Faculty Recruitment by Trolling K99 Awards

Sep 22 2014 Published by under Academics, Careerism

Remember back in high school (for USians) how you received a deluge of college recruitment literature just after your PSAT and SAT scores hit the streets? Maybe I'm misremembering but it seemed as though colleges (and the Armed Forces) had access to the databases somehow and could target their recruiting.

I have heard rumour of search committees sending out letters to recent K99 awardees and inviting them to apply for open faculty positions.

Anyone else hearing anything like this?

29 responses so far

  • anonymous postdoc (shrewshrew) says:

    Jesus, they really want to siphon off those total costs, don't they?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Maybe it is just a marker for excellence. Kind of like high test scores in high school indicate a University would like that child to consider attending.

  • rs says:

    didn't hear about direct recruitment so far, but my department specifically looks for these K awardees for junior level faculty positions. No chance of getting hired otherwise, unless you belong to the chair or dean's group.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yes, the drumbeat for "with money" gets louder and louder. Interesting times.

  • anonymous awardee says:

    Yep.

  • SDA says:

    Yep. I got one from a decent east coast school about 6 months into my K99. I was very surprised! although I did not apply there, it was not a terrible plan B. I did end up in a good school and been here 6mo. What i have seen in the middle of a significant recruitment drive is that you do get shortlisted if you have a k99. Here we got nice start-ups whether or not we came with a k but other places they do shortchange you a bit!

  • rxnm says:

    Good strategy for soft money places in coastal cities...if you're shitcanning underfunded mid-career people and/or sitting on giant empty lab buildings, you could start trolling multi-R01 holders in flyover states. I'll bet there are people who would trade tenure for a Trader Joe's nearby.

  • anonymous postdoc (shrewshrew) says:

    I dispute that it is a marker for excellence, because I do not have one. I have a lot of friends who do, and they are great, but mostly we agree that it is a marker for how senior the mentoring PI is.

    The data do not suggest that R00 translates into R01, no? I assume this reflects a "bird in the hand" approach about grant funding at hiring institutions, which is valid, I guess, as a way to ensure that some money will be brought to the institution.

    It just seems like a...cheesy? way to go about recruitment. Like "We don't care about anything you do except that you are going to give us ~60% of $249K a year for three years!"

  • kevin. says:

    Just be aware that not all states allow Trader Joe's to sell alcohol. As always, get it in writing.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I dispute that it is a marker for excellence, because I do not have one. I have a lot of friends who do, and they are great, but mostly we agree that it is a marker for how senior the mentoring PI is.

    so it has to be a perfect correlation to be a marker?

    are you people sure you are scientists? this confusion about correlation seems to come up a lot.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The data do not suggest that R00 translates into R01, no?

    Um. What are you smoking and where do we get sommadat?

    Berg posted some numbers at Datahound and there were plenty of R01s being awarded to R00s. Of course, there is a breakdown in that there is no obvious and easily defined control group so we can't say whether the hit rate is lower, higher or the same. But if you have some seat of the pants idea of the struggles of junior faculty well, you are going to bet that the R00 helps.

  • Rheophile says:

    I suspect department intent shows through. If you are a good fit that they found via trolling K99 awardees, they can find someone to email you and make a solid case suggesting you apply. If they just view faculty members as grant machines, well.. that might be a little obvious, and insulting. I know times are tough, but if I were a K99er I'd think twice about taking a job like that. "I don't want to belong to a club that will only accept people like me as a member."

  • Ola says:

    In middle school I got trolled to sit the entrance exam at the local private college, did it for a laugh, got a full scholarship. What was in it for the school? Having a "look at the local poor kid we enabled to go to college" story.

    Provided these kangaroo recruitees are negotiating decent long term packages (tenure clocks etc) I see nothing wrong with the approach. The danger is when exploitation is the name of the game - one only has to look at high school/college football to see how overzealous recruiting leads to abuse. The more kangaroo recipients know about this game, the better, so I applaud DM's bringing it to everyone's attention. It's the kinda thing anyone should have been able to guess was happening anyway, but I bet there are a few kangarooers out there who thought "ooh lucky me" when that letter arrived.

  • rxnm says:

    "Berg posted some numbers at Datahound and there were plenty of R01s being awarded to R00s. Of course, there is a breakdown in that there is no obvious and easily defined control group so we can't say whether the hit rate is lower, higher or the same."

    Well, there's a control in the sense that R00s should be mopping the floor with similarly-situated non-R00 hires. Otherwise what's the point?

  • K99er says:

    Rxnm - My R00 is for two years. After indirect costs, it is about $160,000/yr. Then 10% of my salary and benefits comes out of that (because I negotiated it down from 25%). This money obviously helps a lot, but it isn't "mopping the floor" kind of money. Having taken a job at a midwestern school with a good, but not great, startup package, it actually almost puts me on equal footing with friends who got hired at east coast schools or at schools in Texas. Point is, even though my lab's doing great, this "mopping the floor" expectation is a little unfair. This might actually be why the correlation between R00 and R01 is not so great.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    This is obviously anecdotal, but I have seen a bad tendency of study sections to hold R00 awardees to a more stringent "productivity" standard when applying for their first R01. Supposedly this is part of why they shitcanned the R29 FIRST program: too little money to really move the needle in the lab, and leads to bad study section behavior that hinders obtaining real sizable grants. I have heard HHMI Early Investigators make the same complaint.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That wouldn't shock me. Study sections can be irrational on such things. To beat my 2nd oldest drum- CSR needs more newbs on their panels.

