Question of the day

Jun 29 2015 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH, NIH Careerism

What percentage of K99 should fail to transition to the R00 phase in a healthy system?
What percentage of those that go to R00 should fail to ever gain major independent funding as a PI? 

38 responses so far

  • physioprof says:


  • drugmonkey says:

    Is it not a waste if these favored few do not go on to awesome careers as grant funded scientists PP?

  • dsks says:

    But fund the peepleZ!!!;

  • pinus says:


  • Dr Becca says:

    I don't know anyone in my field who didn't convert their K99 into an R00.

  • I-75 scientist says:

    It's hard to be unbiased holding one; but I think the number should be a low percentage for K99 to R00 phase. One has to have be given a good chance to succeed of productive enough during K and secures a position.
    As the R00 to R01, I don't see why that should be much (yes there should some consideration starting a lab) different than anyone after their R01. Once a new PI gets an R01 isn't a waste of they can't renew or get another? If someone didn't have some success with the K99/R00 why should we assume they'll do better with the R01. Besides there are indie labs for those that fail when given a good chunk of money.

  • Ola says:

    If the K99/R00 selection process were a little more objective to begin with, then I'm all for a high attrition rate at the cut point. But having had several trainees fail to get them on the basis of BS stock critiques, it seems there's already selection going on at the inlet. Thus, the % who go on from there ought to be high. In other words, if'n you got a K award, you gotta be pretty dumb not to convert it to R. There's a lot of good people not getting the K to begin with.

  • DJMH says:

    Zero percent failure. These people are geniuses amongst us.

    Good looking, too.

  • DJMH says:

    Not to derail, but will this new overtime rule apply to postdocs?

  • newbie PI says:

    Note to Ola's trainees: Get the famous lady down the hall to be your co-mentor.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    K99 to R00 should be approximately as high as K99 to faculty position, right? Seems like that's the supposed point of the "pathway to independence." R00 to independent funding should be no higher than the cohort of equivalently awesome new PIs that do not have a K99. Of course, in a healthy system do we really need the K99 (assuming we need it anyway)?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I'm with pinus. I think we need a nonzero failure rate to prove we're taking on risk.

  • jim says:

    What if that 10% are successful k99ers bailing out/lured to industry sorry "alt careers"? How will you know the failure rate isn't a false negative? Kinda conceited to assume everyone must want to proceed :-p

  • chemstructbio says:

    In reading the K99 PA, an “alternative career” does not seem to be what the NIH defines as the purpose (= success) for the K99 mechanism:

    The purpose of the NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) program is to increase and maintain a strong cohort of new and talented, NIH-supported, independent investigators. This program is designed to facilitate a timely transition of outstanding postdoctoral researchers from mentored, postdoctoral research positions to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions, and to provide independent NIH research support during the transition that will help these individuals launch competitive, independent research careers.

  • Philapodia says:

    Peg the R00 to the awarding IC's R01 payline, help the R99'ers learn early that life is disappointment. Better yet, last man/woman-standing cage match, thunderdome style.

  • I-75 Scientiest says:

    No worries there. Some of us have enough life experience to know that anyone that says different is selling something, Philapodia. And TBH I think a cage match sounds like a more fair method...

  • Newbie PI says:

    Unlike Ola, I tend to believe that the K99ers get their awards because in addition to being great scientists with good track records, they also learned how to manage all the BS that goes into putting together an outstanding application package. That said, if you were competitive for a K99, then you should be competitive for a faculty position, so I think there should be a very low rate of failure to transition to the R00. Of course there will always be the occasional Perlstein who is unable to bear the thought of working at a state school and so they self-select out of the system. The transition from R00 to R01 is a bit more tricky. I tend to agree with other commenters that it should be at the same rate as new PIs without R00s. You might expect that the financial boost provided by the R00 should make obtaining an R01 easier. However, as we've talked about on this blog before, the study section expectations for the productivity of an R00 holder is unreasonably high and so there is a counterbalancing force that may make it even harder for this group to get an R01. My anecdotal experience with my cohort of K99ers is that among the entire group who are all 3-4 years into their faculty positions, only one has successfully competed for an R01, and she got it immediately in her first year and had to give up the R00 due to overlapping goals.

  • Newbie PI says:

    Also just wanted to make something clear to those commenting here... The K99 and R00 really are awarded together. It is one award. "Activating" the R00 is in no way a competitive process. You need a tenure track faculty position, a letter from your department chair saying you have lab space and a startup fund, and a short progress report on the K99 phase and summary of your R00 aims. It goes to administrative review and I've never heard of one that didn't get approved.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Well you do need to secure a job. I'd say it is okay that some fraction decide they don't want to be faculty after all and ok if some fraction cannot get a job despite trying.

  • zb says:

    "ok if some fraction cannot get a job despite trying."

    Are there really K99 folks who don't get a R00-acceptable job, in spite of trying? I'd guess there are those who don't want to take the job available to them (and not just because they don't want to go to State U, but also for family or location reasons). But since the criteria for K99's aren't all that different than those for hiring committees, I'd be surprised if someone didn't find a job at all (though changing economics between the two periods, not applying to the enough jobs, being personally difficult, . . .) might mean a small drop off.

  • drugmonkey says:

    As we have been recently seeing revealed in full on Twitter, it is occasionally the case that an AnnointedOne has such a toxic personality that no hiring committee would possibly make an offer.

  • dsks says:

    "But since the criteria for K99's aren't all that different than those for hiring committees,"

    Yeah, but hiring committees have to consider fit and available startup resources, too. I could imagine a K99er on the market looking for a place to get an expensive and perhaps niche program up and running but finding their options limited because the few institutions that would be appropriate simply aren't hiring at that moment.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    "What if that 10% are successful k99ers bailing out/lured to industry sorry "alt careers"?"

