The K99/R00 is not some sort of unfair distortion of the academic job market

Mar 25 2014 Published by under Careerism

This sentiment comes up, now and again, when we discuss the K99/R00 NIH grant mechanism.

This inevitably rings as critical to my ear. As if there is something suspect or underhanded about the K99/R00. At the very least as if there is something bad about it. I disagree.

The K99/R00 mechanism is the only true transition mechanism in the NIH stable. First announced in 2006, the Pathway to Independence award was designed to be won by pre-tenure-track academics (the K99 phase) who could then transition to Research funding (R00 phase) once they won a tenure track job.

Prior attempts to assist new investigators in winning research grant funding failed to cross the transition from trainee to faculty. There were postdoctoral fellowships and there were faculty level awards but nothing that you could apply for as a postdoc and carry forward into a faculty position.

You can whinge all you want about the growing reluctance of Universities to cough up research-focused tenure track Assistant Professorships with substantial startup packages. You can shout as loudly as you like about the way things should be. But that won't change reality at University of State.

Nor will it change the reality that many of us really work for the NIH.

It is in their interest to figure out how to get their future workforce into the shell "job" (aka, Assistant Professor at University of State) as rapidly as possible. If, that is, they are dismayed by the infamous analysis showing the gradual increase of age to first R01 and other dismal demographic statistics.

In my day, youngsters, there was only the Burroughs-Welcome Career award. They have cancelled this because of the K99/R00 but it used to be the only game in town. And it was quite a plum. But IIRC the University itself controlled who could apply as a postdoc. The numbers awarded were very small. It was a program that was out of reach for many types of science...basically it was all about GlamourMag science in the place I was at at the time I considered using this mechanism.

I saw the issuance of the K99/R00 program to be a hugely important step for the NIH. It was a recognition of reality and a way to get people, young people, hired into jobs now instead of in three more years' time. IMO.

It was democratic in the sense that all the ICs could play, meaning topic domains were not excluded by a University committee or Dean or local political power playing. It was democratic in the sense that there were quite obviously going to be more R00 PIs than there ever had been Burroughs-Welcome PIs. It was democratic in the sense that peer reviewers were going to be deciding who got the primary awards.

My fields of interest have seen many K99/R00s awarded and the awardees have transitioned into faculty positions. Which are going quite well in my estimation.

Are there people who missed out on K99s getting overlooked in faculty job searches? Undoubtedly. Is this some sort of epic and systematic tragedy?

No.

There has always been an element of career success that is driven by something other than a pure and idealistic assessment of talent. It might be due to the accidents that brought you to a particular training lab. Due to the accident of being highly successful in your graduate student or postdoctoral project. Due to the accident of who else happens to be on the job market when you are. Due to the accident of which University Departments happen to be hiring in your field and in which sub-area of concentration.

None of this is fair.

The processes that lead to a K99 award are not fair either, but they have many upsides. Some of which I've mentioned above.

The factor of peer review by people who sit on study sections should not be lightly dismissed. Sure, they are subject to many sorts of biases but they are much less subject to the vagaries of what Departments happen to be hiring in which topic area. They are much less subject to group think because, on the whole, the areas of scientific expertise, career type, geographic region, etc are diverse by construction.

They add another layer, another chance for a supplicant to win over a group of people. That's a good thing.

The successful K99/R00 Assistant Professor has to win over a search committee too, you know. These jobs are not automatic. And despite rumors on the Twitters, yes, Departments are indeed still hiring people without K99/R00 awards.

I really don't see why people are so antagonistic toward the program.

__

ps: Changes in the eligibility criteria aren't unfair either.

pps: The NIH had a sweet deal for Intramural postdocs in place for some time.

ppps: In disclosure, I personally think the NIH should shutter the F32 individual NRSA for postdocs and apply the money to the K99/R00 program. For real.

60 responses so far

  • poke says:

    The problem with K awards is not that they're unfair to other, non-K job seekers. The problem is that they let Unis hire without making their level of commitment to the candidate clear.

    Anyone hired with a K better hope that 1) the department actually wanted them and not their (quite frankly somewhat paltry) K money, or 2) that they immediately and consistently hit success with other grants. Otherwise, they might be surprised at how quickly the ax falls...

  • Dr Becca says:

    I don't understand the complaining at all. It's not as if NIH is giving K99/R00s (and thus, increasing job chances) to people based on their performance in a cartwheel contest, right? People with the grantsmanship skills to successfully land a K99 have skills that are relevant to the job they wish to have.

    Full disclosure, my K99 was triaged and I got a TT job anyway.

  • drugmonkey says:

    they let Unis hire without making their level of commitment to the candidate clear.

    that's nonsense. There is not any general "level of commitment" anymore. What planet do you people live on? This is not your grandfather's Professorland anymore! People without R00 and a nice fat startup are being cashiered by Universities if they can't land grant funding by tenure time.

    The K99/R00 job offers have to be reviewed by POs to make sure there is a stab at a normal startup package. Everyone I've known with a K99/R00 transition got a reasonable-sounding package. I would welcome hearing about job offers that managed to skirt this and the degree to which a job was going to appear for anyone without this mark of confidence from the field.

    When you have a fair handle on the distribution of startup deals (and the follow through on those deals) over time, you come to appreciate that shit happens and it has nothing to do with whether an applicant had a K99 when hired or not. Trying to argue it marks the "commitment" of the hiring department is just plain foolish.

  • DrIgg says:

    I wish the K99/R00s were around when I got an F32. It would have made the climb up easier than starting all over in the funding category immediately.

    The department is not going to benefit that much from the K99/R00 money, even if the institutional indirect % is astronomical. The money is not the advantage that departments perceive. The demonstration of the ability to write successful nationally competitive grants and the momentum are more attractive.

    Will they have to write and secure more funding? You bet. Just like everyone else. But they will have a jump on TT in the funding category and probably pubs stemming from the K research. The reviewers will likely see the K99/R00 as a positive as well, leading to more favorable personnel scores on reviews, etc..

    I will be interested to see the data in a few years about the success rate of K99/R00 winners and first R01 success.

  • becca says:

    "It's not as if NIH is giving K99/R00s (and thus, increasing job chances) to people based on their performance in a cartwheel contest, right? "
    DAMNIT. I'm pretty sure I could win a cartwheel contest. TEH SYSTEMZ IS BROKED!!!!!

  • jojo says:

    "I personally think the NIH should shutter the F32 individual NRSA for postdocs and apply the money to the K99/R00 program. For real."

    Interesting...

    How are labs without R01's going to fund their 1-2 year postdocs? funding... Unless you're serious about moving back to a 1 year postdoc?

    I do feel as if the F32 program is supposed to be training-based and therefore you can propose "riskier" stuff or even be somewhat misinformed, because you really don't know everything about the new field you're going into. The idea is that the postdoc with an F32 can move into a new field, learn new things.

    Conversely K99/R00 should be given to someone who has a solid, well informed plan for the trajectory of their research career through at least Tenure. It seems like moving everything to K99 may prevent the fellow from branching out to new fields/techniques.

  • drugmonkey says:

    There are approximately* 632 R00s on the books at the moment.

    This seems pretty dang good when you consider Jeremy Berg's estimates of the In/Out of funding churn in R-mechs from year to year and the "lost" number of investigators. 600 new labs is not chump change.

    *I didn't screen for supplements

  • rxnm says:

    The stated purpose of F awards is to ensure that the nation has an adequate number of trained PhD scientists, so obviously they should no longer exist.

    jojo, the vast majority of postdocs are already paid on research grants.

    What happened to fund projects, no people?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The R00 describes a project.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    jojo- IME f32 apps from postdocs in labs without R funding are not favored

  • rxnm says:

    "The R00 describes a project."

    I'm sure it does.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    It also lasts for only 2 years.

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    This whole discussion cuts anonymous postdoc to the core, as my resubmitted K99 was triaged but also had a JIT link up on Commons, meaning (I presume) that the cutoff for triage this round was a higher score than whatever priority score gets the JIT link automatically activated*. I suppose it reflects severe score compression, rather than reflecting on my unsung genius.

    *That is, assuming the JIT link is automatically triggered, rather than this being some elaborate method of torturing people who can see with their own damned eyes that their grant was ++.

  • AP says:

    Off topic so not sure if I will get a response:

    DM -- Do you know if any raw data on NIH PI age for various mechanisms is available to the public? I know the Rockey posted graphs sometime back, but I cannot seem to find any raw, anonymized data on PI age anywhere on Reporter or ExPorter. I would like this information to actually convince the admins at my university that getting a R01 at 31 is worthy of praise, but without any solid data I cannot do so.

    Thanks for the blog. I check it every morning.

    Ref: http://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2012/02/13/age-distribution-of-nih-principal-investigators-and-medical-school-faculty/

  • I will be interested to see the data in a few years about the success rate of K99/R00 winners and first R01 success.

