NINDS tweaks their approach to the F32 / NRSA

NOT-NS-17-002 indicates that NINDS will no longer participate in the NIH-wide parent F32/NRSA funding opportunity because they will be customizing their approach.

 

As previously described in NOT-NS-16-012 and NOT-NS-16-013, NINDS is restructuring its funding support for postdoctoral researchers.  Beginning with the December 8, 2016 due date, research training support for postdoctoral fellows under the F32 activity code will be available through NINDS using PAR-16-458 "NINDS Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for Training of Postdoctoral Fellows (F32)."  This NINDS F32 will support postdocs who are within the first 3 years of research training in the sponsor's laboratory, and includes several other key differences from the parent F32. Most notably, applicants are only eligible for the NINDS F32 prior to starting, or within the first 12 months of starting, their postdoctoral training in the sponsor's laboratory or research environment. Because of the very early application, no preliminary data are expected.  It is anticipated that another Funding Opportunity Announcement for postdocs, which utilizes the K01 activity code, will be published in time for the February 12, 2017 initial receipt date. This will be available to applicants in their second through fourth year of cumulative postdoctoral research experience (see NOT-NS-16-013). 

I remember the initial troll on this but managed to overlook the part where they were going to have a new K01 announcement focused on later-stage postdocs.

I like this, actually. We've gotten into a situation where F32s are stuck in the escalating-expectations holding pattern of endless revisions and resubmissions lately. I just don't see the point of a 3rd year postdoc writing for "training" support that will only arrive in year 4 or 5. Particularly when at that point the postdocs who are gunning hard for a faculty research type job should be focusing on the K99/R01. This has been a waste of time, let the awardees languish for extra time so that they get at least a year or two on the F32 and make a mockery of the idea of the F32.

I am likewise encouraged that instead of leaving the 2+ year postdocs at the tender mercies of the K99/R00 process, NINDS has a fill-in with a K01. I note that their warning notice on this looks good.

The NINDS K01 is intended for candidates with a Ph.D. or equivalent research doctoral degree. Candidates will be eligible to apply for the K01 anytime within the second through fourth year of cumulative mentored, postdoctoral research experience, and may be supported by the NINDS K01 within the first 6 years of cumulative postdoctoral research experience. Successful K01 applications will be designed to facilitate the continuation of outstanding, innovative projects, combined with career development activities that will prepare outstanding postdoctoral, mentored investigators for an independent research career. The K01 application will describe a project that, as demonstrated by preliminary data collected by the applicant, holds promise to result in highly significant results and future discoveries. The K01 candidate will continue to be guided by a postdoctoral mentor, but will be primarily responsible for oversight and conduct of the research project. By the end of the proposed K01 award period, the candidate will be poised to begin an independent research career and will have a well-developed, highly significant project that he/she can take with him/her to an independent research position.

The devil, of course, is in the details. In my most frequent experience, the K01 tends to be won by people already in quasi-faculty positions. People who have been promoted to "Instructor" or "Assistant Research Project Quasi-faculty but not really Scientist" or whatever word salad title your University prefers. I do not see this being favored for award to any old run of the mill year 2 postdoc. Maybe your frame of reference differs, DearReader?

It will be interesting to see how this is used in practice. Will it only be for the people who just-miss on the K99/R00? Or will it occupy the place currently occupied by the F32 with successful applicants having 2-3 years of postdoc work under their belt before applying? [Mayhap these are the same thing these days?]

But I digress.

The most pressing issue of the day is whether the NINDS will succeed in funding 1) a substantial number of F32s from applicants who are finishing their graduate studies and 2) from first year postdocs without much Preliminary Data in the application.

In my estimation if they don't get to at least 50% of awards on #1, this isn't working.

I also predict that the #2 scenario is going to produce a lot of applications with lots of Preliminary Data, just stuff that wasn't completed directly by the applicant herself.

Thoughts folks? Would you like to see this extended to your favorite ICs?

29 responses so far

  • Pinko Punko says:

    No, but K01 existence is good.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Adding, since they always have issues with reviewers sort of adhering to "no data needed" etc guidelines, I totally agree that if they aren't getting good fraction from the applicants that haven't finished PhD yet, then they have a problem in the review process.

