Early career biomedical researchers struggle to secure grants simply because older investigators apply for more

The fact that biomedical grants tend to go to older researchers has largely been blamed on systemic biases that favour established investigators and this has led to programmes to support young scientists. However, a new analysis from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other US government agencies suggests that this premise could be wrong.

The report found that the NIH has funded older and younger grant applicants at a similar rate when it comes to R01 grants – the bread-and-butter of NIH support. Research funding has become more competitive for all age groups, but fewer younger investigators are applying for these grants while the number of older investigators submitting proposals is higher than ever before, explains report co-author Misty Heggeness.

Heggeness and her co-authors found that the number of researchers under 40 applying for and winning these grants has dropped over the years, but there has been a concurrent increase of nearly 40% in the number of researchers aged 60 to 64 vying for these awards between 2005 and 2014. Grant winners in this older age group grew by more than 30%, while the number of such grants awarded to those aged 40 to 44 shrunk by 9.5%, and for those aged 45 to 49 it fell by more than 22%. The biggest increase in applications from an age group was the over 70s at over 110%.