculty to learn about opportunities should they change laboratories. We will also create educational materials to enable candidates to compare the benefits of the research track versus professional staff positions so that candidates can choose the pathway that makes the most sense for them.
I would like to extend my thanks to the members of the committee, including Serap Aksoy, professor of epidemiology (microbial diseases); Kim Blenman, assistant professor of medicine (medical oncology); Richard Carson, professor of radiology and biomedical imaging and of biomedical engineering; John Elsworth, senior research scientist, Psychiatry; Jiankan Guo, research scientist, Internal Medicine (nephrology); Ruth Montgomery, professor of medicine and associate dean for scientific affairs; Lisa Petti, research scientist, Genetics; Lawrence Young, professor of medicine (cardiovascular medicine) and of cellular and molecular physiology; and David Zenisek, professor of cellular and molecular physiology, of ophthalmology and visual science, and of neuroscience.
Over the coming weeks, Deputy Dean Bockenstedt will be sharing the work of the committee with groups such as the Faculty Advisory Council. Our research track faculty contribute significantly to our research and education missions. I am grateful to the Research Rank Review Committee for ensuring that this group of faculty can thrive.
Nancy J. Brown, MD
Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine
C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine