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Dr. Schaffer: Ensuring the future of science

April 2003

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has long been one of the world’s most respected authorities on scientific research. Its grants are among the most sought-after in the country and its support is often the foundation of a new discovery.

Without the NIH, thousands of ideas couldn’t become facts. And without NIH scientists like Walter T. Schaffer, Ph.D., hundreds of students couldn’t turn their dreams into research realities.

Dr. Schaffer is a 1978 graduate of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He now works as a research training officer at the NIH and was recently appointed acting director of the Office of Extramural Programs (OEP).

"As a research training officer, I focus on training and career development of scientists. As a director of OEP, I have a much broader focus – more generalized policies associated with all kinds of health-related research with specific concerns about research on human subjects, misconduct, and an endless variety of programmatic issues," Dr. Schaffer said.

Although the two positions increase the scope of his work, he said one of his greatest challenges is transitioning students from training positions to permanent careers. "Many scientists are in their mid to late 30s before they can take a permanent position at a research institute, in government or in academia. The lengthy period of training is a deterrent and federal agencies have a responsibility to address that problem," Dr. Schaffer said. "We can do that by improving the level of benefits available to students and post-docs and by making NIH intentions known about the duration of these positions."

He noted that students need to pursue their own career track as aggressively as they pursue their scientific research. His own career began with a staff fellowship for the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration. He joined the NIH 13 years ago and has enjoyed the challenges his career presents. "I interact with lots of different people and I spend a lot of time convincing and cajoling – this is not the stuff you typically learn in graduate school," Dr. Schaffer said. "But there is something new every day and that’s what makes this job so interesting."



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