NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Turns 25

NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Turns 25

This year, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at the National Institutes of Health. OBSSR was enacted by Congress in 1993 and established two years later in July, 1995 to identify projects of behavioral and social sciences research that should be conducted or supported by the national research institutes and develop such projects in cooperation with such institutes, and to coordinate research conducted or supported by the agencies of the National Institutes of Health. Over the past 25 years, OBSSR has worked diligently to fulfill Congress’s charge, guided by three strategic plans during that time.

Working with the behavioral and social scientists across the NIH, OBSSR has identified and stimulated emerging behavioral and social science research areas highly relevant to the NIH mission. In many cases, OBSSR served as an incubator for the development of behavioral and social science research initiatives that were subsequently incorporated into the mission and objectives of the various NIH Institutes and Centers as these research areas matured. Among these initiatives were the Centers for Mind/Body Interactions and Health, Research on Understanding and Reducing Health Disparities, Systems Science, and Mobile Health.

Training the next generation of behavioral and social science researchers has been a priority of OBSSR. Soon after the office was established, OBSSR issued Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) for the development of short-term educational workshops for early career researchers. In July 2000, OBSSR and NHLBI collaborated on the first annual Summer Institute on Randomized Behavioral Clinical Trials, now in its 19th year. Extending on this annual training institute model, OBSSR, with its NIH and CDC partners, established the Institute on Systems Science and Health and the Training Institute for Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health (TIDIRH). OBSSR expanded these annual training institutes by supporting two R25 FOAs for Short Courses on Innovative Methodologies, one in 2013 and another in 2018. Recently, OBSSR sought to expand its training initiatives beyond these annual training institutes and released a T32 FOA on Predoctoral Training in Advanced Data Analytics for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and T32 administrative supplements to develop curricula that better integrates behavioral and social sciences with other health-related sciences. Both of these T32 initiatives will be awarded this year.

Beginning with the first OBSSR Director, Norman Anderson, the integration of behavioral and social sciences research within the larger NIH mission has been a priority of OBSSR. OBSSR has identified opportunities to integrate better the behavioral and social sciences across the various efforts of the NIH, particularly its larger, trans-NIH initiatives such as Blueprint and BRAIN Initiatives, All of Us, and the Helping End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) Initiative. Proactive efforts by OBSSR staff have been instrumental in ensuring that large trans-NIH initiatives incorporate behavioral and social sciences research within their objectives.

The behavioral and social sciences have made significant progress during the 25 years of OBSSR’s existence. Funding for behavioral and social sciences research continues to experience steady growth comparable to the growth of the overall NIH budget. Most NIH Institutes and Centers now have substantial research portfolios in the behavioral and social sciences, and all recognize the importance of this research to the public health of the nation and the world. Behavioral and social sciences have become more integral to the overall NIH research enterprise. Many challenges remain to encourage a more cumulative and integrated behavioral and social sciences research enterprise that extends from basic science through the adoption of approaches to improve the nation’s health, and OBSSR is well poised, working with our behavioral and social science colleagues across the NIH Institutes and Centers, to advance the science and meet the challenges in the years ahead.

To celebrate our 25th anniversary, we have a number of events planned. On June 8th, we plan to have our 13th NIH Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Sciences Honors. At that event, we will honor a distinguished scholar in the behavioral and social sciences as well as emerging scholars through the early stage investigators paper competition, which is now open for submissions through January 25, 2020. On December 1, 2020, we plan to hold our annual NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival. In previous festivals, we have highlighted recent research supported by the NIH, but for our 25th anniversary festival, we plan to highlight researchers who have produced an exceptional record of research, funding, and publications over the past decade or more. I hope you will join us in celebrating 25 years of OBSSR and the important role that the behavioral and social sciences play in mission of the NIH and the health of the nation.

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