  • DJMH says:

    Most grad students I know who are in the last six months of finishing their PhD haven't even decided where they're going for a postdoc yet, let alone come up with the planning necessary to write an F32 for it. Usually a little thing called the dissertation seems more pressing...

  • Ola says:

    I think DM's prediction is correct - the ones awarded will be from labs where the PD walks into a ready-made project for which the sponsoring lab has a metric shit-ton of prelim' data. Just like the old R21 Princess Bride quote... "no preliminary data" doesn't actually mean what you think it means.

    From a wider viewpoint, I see this as just another example of the constant pressure from NIH to shorten the time people spend as post-docs, which is both ill-founded and ill-implemented.

    First, it's ill-founded. The phenomenon of the 6 year post-doc or the person who does 2 post-docs before landing a job, is by no means new. Many of today's faculty did 2 post-docs, often amounting to 5-7 years in total, as far back as the late 90s. The manufactured notion that suddenly post-doc's have gotten a lot longer, is simply not true. For at least the past 25 years, people have spent more than 5 years as a post-doc. Only now that NIH has named 5 years as a purely arbitrary limit, has this become a "problem". Despite all of NIH's efforts to correct this problem, I'm not convinced that an adequate case has been made it's a real problem. It's one way to address "first R01 at 42", which is a real problem, but let's not pretend long-post-docs are the only root cause of that problem.

    Second, the scheme is ill-implemented because it doesn't actually solve the problem - too many people coming in the front of the pipe and not enough jobs at the end of the pipe. Using the plumbing analogy - making the pipe shorter does nothing to actually fix a downstram constriction or too high a pressure upstream. Forcing people to write grants to climb the ladder too early, simply results in a bunch of shitty grant proposals from people not ready to write them.

    But, making the pipe shorter DOES create the illusion that some banging/fixing of pipes is going on somewhere in there, and the pipe looks all shiny and new, so clearly it must be betterTM than the old one. It'll take a while before the customer realizes the problems that made the pipe break in the first place are still there, and take more than a band-aid to fix.

  • eeke says:

    I think it's a good idea. I got an F32 (or whatever it was called back then) before I began my first post-doc. In fact, the supervisor said he would not accept me into the lab UNLESS I had my own funding!

    I did not have preliminary results, but this was ages ago, probably a time when about half the applicants were awarded funding and post-doc stipends were well below the poverty level, below minimum wage.

    I wrote the grant application, then finished my dissertation, defended, and began the post-doc within 7 months or so of submitting the application.

  • wally says:

    I applied for an F32 this August (just started postdoc in the Summer) through NIAAA. I got like 7-10 examples of funded F32s from other postdocs - only in maybe 1-2 of them, did they have any preliminary data, and in those cases, they were data from the lab, not from the applicant herself. I had a fair amount of prelim data - so much so, I have been worried it makes me look like I'm too advanced (I am clearly not - this is a new area of research for me).

    What would happen if a postdoc applied and didn't get it, and their 2nd attempt fell outside the 12 month time period? For me, I will get my score in early Nov, and then my summary statements at some point after that - and the next deadline is in December, which isn't a ton of time to turnaround a new application. The next application isn't until April - which is cutting it close in terms of being within 12 months of my start date.

    Although I worked with my postdoc mentor in the last year of my PhD, I think it would have been hard to me to write my diss and the F32 at the same time (although I did write another grant app that was based on the NIH format). Although, maybe if I had applied for an F31 as a grad student, I would be in better shape to do an F32.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Many of today's faculty did 2 post-docs, often amounting to 5-7 years in total, as far back as the late 90s. The manufactured notion that suddenly post-doc's have gotten a lot longer, is simply not true. For at least the past 25 years, people have spent more than 5 years as a post-doc. Only now that NIH has named 5 years as a purely arbitrary limit, has this become a "problem".

    It has been a problem for far longer than the past 5 years. It is only recently that the NIH is doing anything about it

    As this NAS report shows, the proportion of biomedical doctorates 1-2 years out of their PHD in postdocs was at 50% from 1979-2001 with a tiny bit of wobble. In contrast there are long steady increases for those PHDs 3-4 and 5-6 years out.

    25 years ago was 1991. When only ~10% the 5-6 year cohort was in a postdoc position. When the current 55-65 year cohort of faculty was 30-40 years old. Those 65 year old faculty got their jobs, more realistically, in the late 70s-early 80s. Age of 1st R01 was 37 in 1980, 39 in the early 90s and took an accelerated jump to 42 from 1997 to 1999 where it has remained for some time.

