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Extramural Update

NIEHS Leaders Reach out to Extramural Grantees

By Eddy Ball
May 2008

Wilson, left, and Suk conferred at one of their many joint visits to grantee meetings in recent months.
Wilson, left, and Suk conferred at one of their many joint visits to grantee meetings in recent months. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., and Acting Deputy Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., have experienced more than their share of lonely late nights and airline inconveniences in the past six months as they have visited NIEHS extramural grantees throughout the United States. Separately and together, Suk and Wilson have taken advantage of more than 20 opportunities to meet with grantees at meetings, at award ceremonies and on the grantees' home turf, where the visits extended as well to students and administrators at the department-chair, dean, provost and presidential/vice-presidential levels.

"These are people we have supported and made an investment in their research over many years," Suk said of the grantees, "and they in turn have supported the mission of the institute.... What we do as an institute and what grantees do as research and training organizations are parts of a cooperative effort: we need them to fulfill our mission, and they need us to support their research."

The meetings have ranged from the informal and coincidental - conversations over lunches and dinners and chance encounters - to a structured "Meet the Directors" session at the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting March 16 in Seattle. That session was a special opportunity for the leaders of major federal agencies, including NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, to engage in a panel discussion of emerging trends in toxicology research and its funding.

Wilson met March 17 with the executives of the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools at their annual meeting in New Orleans. He and Suk have also participated in other venues, such as Institute of Medicine symposia, where extramural grantees were presenting and attending, to spread the Office of the Director's (OD) message and plan to carry the message to future NIEHS Town Meetings.

Suk and Wilson are striving to reach grantees and administrators across the full spectrum of the extramural portfolio, including the centers, superfund, worker training, environmental justice, community-based participatory research, children's, oceans, Parkinson's and autism programs.

The visits are part of an ongoing, proactive effort that began in 2007 to reach out to members of the extramural community and their institutions' administrators with a message of program stability for the grantees' environmental health science (EHS) research and community outreach programs. "Our extramural grantees need many things," Suk observed, "including institutional support. Our visits are more than going to speak with an individual PI [principal investigator]; we are also going to speak with his or her administrators."

The OD team is using this busy agenda as a way to inform members of the extramural community about developments in the scope of the NIEHS mission, such as new NIH Roadmap initiatives. Wilson and Suk hope to anticipate the impact of budget plateau on grantees and their host institutions - as well as concerns among trainees and junior investigators about the future of the field of EHS.

The OD team's message of inclusion has sounded many times since one of the first of these outreach conversations in October 2007 at a meeting of the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Society much closer to home in Research Triangle Park. On that occasion, Wilson told his audience of grantees, young investigators, trainees and students, "In our portfolio, we like to think that there's room for everyone."

Wilson and Suk invite grantees to contact the Office of the Director by e-mail or phone (919-541-3201) to request site visits.

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