    I know at least two people who chose to move to industry and ditched their Kangaroos after the K99 phase.

  • Fly Sci says:

    I wouldn't be surprised if the number of K99ers who fail to get a job goes up despite a relatively good job market right now. There's a shift in thinking occurring among young scientists where everyone thinks they need to be the 1%, i.e., at the 10 most-famous institutions and publishing in the Nature/Cell journals. You can see it in the way all the middle class journals are dropping in impact factor every year and I can see it in the fact that my department is getting hardly any applications for our open faculty positions, even though we're an R1 medical school with some really heavy hitters. I hear about Penn and UCLA getting 400 applications for similar positions, while we got about 40. I can only assume it's because we are not on the coasts. A smart K99er should realize that the big Universities in flyover country have the same or better resources, a broader base for collaboration, and much better odds for tenure. Plus, you might actually have a chance of getting the job if you apply. Plus, you can afford to buy a house.

  • AnonNeuro says:

    "But since the criteria for K99's aren't all that different than those for hiring committees, I'd be surprised if someone didn't find a job at all."

    Faculty jobs include face-to-face interviews, plus additional factors (teaching, service, collegiality, etc.). I could see candidates who do well by one set of metrics and not by the other. Non-native speakers may be at a disadvantage for faculty jobs, even with a K99 in hand.

  • fjordmaster says:

    "A smart K99er should realize that the big Universities in flyover country have the same or better resources, a broader base for collaboration, and much better odds for tenure."

    Fly Sci, this won't be the case if Germain has his way. In all seriousness, one non-science reason for the lack of applicants could be a two-body problem. My non-scientist wife's occupation is geographically limited so I could not apply widely. A few others in my cohort had similar constraints, so they only considered a few coastal locations.

  • Socal dendrite says:

    To reply to zb: "Are there really K99 folks who don't get a R00-acceptable job, in spite of trying?"

    Yes, someone from my previous lab had exactly this happen. Just anecdata, but here's the details if you're interested:

    Ze could not have tried harder imho but ze had the misfortune to be applying for faculty jobs several years ago when the job market was at its worst, and to be in a neuro subfield that requires some specialized resources. Ze had an excellent publication record for our field with any first author papers in good journals (though no C/N/S) and ze is also very personable and good to work with. Ze applied to everywhere appropriate for three consecutive years and came v close at several places. Ze ended up taking another postdoc/staff scientist position elsewhere, even though ze had already been a postdoc for ~8 yrs. The whole thing made me very sad, and contributed to my own decision not to pursue a faculty position.

  • jim says:

    I love the assertion that applicants are skipping Flyover State U for reasons of intellectual snobbery. How about the simple fact that those universities are far from stable oases of science serenity? I'd consider Wisconsin about the safest Flyover U one could find, but what k99er would feel confident about putting down roots there today? I certainly would be hesitant. The kids aren't always as ignorant and snobby as you presume.

  • Spike Lee says:

    zb: I know of one K99 awardee who deliberately chose to take a teaching-focused TT position at a SLAC - and so could not bring along the R00. Not a failure to launch -- just a decision to take a different career track than he'd initially planned.

  • I had a K99 and went to Canada, so not eligible for R00. I know several other Canadian PIs who had K99 too.

  • Susan says:

    From the hiring committee side, we have declined to interview and offer to several k99ers, as it was clear that the award was really just another jewel in the mentor's crown, and that the candidate had no legs of their own. That effect would increase failed-to-convert grants.

  • jmz4 says:

    Susan, I got dinged on my k99 for not providing a way to differentiate myself from the PI(s). At lrast some SSs take that criteria seriously. Addressing it helped bump me up several points.
    Anecdotally, I'd say the only kangeroos I know who didn't transition went to industry.
    For many of us the K99 is our first experience with real grant review and about the time our PIs actually start talking about it. Its arbitrary nature can put a lot of people off, and your PIs anecdotes generally don't help.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    A related question, what percent of 2nd time R01 applicants should fail to get renewed?

  • Jacob says:

    These guys claim 'almost 90%' transitioned from K99 to R00:

    Similarly, they claimed that 60% of K99-ers had R-grant. That's very high, given that the program only started in 2007.

  • drugmonkey says:

    "2nd time"? You mean a competing renewal of a specific project or any funding?

    I think that in a healthy system that there should be some one-and-done R01 awards. Sure. PIs who never get any additional funding, lifetime. Again, it proves the system is taking some risks.

  • qaz says:

    I think jmz4gtu was referring to PIs who get the first R01 (perhaps through what limited newbie help exists) but then can't survive when thrown in with the rest of the scrum.

    My memory when the K99 as announced was that both Story Landis (NINDS) and Nora Volkow (NIDA) said at an SFN meeting that the majority of losses they were seeing at the time was from PIs who got the job, got startup, got a first grant, but were unable to renew the grant or to get a second grant, did not get tenure, and left the R1 science game.

    For these people, they are failing out at age 40+.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Given the usual evidence that nobody at NIH like at the data, I would be very skeptical of any such claims. Until DataHound FOIAs the data we cannot take those statements at face value. IMO

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "I think jmz4gtu was referring to PIs who get the first R01 (perhaps through what limited newbie help exists) but then can't survive when thrown in with the rest of the scrum. "
    -Yeah, basically, I was wondering what should be the failure rate at various milestones of an academic researchers trajectory? Obviously a major one is getting your second R01 (without the ESI status). Where should the winnowing be happening?

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