    What you really mean to observe, Ola, is that Generation X scientists were the ones hosed into 5+ year postdocs before having even a sniff of a chance at a faculty job. Unsurprisingly the time range when age of first award went from about 39 to 42 in an acceleration of the prior trend was when Generation X was starting to land jobs in significant numbers.

    of course it is a total mystery why we saw these trends emerge.

  • drugmonkey says:

    eeke,

    You can review the history of the minimum wage here

    Around 25 years ago, the federal minimum wage was $8,840 per year. My recollection is that this was what the crappier paying graduate programs had for stipends. A predoc NSF fellowship was more around $12K per year.

    I would be very interested to know when postdoctoral pay was below minimum wage.

  • Drugmonkey says:

    wally-
    to be clear, this is only one IC, NINDS, that is going this. No sign as of yet that NIAAA will follow suit.

    If you were looking to NINDS to fund one, under the new scheme one would be out of luck. No longer eligible for F32. That's kind of the point.

    I applied for an F32 this August (just started postdoc in the Summer) ...Although I worked with my postdoc mentor in the last year of my PhD, I think it would have been hard to me to write my diss and the F32 at the same time (although I did write another grant app that was based on the NIH format).

    Huh?

  • My new post-docs are gonna clean the fuck up with this new policy.

  • MorganPhD says:

    How many PD's will be looking for new jobs after their first and only NINDS F32 app is not funded?

  • llllll says:

    post doc positions are the worst and my thoughts are we shouldn't support a system of unstable funding and jobs with no security

  • Dave says:

    I think it would be nice to see K01s go to younger PDs. I agree this doesn't happen much now, and the wording certainly sounds like the PD would need to be fairly senior. Wonder what the real world duration of the award will be too. That's important.

  • Microscientist says:

    My issue with this entire setup is that it gives new PhDs no time to actually think about what might be the best career path for them. As said up-thread, the period finishing the dissertation is busy and stressful, so not a good time to make long term career decisions. But once you are finished- the post doc grant clock starts ticking. So if you are not sure if a post doc is right for you- better think fast! No time at all to ponder other options and explore.
    I think this is one reason that really adds to the growing problems of too many post-docs. If they had a mechanism for folks 1-2 years out from the PhD, who had found a lab and learned something about what may be a totally new system, I think it would be better for everyone. But at that point, you have to compete with 4th year postdocs who have pubs under their belt. If the goal is fewer, better postdocs, this clock system is adding to the problem.

  • qaz says:

    As always, this system is designed for the children of scientists, who know what they want to do, know the game, and are *ready* to apply for F32's the instant they leave graduate school. It leaves no room for slack, no second chances. What I've been observing as a faculty training graduate students is that there are a lot of students who aren't sure that they want to play the whole academic game or who don't really understand the academic sequence. This will, once again, help elites at the expense of the disadvantaged by "in an attempt to be fair, preventing both the rich and the poor from sleeping under bridges."

  • cjb says:

    PhD students need to be thinking about their career path before writing their dissertation and good PhD programs and advisers should be presenting them with the reality of the scientific job market and life as an academic.

    I agree with qaz that this model of F32 risks turning into a "beauty pageant," like many foundation fellowships already are, and favoring those who come out of pedigreed labs with glamour publications. The previous posters are also correct that it would be a real challenge to prepare a competitive F32 while preparing a dissertation. Also, I suspect many PhD mentors may not look too kindly on their students spending a lot of time preparing these applications.

    That all said, I think the F32 change is good with a few tweeks. Firstly, if you apply for a F32 in your first year, you should be guaranteed an opportunity to revise and resubmit some time in your second year. If they're going to solicit applications from ABDs, I think they should drop the need for a sponsor and evaluate the applications in a separate pool (F31.5?). Give the rising post doc a golden ticket to get them into whatever lab they identify that will support their research direction and make the award a door-opener like the NSF GRFP is for some undergraduates or that the career development awards can be for postdocs.

    The K01 change is a winner. More mechanisms to get 2-4 yr postdocs resources that allow them to begin establishing independent research directions are a good thing.

