DP5 Early Independence Award: The NIH move to bypass postdoctoral training entirely

Oct 06 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

Wow. The NIH has issued RFA-RM-10-019 which sets out to bypass postdoctoral training and install lucky grantees as faculty straight out of the doctoral award.

This FOA issued by the National Institutes of Health, solicits applications for the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award (DP5) from institutions/organizations that propose to appoint and support exceptional, early career scientists directly following the completion of their Ph.D. (or equivalent) or M.D. (or equivalent) training into an independent academic research position, thereby omitting the traditional post-doctoral training period from their career path.

Sounds interesting. How about the details? My first concern is size and scope, given the bad NIH history with "starter" awards like the R29/FIRST award and study section cultures that expected an R21 before awarding a fundable R01 score.

This DP5 program is full modular R01 size- applicants can request up to $250,000 in direct costs per year for a full 5 years. Schweet! No worries on that score.

So who is eligible to be the PI?

At the time of application, the Early Independence PI must be within 12 months before or after the completion of their Ph.D. (or equivalent) or M.D. (or equivalent) training. By the end of the award period, the PI is expected to be competitive for continued funding of his/her research program and for a permanent research position.

Hmmm, "to be competitive...for a permanent research position". That sounds a bit dodgy to me. In the part about the application being "required" to demonstrate things, the following are key.

Evidence that the Early Independence PI will be appointed into an independent research position...A detailed description of the laboratory space to be provided...career enhancement opportunities available to the Early Independence PI, equivalent to those offered to assistant professors...opportunities for the Early Independence PIs to apply for additional research funding without being required to do so.

Soooo. The University has to pony up a non-permanent position that does not have to be at the assistant professorial rank and they have to let the person apply for additional funding. They have to do the usual claim about making space available and that yes, this is an independent position, blah de blah. It's okay. But c'mon. The NIH is planning on handing out what amounts to an R01 and couldn't be bothered to hold the University to an Assistant Professor appointment? When they can just deny the person tenure if they don't like them after the 5yr award interval?

Well, they only plan to hand out 10 of these this year and a local University can only submit two applications....get your requests in

48 responses so far

  • Namnezia says:

    So it's kind of like a super-postdoc. In Cold Spring Harbor, they have these Cold Spring Harbor Fellows where you get a temporary independent position right out of your PhD. The ones I knew either were later hired as faculty in-house or had problems finding TT positions. I think the problem is that having this independent position, as opposed to doing a postdoc, will make it harder for you to be productive, since you will not have the resources, knowledge base and critical mass that you would have when you do a postdoc in a well-established lab.

  • Dr Becca says:

    OK, so then a University has to make the decision that it's got lab space that will be better used by a superstar grad student/1st year post-doc than by one of the 200-ish post-docs with 5+ years experience who'd apply for a traditional Asst Prof position? I'm not saying it's impossible, but I don't really see how it necessarily benefits the institution.

    Also, who is this helping? If you're one of the top 10 graduates of a given year, you'd probably have a fine time getting a normal TT Asst Prof job after a "reasonable" (2-3 yrs) length post-doc, no?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Wow. I'll admit that I'm not the type of person who would even have be in the realm of competitive for this sort of thing, but if someone handed me keys to a lab (in a non-TT position) right out of my PhD, I think I would have driven that ship off a cliff faster than Thelma and Louise. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Do these require that the applicant be proposing to take this position elsewhere than where she earned her PhD? If not, then it's a total fucken scam.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I looked for that PP and could not see anything that required a move to another institution (unlike the K99/R00 seemingly requires or at least heavily prefers)

  • I love this requirement:

    [C]areer enhancement opportunities available to the Early Independence PI [must be] equivalent to those offered to assistant professors

    Yeah, all NONE of them.

  • Marcus says:

    Wait, what?

    Given the existence of the K99/R00, the R21 and the Ro1, what is the point of this new one? Am I missing something? Is this for the people who are too good or don't want to wait around for a K99/R00 but can't get an R01? Who is that exactly?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Marcus, there is bully-pulpit type value in the NIH coming out and saying "You know what Science of the 2010 decade? We gave a fuckload of scientists real jobs straight out of grad school back in 1973 and those mofos did just fine. This cultural requirement for postdoctoral training is bullshit."

    Prof-like, I have this reflexive feeling as well but I'm going to think on it for a little bit. Let it percolate around.

