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Supporting the Cancer Research Workforce

NCI develops and supports a cadre of exceptional scientists from a variety of disciplines across the career continuum, from high school students just starting to explore a career path to well-established cancer investigators. Having a community of researchers from diverse backgrounds and at all levels of expertise strengthens cancer research and its translation to patient care.

NCI offers a number of training opportunities at NCI offices and laboratories in Maryland (intramural) and funding mechanisms to support individuals and research teams (extramural) as they pursue new discoveries and technologies to overcome cancer. Scientists can apply for training, career development, and mentored research awards.

Training the Next Generation of Cancer Researchers

In 2019, NCI supported the training of more than 3,800 students and early-career scientists, ranging from the high school level through the postdoctoral years and beyond. In addition, fellowships are available in cancer prevention; the behavioral, epidemiologic, and genetic sciences; and in immunotherapy and technology transfer.

NCI promotes diversity in the cancer research workforce through several programs, including the Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) and Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity (PACHE) programs.

By ensuring that scientists are equipped to make discoveries and test novel ideas that advance cancer research and clinical care, NCI puts patients at the forefront of its efforts.

Increasing Investment in Early-Career Investigators

Scientists embarking on independent careers may face challenges that impede their success and make it difficult to remain in research. To address this issue, NCI supports early-career investigators (ESIs) in many ways.

The Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award provides up to 7 years of support to certain investigators who have their first R01 grant compared with 5 years of support for the traditional R01 grant. The MERIT Award offers investigators more stability to launch their careers, enables creativity and innovation, and provides a longer amount of time during which they can apply to renew their current grant and/or apply for new grants.

NCI is supporting more early-stage investigators than in the past with the goal of ensuring a robust pipeline of future cancer research leaders.

Supporting Established Investigators

NCI continues to support scientists who have an established record of productivity through a variety of funding mechanisms.

A large portion of NCI’s budget funds investigator-initiated research proposals that have undergone a rigorous peer-review process. This funding provides support to highly skilled scientists, working in their areas of expertise, who have submitted encouraging preliminary data. Much of the progress we have made against cancer to date had its origins in investigator-initiated research.

The institute also provides support through collaborative funding mechanisms, such as the Translational Research Program’s Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grants and Cancer Moonshot funding. Most awards made from NCI’s research project grant pool are awarded to established investigators following a rigorous peer-review process.