  • eeke says:

    DM - I stand corrected about the minimum wage, but the link you provide says that since 1989, minimum wage has been about 60% of the poverty level, which was not much different from the stipend that was paid by the F32 award at the time I started as a post-doc. In any case, the point was that the salary levels were ridiculously low back then and these awards could be doled out like candy. I don't condone the low pay, but the strength of an early F32, though, is that if the lab is on the ball, knowing the specifics of your project, they can prepare for your arrival so you can get started on your project immediately.

  • drugmonkey says:

    it gives new PhDs no time to actually think about what might be the best career path for them

    Since PhD programs are extending to 6+ years these days.....they have plenty of time. Puh-lenty.

    No time at all to ponder other options and explore.

    In my day, the reality of having to earn a paycheck didn't permit a whole lot of time to "ponder other options and explore" either. Who is paying for this post-PhD pondering?

    If they had a mechanism for folks 1-2 years out from the PhD, who had found a lab and learned something about what may be a totally new system, I think it would be better for everyone.

    NINDS is signalling that this will be the K01. I don't see how any of this affects postdoc quality or number, however. The only way to address the number of postdocs is to stop training so many PhDs.

    It leaves no room for slack, no second chances.
    Don't be ridiculous. You know as well as I do that the number of F32 postdocs is dwarfed by the number paid from research grants. This isn't going to change all of a sudden.

    you should be guaranteed an opportunity to revise and resubmit some time in your second year

    I may be assuming too much but I would think breaking the cycle of revise-and-resubmit is part of the goal here. It should be, if it isn't. One try and done would be a good way, imo.

  • drugmonkey says:

    minimum wage has been about 60% of the poverty level, which was not much different from the stipend that was paid by the F32 award at the time I started as a post-doc
    I don't understand what you are trying to say. Were you paid minimum wage or not? You claimed "post-doc stipends were well below the poverty level, below minimum wage". If you look at the graph here and do some inflation calculating to put 1991 dollars in 2013 dollars, you find that ~25 years ago poorly paid grad student stipends* were just below poverty line for a family of two. At this same time, the better paying grad programs and the NSF grad fellowship put one above the poverty line for a family of three. I am unaware of what NRSA/F32 stipends were back then but I assume postdocs made more than grad students. Now obviously the current NRSA scale is considerably far away from the poverty line for a family of three. So kids these days are doing way better than the postdocs 25 years ago. But this doesn't mean postdocs were being paid "well below poverty level, below minimum wage" back in the day either.
    *n.b., one dept of said poorly paid grads were able to pick up extra summer TAs to catch up with the better paid program levels/NSF fellowship levels, ime.

    the point was that the salary levels were ridiculously low back then and these awards could be doled out like candy.
    I'm not buying it eeke. This graph does not indicate any reduction in postdocs on fellowships in association with the major bumps in NRSA pay rate over the past 20 years.

  • jmz4 says:

    " The only way to address the number of postdocs is to stop training so many PhDs. "
    -And stop admitting them into the country, which is harder. A strong majority of PDs are foreign-trained, at this point.

    They should blind these applications. Most of the arguments against doing it fall away when you're considering people with virtually no funding history or publication record. You're also not really too interested in feasibility; my understanding is that very few people actually do the project described in the F32.

    PO-level knowledge of the standing of the lab to do work in the general field of the proposed research should be sufficient to determine feasibility as it applies to these types of grants.

    I also like the idea of having a broad application window from pre-doc (say within a year) to 2 years of PD. I think they should also be able to be rolled over into a K01 relatively seamlessly (with review, of course) and the numbers should be matched at the rate of attrition the NIH hopes to achieve to stabilize the workforce (I know they haven't actually done that calculation, but that's how I would like to see it done).

  • Drugmonkey says:

    They should blind these applications. Most of the arguments against doing it fall away when you're considering people with virtually no funding history or publication record. You're also not really too interested in feasibility; my understanding is that very few people actually do the project described in the F32.

    So...on what basis are they to be awarded?

  • Pleb says:

    "I agree with qaz that this model of F32 risks turning into a "beauty pageant," like many foundation fellowships already are, and favoring those who come out of pedigreed labs with glamour publications.