    Especially considering this can very well be a highly University-sheltered position for a favorite son/daughter of a powerful department.

    Dr Becca- yeah. much like the charge that has been directed at K99/R00 right? That these are the folks that would be able to succeed rapidly despite some new award. But how do you set up a specific program for people who, ahh, don't need the help...? This kind of gets back to my problem using the ESI/NI Program pickups and payline adjustments to avoid making systematic fixes at the study section level. I just don't like BandAid solutions to problems...

    The systematic fix, in this case of encouraging earlier hiring, would be for the NIH to set broad benchmarks for the time post-degree for Unis and say "we don't care how you hit the targets, but we will look at tenure track hires, advancement to tenure and full prof. Here's your baseline, here's your rate of improvement based on size, NIH funding, etc. If you don't hit your targets, we're going to reduce *each* of your existing and new awards by X%. Have a nice day"

  • physioprof says:

    The systematic fix, in this case of encouraging earlier hiring, would be for the NIH to set broad benchmarks for the time post-degree for Unis and say “we don’t care how you hit the targets, but we will look at tenure track hires, advancement to tenure and full prof. Here’s your baseline, here’s your rate of improvement based on size, NIH funding, etc. If you don’t hit your targets, we’re going to reduce *each* of your existing and new awards by X%. Have a nice day”

    AHAHAHAHAHAH!! Dude, have you forgotten the existence of this thing called "Congress", which does this think called "passing laws"?

  • drugmonkey says:

    since you are such an expert perhaps you can explain to us why the NIH can do the career-engineering that they are doing and yet cannot go any farther? emphasis on the former.

  • Dr. O says:

    I don't know. I've thought on this a bit, and it might be suitable for a grad student that has been around the block already...maybe someone who worked on a masters beforehand and was really productive during their first grad school stint? Even among the superstar grad students, I think it might be rare that one would even apply for such a thing. (I know I never would have even thunk it 5 years ago when I was finishing up my PhD.) But for a few older grad students with several publications, the right experience and independence, a good deal of maturity, and a LOT of balls, it might be worth it to think on something like this. Of course, I think time will only tell whether or not this is a utter failure or stroke of brilliance.

  • Malone says:

    This is crazy. Why can't they fix the K99/R00 and make it work first before stretching the resources too thin. If it can serve only <0.01% of the whole population, why distract with this new mechanism. Do they expect to lay a new track for future Nobel Laureates? Crazy, whoever came up with this idea.

    First of all they should fucking reduce the turn around time for the K99 mechanism which has the potential to help a lot more people.

    My 2 cents

    -M

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Sounds like something they should do in Bethesda.

  • I'm on the fence about this. Coming from a grad program in the land far, far away where PhD graduates typically go into a faculty position and set up their own independent research programs straight away, I can see some merit in this. However ... that's the way our grad programs were designed. The way the PhD programs and academic thingy is set up in the US, there is little room for fostering independence. I mean, really ... you have to wait for your committee to give you "permission to write" so how the fucking fuck are you going to come up with a 5 year plan for independent research with training like that?

    I can definitely see this ending up being used (and abused) by schools/PIs looking to promote Teh Golden Child.

    And what is the expectation re preliminary data? "Minimal", I'm guessing. Hahaha - yeah, "minimal" in the way that a metric fuckton is considered minimal for ESI/NI applicants.

  • Genie says:

    LOL Prof in Training!

  • ginger says:

    I'm with Malone on this one - if it's addressing the same problem as K99/R00, it's doing it for fewer people and with less protection for grantees.

    Could it also be intended as a way for a few lucky institutions to hang onto a superstar MD-researcher resident without requiring Superstar to write grants during the residency?

  • qaz says:

    Actually, I've seen lots of grad students go straight to faculty with great success. I've seen this in two places.

    First, in many fields, the top students regularly go straight on to faculty jobs. It's the arrogance of the biological fields that a postdoc is necessary that makes it necessary. But I know for a fact, that many fields successfully train their graduate students to run large labs and be top quality researchers and professors. This is definitely a field-by-field thing.

    Second, I have seen many graduate students go straight from grad school to small liberal arts schools and do just fine setting up labs, teaching classes, etc. You can argue that these people won't be competitive for grants or running labs, but I've seen them do breakthrough experiments with shockingly little money, often running better operations than large well-funded labs. So I disbelieve you. Several of the cases I know of are, in fact, actually NIH funded, even while teaching a massive number of classes per semester and without the kind of support that "research universities" supposedly give.

