March 09, 2021

Van Hollen, Blumenthal Introduce Legislation to Support Young Scientists By Preventing the Loss of Research Talent During & Beyond the Pandemic

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and a group of their Senate colleagues in introducing legislation to support early-career researchers whose employment opportunities have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act would create a new postdoctoral fellowship program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), prioritizing researchers from underrepresented groups and Minority-Serving Institutions to prevent the loss of research talent due to job market disruptions caused by the economic decline during and after the pandemic. This pandemic has exacerbated the research funding opportunity gap that already existed and significantly impacts Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In 2018, HBCUs received less than 1% of all federal R&D funding that went to institutions of higher education.

“Scientific research is crucial to spurring innovation that ultimately creates jobs, drives our economy, and saves lives. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn to slow the pipeline of up-and-coming researchers, particularly at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions, who have been most negatively impacted by the fallout from the pandemic. This legislation will help ensure that we don’t fall behind and that the United States continues to lead the world in research and development,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“This bill creates a new NSF postdoctoral fellowship program to support the next generation of STEM talent,” said Senator Blumenthal. “STEM researchers who are just starting out in their careers, especially women and minority groups traditionally underrepresented in this field, have been hit hard by COVID-related lab closures, funding shortages, and lost job opportunities. Through this program, Congress can support talented scientists and continue to invest in American innovation. This is a win-win and I encourage my colleagues to join this effort.”

“The pandemic has disrupted everyday life and made it even more difficult for early career researchers pursuing STEM fields - especially for women and minority researchers who already faced substantial barriers in these fields,” said Senator Hirono. “This bill will create essential opportunities at the National Science Foundation so that the next generation of scientists can continue to advance in their careers.”

“This pandemic has proven how crucial STEM skills are to the future of our country – but many of our young scientists’ careers have been adversely affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Brown. “In times of crisis, we have to make sure that equitable opportunities are afforded to postdoctoral scholars in STEM fields, which were already woefully underrepresented by women and especially women of color, well before the pandemic. This bill does that.”

“I’m proud to join Senator Blumenthal in introducing the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act,” said Senator Coons. “This bill will help talented young scientists struggling to find work during the pandemic secure research positions and support America’s leadership in scientific innovation.”

The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Chris Coons (D-DE). A similar bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in January by House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK).

The bill has been endorsed by the Association of American Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, the American Mathematical Society, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the National Postdoctoral Association.

The full text of the legislation can be found here.