    Agree and Disagree. I was given a single example of a funded F32 when I first applied a little over a year ago, from a PD friend of a friend in an HHMI lab who had been there for approx. 1 year before getting funded. I was stunned to see so much preliminary data and such a cohesive and comprehensive research strategy; the paper was clearly already written. I was further surprised when I saw it published in Cell a few months later, and friend of a friend PD was 6th or 7th author. This suggests to me that friend of friend PD did not carry out the majority of the work shown in the proposal, and the data had been gift-wrapped by the lab for a turn-key F32 application. Nevertheless, I hustled in my first year to produce as much preliminary data as I could for my proposal, then got dinged by reviewers for a) did applicant actually produce this data? (perhaps this was a concern because I joined a new lab), b) many experiments already done so where is the "training" potential?, and c) the proposed project is too broad and overly ambitious. Turned it around and revised the application in two weeks by adding in more prelim data, having sponsor and co-sponsor assure reviewers that I did all the work, and cutting one of the aims to scale the thing down. Funded.

    My experience indicates to me that the current F32 system already is a beauty pageant, combined with a data arms race, and heavily favors those in pedigree labs with a ripe F32 project for picking off the tree. Before completing my dissertation, I'd begun writing an F32 proposal but stopped once I realized that I needed prelim data and that there was no mechanism for which I had a realistic shot of obtaining funding, having come from a non-pedigree lab and joining a new lab. I think the new NINDS model is a step in the right direction, but I'm afraid it will fall victim to exactly what cjb described above. I'm anxious to see how K01 and K99 applications are parsed and scored; the NINDS K01 description looks very similar to that of the K99 in other ICs. Agree with cjb on dropping the requirement for a sponsor in new F32 mechanism.

  • eeke says:

    DM - I was agreeing with you. Good grief, where is your reading comprehension. What part of "I stand corrected" don't you understand? That chart you show indicates a huge drop in success rate for fellowships, which is what I was alluding to. If I have to spell it out, it looks like the overall number of post-docs has nearly tripled since 1979, but the number of fellowships/traineeships that support post-docs have remained flat. Assuming the numbers of post-docs who apply for fellowships are commensurate with the total, those numbers are terrible.

  • jmz4 says:

    "So...on what basis are they to be awarded?"
    -Novelty, importance and coherence of the proposal. My understanding is that you're really awarding these based on someone's demonstrated ability to identify an important problem and propose a logical series of experiments to address it, within a given field.

    I guess feasibility might still be a criteria, in that the proposed experiments have to be physically doable. I just meant that you shouldn't have to demonstrate feasability with preliminary results, or published results from the lab. Maybe I'm using the wrong term.

    Basically similar to the NSF pre-doctoral fellowships, which most people write in their first year, in a similar situation.

  • jojo says:

    Is it really the case that F32's are typically only awarded to postdocs who wrote the thing in their 2nd or 3rd year?

    I certainly had no preliminary data in my F32 proposal, nor did my colleagues who got one. The background included stuff that my postdoc adviser had done which spurred the idea for the project, not my own data. K99 on the other hand... definitely had a lot of my own prelim data - and didn't get close lol.

    Maybe it's yet another institute - by - institute / panel - by - panel issue.

  • WH says:

    As a current postdoc, I approve of this. Since the K99 requires you to have <4 years of postdoctoral experience, if you spend 2-3 years* writing, revising, and resubmitting a F32, it’s time to write the K99 by the time your F32 is funded. That’s ridiculous. I’m fortunate enough to be on a private foundation fellowship that was awarded during my first year. I feel like I now have some time to actually do some science before being pressured by K award applications.

    *Like the comments above, I don’t actually know how long it takes the average F32 holder to get funded, but I do know that my predoctoral fellowship was awarded in my 4th year of graduate school.

  • LincolnX says:

    " F32s are stuck in the escalating-expectations holding pattern of endless revisions and resubmissions lately. I just don't see the point of a 3rd year postdoc writing for "training" support that will only arrive in year 4 or 5"

    This.

  • PaleoGould says:

    Worth remembering that foreign PDs are ineligible for F32s and therefore do not affect fellowship success rates.
    With love,
    A foreign PD.

  • Dave says:

    I just don't see the point of a 3rd year postdoc writing for "training" support that will only arrive in year 4 or 5

    Why? It's not like most PDs are getting TT jobs (or any faculty job) after 3 years these days. Might as well keep "training".

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