    Personally, I think NIH is still barking up the wrong tree. The place where people fall out of the pipeline is not the superstar graduate students who are going to do a 2-3 year postdoc and get five job offers that they have to decide between. The two places where people fall out of the pipeline are (1) the people who transfer from postdoc to postdoc for 10 years and get stuck as permanent postdocs and (2) people who don't get their second R01s and don't get tenure.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    qaz, do we have any data on the one-grant-and-out hypothesis? Do they come back later from a new institution do you think?

    Otherwise I agree with you about some people getting jobs from grad...Not just at SLACs either. And totally agree about the difficulties of thefull teaching load. And remember, the generation of the early 70s PhD wasn't so long ago. They did fine going straight into a job

  • physioprof says:

    since you are such an expert perhaps you can explain to us why the NIH can do the career-engineering that they are doing and yet cannot go any farther? emphasis on the former.

    If they start fucking with real constituent money, Congress will cut their fucken balls off. That's why.

    And remember, the generation of the early 70s PhD wasn’t so long ago. They did fine going straight into a job

    They did "fine" cause they were a buncha fucken white dudes who had no fucken competition for grants and high-impact publications.

  • Malone says:

    I guess everyone agrees postdoc period is optional and like 'dm' said the mofos from 70s did just fine. This idea of 10 DP5 grants per year across all institute is ridiculous and in a way implies that at present there isn't a single PhD graduate in the US going straight to a faculty position (which is not true). Isn't that what it means, given that they are going to fund 10 per year translating roughly to 0-1 grant per institute? This is a joke.

    Lots of institutes are funding K99 at < 15 priority score. Instead of creating this deep-shit DP5 grant, they could have considered adding an 1 additional K99 grant to institute.

    The silver lining is that (if we look reeaaaaaaaaaaaally closely), this DP5 grant may fall as a mechanism for early stage postdocs where as the k99 mechanism is for matured postdocs.

    -M

  • What is the likely turnaround time between submission and council review? Presumably this will only be a one-shot deal.

    And ... are we going to see an increase in students delaying their graduation in order to collect data for this grant. A good thing?

    With only n=10 of these on offer, are students from Prof Junior Mint's lab really going to have much of a chance over those coming from Prof Big Swinging Dick at Famous U? Or perhaps the reverse?

    Interesting times ahead.

  • EvoStevo says:

    "There is a shortage of faculty vacancies, and institutions often insist that recruits win independent funding before appointing them to tenure-track posts. And there is too little emphasis on alternative scientific careers, such as industry, law, teaching and policy." and this new grant addresses this how?

  • cathy says:

    i particularly enjoyed reading the comments. this new blog site with more "fucking" freedom is like watching hbo's curb your enthusiasm vs. nbc's seinfeld, content being the same high quality.

    props.

  • physioprof says:

    Isn’t that what it means, given that they are going to fund 10 per year translating roughly to 0-1 grant per institute? This is a joke.

    It's not a "joke"; it's a "test", to see what kind of applicants they get and what kind of applicants win the awards.

  • qaz says:

    DM asks "do we have any data on the one-grant-and-out hypothesis? Do they come back later from a new institution do you think? "

    My "data" comes something both Volkow and Landis said after the big "what's wrong with NIH" discussion that was held at SFN a few (five?) years ago. A bunch of us (maybe 20 people) stayed after the big meeting to talk to the institute directors who kindly hung out afterwards. Volkow said that NIDA had done an internal study on where people "dropped out" and that it was inability to renew the first R01 that was "the problem". Landis then agreed that that was what NINDS had found also. I've tried to find the study and have been unable to. (And I have to say I haven't cared enough to contact them directly to ask.)

    It also is consistent with what I've seen in my colleagues. The ones who I know who ran into this one-grant-and-out wall have gone on to industry or SLACs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Interesting qaz. Maybe we can aak NIGMS Dir. Berg if he knows of any analyses..

  • DrugMonkey says:

    And we must keep in mind that there are screening mechanisms all through the career. Some of them are fairer than others...

    Having reached the point of obtaining a NIH grant...well, it seems arguments about fairness are hard to mount.