  • anonymous postdoc (shrewshrew) says:

    Right. This was my point. Study sections are not treating the R00 as some Get Out of Jail Free card; instead, the scuttlebutt suggests quite the opposite, that people are expecting miracles. So the R00 is only a guarantee of the indirects off the total costs provided by the R00, not of future R01 funding - though departments might be behaving as though it were.

    The Datahound posts in question give a circa ~50% probability (depending on whether it is a male or female K99er, sigh) of that person obtaining an R01 within 7 years of the original K99 - so 5ish years after first faculty appointment, generously (this was based on early cohorts, where people sometimes did less than a year of K99 before asking to activate the R00 - POs frown on this now). Is this better or worse than the average tenure track appointee? I don't think we have any data. But 50% is hardly a guarantee to the hiring department, while at the same time the institution happily takes indirects off of that R00. (I really think it is the fact that the R00 is total costs rather than direct costs that causes mismatch between expectations and reality.)

    Anyway, if this is all to get people who are definitely gonna bring in indirects in the future, institutions should only be contacting male K99 holders, which the data suggest have a significant, 15% lead on female K99 holders in terms of future R01s attained. Are we advocating that?

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    If the same were true for early career foundation grants (usually low overhead) then it would indicate that those Univs/depts intend to hire candidates doing good, fundable science (again, not a sure shot marker but still). If they are only inviting K99 folks then their eyes are probably on the indirects. Of course, a huge caveat is that foundations don't have searchable databases like RePORTER that search committees can troll. If somehow this comparison could be tracked (say by talking to shortlisted candidates), it would be insightful.

  • Dave says:

    A colleague of mine constantly receives recruitment letters from institutions in the US and abroad. He is a more established associate prof with a single R01, but I still thought this was unusual. He showed me one recently and it was very personalized, and mentioned his specific grants and pubs. It's a bit creepy and so far he has not been tempted.

  • Dave says:

    If the same were true for early career foundation grants (usually low overhead) then it would indicate that those Univs/depts intend to hire candidates doing good, fundable science (again, not a sure shot marker but still)

    I have a poor mans career development K that pays low indirects (8% here) for the duration of the award (compared to R00 phase), and I can assure you that nobody is knocking on my door.

  • Established PI says:

    We don't troll for K99ers and we don't use funding as a criterion for inviting candidates for interviews. There is a small plus factor for demonstrating the ability to write a successful grant application, but since it is hard to tell how much help the person had from their PI, it doesn't weigh heavily. I confess we were impressed the time we had a candidate who had gotten their own R01 while still a postdoc, but in the end it was the papers, job talk and interview that got them the offer (in addition to the fact that the PI was quite emphatic that the grant was entirely the postdoc's ideas and initiative). The bottom line is that we take the long view and look for people with the best prospects for long-term success both scientifically and in obtaining funding.

  • DJMH says:

    He showed me one recently and it was very personalized, and mentioned his specific grants and pubs.

    Whereas, the K99 solicitation letter I received could well have been a form letter: "Congratulations on your successful K99. We think you'd be a great fit in this department." I thought this was creepier, because of the patent insincerity.

  • toto says:

    "Just be aware that not all states allow Trader Joe's to sell alcohol. As always, get it in writing."

    Since we are on the really important subject, could someone explain why in MA you can find booze in Trader Joe's, but not in Shaw's/Star Market/Stop and Shop?

  • lurker says:

    Yep, I got several faculty position solicitations after the NOA of my K99. And vendors too, to illustrate how much Reporter trolling is going on.

    And CPP's comments are more than anecdotal, they are true in my pile of pink sheets, the expectations are way overboard on my R01 attempts (not enough productivity), whereas my other contemporary noobs without R00s have gotten their first R01 more easily.... the double-edge sword of the R00....

  • Eli Rabett says:

    "Just be aware that not all states allow Trader Joe's to sell alcohol. As always, get it in writing."

    Shit, in Montgomery County MD they can't sell booze because everything has to go through the county warehousing and extortion operation.

  • radscientist says:

    @toto, not all trader joe's in Massachusetts have alcohol! Mine doesn't. I've heard a rumor that only two of any given store in Mass are allowed to sell alcohol, so if the Shaw's or whatever near you isn't one of them, no luck. Mysterious puritan blue laws.

    As for the actual subject of this post, as a postdoc (who has an NRSA but is aged out of the K99 pool as a result of many factors including a foreign postdoc, an advisor with a problem with women, and a lot of family trauma), it can be pretty frustrating to keep hearing the implicit assumption that the only postdocs worth hiring for faculty are the ones with K99 awards, when the restrictions on the K99 seem to really shrink the eligible pool. I'm trying not to be bitter, but a requirement for having amazing papers relatively soon in your postdoc seems to favor those who, for example, went to a lab and got in on a project that was already underway, or maybe didn't deviate far from their graduate training and so really hit the ground running, as opposed to someone who tried to apply their skills to an entirely new field and come up with a novel way of synthesizing the two or solving new problems, which is invariably going to take longer. I'm not even necessarily saying both should be eligible for K99 awards, not everything in the world is fair, but I do think that the first group is not the only one we want our faculty to come from.

    Also, if anyone can explain to me why you can be in a foreign lab and receive an NRSA, an R01, and the R00 phase of a K99, but you can't be in a foreign lab during the mentored K99 phase, I would love to hear it.

  • thorazine says:

    radscientist - you can't take your R00 abroad (though for all I know exceptions may have been made).

  • TeaHag says:

    A'hm, "money sticks to money" is what my mother told me.

    Many institutions (read new chairs/chiefs with funding packages) feel that evidence of current independent external funding, regardless of level- RO0, K etc. is better than nothing as a marker for future success. Accept the invitation to interview if offer, and evaluate on the merits.

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