  • Malone says:

    hey physioprof, isn't obvious who will be winning these 10 slots? we have seen many k99s awarded to guys at the end of first year of their postdocs. how is this different? this is a mere distraction.

    i've no problem that majority of these 10 slots will be filled by guys with very high quality publication and may be a few of them. it is expected these 10 guys are the cream of the crop. but imo, these exact same guys typically get a tt job straight out of PhD. now tell me what is the real purpose of these grant? this seems to target a very tiny select group who actually don't need the help.

    k99 mechanism is a far better idea and they should try to *actually* make it work.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What part of the K99/R00 is not working in your estimation, Malone?

  • Malone says:

    DM, like i said, imo k99 is a good mechanism. i think two main areas could be significantly improved: 1) time from first application to funding; this is too unfair for postdocs who are already in much of an uncertain stage. this long waiting is cruel (much like a pysch experiment) and should definitely be fixed to be effective. 2) no. of grants funded should be increased in most of the institutes. for institutes with just 4/5 grants per year, even adding one more grant is a significant addition.

    k99 has the potential to help ambitious postdocs who need help. if they have money to give out in the form of dp5, why don't they allocate to institutes with fewer k99 grants?

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    I agree with Malone. Rather than diffusion into several ineffective programs, this money should be used to shore up the K99 fund, where the paylines are painfully low in many ICs.

  • So I read this as evidence that there are fields in which one cannot get a tenure-track job without having gone through a post-doc. It's certainly not common in psych, but it's common enough among rising stars (the people who presumably would be supported by such grants). The folks I can think of who skipped post-docs were all supported by NSF grants, rather than NIH, but then I could only think of a few.

    So just curious -- which field allow you to skip post-docs?

  • Alex says:

    Second, I have seen many graduate students go straight from grad school to small liberal arts schools and do just fine setting up labs, teaching classes, etc. You can argue that these people won’t be competitive for grants or running labs, but I’ve seen them do breakthrough experiments with shockingly little money, often running better operations than large well-funded labs. So I disbelieve you. Several of the cases I know of are, in fact, actually NIH funded, even while teaching a massive number of classes per semester and without the kind of support that “research universities” supposedly give.

    Invite these people to give seminars in your department. Show the grad students and postdocs that there are more ways to have a career than the path of PhD->postdoc->glamour pubs->R1 university (preferably med school department with no undergrads to teach). And, at the same time, you'll get a seminar showing some nice science.

  • LadyDay says:

    Just saw these comments. They're more-or-less in keeping with my own thoughts. I say fund more F's, T's, and K's and forget this one. One smaller issue, but still an issue IMO (because these are people, too), is what happens to the folks who get hired as support staff on these new awards when the 5 years are up and there is no guarantee of a future position for the awardee?

    It just seems too poorly conceived for success. I could be wrong, but this doesn't seem to fix the systemic problem we have in academic biomedical research today. In fact, with no guarantee of a permanent position and the possibility that superstar PIs may push for the funding of their own proteges, it may make the problem worse.

  • pinus says:

    http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-11-013.html

    They just altered the announcement so that MD's are the end of their residence can apply for it.

    I read that as, they are giving this to MD's who want to do research.

  • Marcus says:

    So just curious — which field allow you to skip post-docs?

    Games, this is how it works as far as I know (I could be wrong):

    Chemistry - 1 required
    Physics - 1 if not 2 required
    Psychology - Not required but becoming increasingly more common depends on subfield
    Neuroscience - 1 required

    I think the general pattern is that (wet)lab and natural science areas tend to require it. As you move towards behavioral and social science it becomes less common. Psychology is interesting because it is very much in flux. I've met folks who got very good R1 jobs (in the 80s) not only without a postdoc but without any publications. Either way, there are a lot of interesting cross field differences in how things work.

  • Malone says:

    Majority of PhDs in engineering don't do postdocs and they also make a big money. Lucky fuckers!

  • DSKS says:

    I say suck it and see if it sucks.

    The introduction of the mechanism does, however, appear to contradict the NIH's intent K99/R00 awards. These demand "further scope for training" for someone who is already supposedly two years minimum into a postdoc and therefore had more training than the freshly minted PhD getting a bump through on this new mechanism.

    For consistency, they might as well ditch the K99 component and let the highflyin' postdocs take a straight stab for independence.

  • Rosewater never is out of favor.

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