    What I have seen on study section and looking at other Summary Statements is that R00 holders can get dinged on their R01s for "not demonstrating productivity on the R00" if they have not yet published papers from their own new lab, a standard to which non-R00 holders are not held.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    AP- an R01 at any age is impressive. Beyond that? Not sure what the game is here. For one thing, latency since first appointment is vastly more interesting. And you have to compare like to like. That 42 yrs always sounded really high to me. I assume due to my blindness for career arcs different from those I am used to. I know tons of folks with first R01 in early 30s. From my era through the present. Not sure I know that many, offhand, with their first R01 in mid to late 40s.

    So your Uni being impressed? Maybe they should be, maybe not. But if they *aren't* impressed do you really think showing them a graph putting you in the 10th percentile will miraculously change their minds? In a significant way?

    What's the end game here?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    PP- so for the R00 holders, getting something out quick is higher priority than usual? What do you think about hitting the first 2-3 rounds to get review underway with only 9-12 mo of lab operation?

  • k99sarenice says:

    Something people seem to often overlook in the discussion about the 'unfair' market advantage of the K99R00ers is that these people go on interviews with a well-articulated 5-10 year research plan that has been vetted by study section. Part of their edge may be that they sound more confident and informed about their research trajectory, including their funding plans, which they are required to detail in the K99R00 application.

    Having been on both sides of the hiring decision, I can see why folks might be more inclined to go with the person who has not only a proven track record for funding, but a plan for building their career. Those people seem like they can be be independently successful (read: less work for faculty).

  • Physician Scientist says:

    As a former Burroughs Career Award holder, there is data on subsequent grant funding for this cohort. Its not nearly as impressive as you would think.

    On another note, to get a K99 (esp with the 4 year submission cutoff), a post-doc has to be hardworking, focussed/directed, appropriately aggressive, smart and strategic. To put yourself in a position to be competitive for one is impressive (both for the mentor and the post-doc), and these people should be rewarded with faculty positions.

  • chemicalbilology says:

    This is why I advocate for writing and submitting a K99/R00 proposal for the experience, not even necessarily for the money. If you've gone through two rounds of review and comments, EVEN triaged proposal comments, it's like having your own personal workshop on your chalk talk and your first R01. Those who get them do so out of some combination of luck, perseverance, and high quality hard work (usually), but I also have observed PLENTY of people without them get interviews and offers.

    I'd speculate that the reason it seems like "everyone" who gets a job has one is not because those without them are not getting jobs, but because as the landscape changes and 1) people are rethinking their career options and 2) the number of people with these grants accumulates, a higher percentage of people who decide to continue in academia and go out on the job market have them.

    (and anonymous postdoc, I'm sorry about your triage and JIT link, I had a similar thing with an R01 scored 40 that made me very sad, but if yours was triaged it wouldn't have a final score at all so I doubt it was a score threshold automatic trigger).

  • Ola says:

    The fact that the tweep at the top of your post refers to it as a "tenured track position" tells you everything you need to know about this person's understanding of things.

    Personally I see the abuse of K99/R00 not as the tweep describes, but rather as it becoming the new norm for hiring committees. i.e., not having a kangaroo makes it a lot more difficult to get that first faculty job. It's essentially become the required stepping stone now, and I could imagine a situation in a few years time where even R01s of mid stage investigators might get reviewed differently depending on whether the person "came up through the ranks" via kangaroo or not.

    I'm in favor of anything (such as kangaroo) that eases the transition, but in the absence of systematic change at other levels, all we're really doing is forestalling attrition at the first R01 stage for a bunch of folks. As the numbers suggest, lots of former recipients still unfunded after award runs out.

    The other worrying trend I see, is the younger and younger cut offs being applied. Many of these awards and fellowships are now limited to 3 or 4 years post-PhD. Many institutions now limit postdoctoral appointments to 5 years or less. The problem this creates, is there are always going to be talented people who can't make it in that short apace of time, and there will be attrition of good career candidates. Heck, I did 2 post-docs totaling almost 7 years, and am now a successful funded researcher. The solution to people spending too much time in post-doc before making the transition, is NOT to just place some arbitrary 5 year cap on post-doc time and who gives a shit about the ones who don't make it.

    The combined effect of these policies is a system where, instead of a career track with steady progression and attrition, we have a mad dash crammed into a few years, followed by more attrition when the ones who survive the initial dash don't make the 2nd cut. This step-wise process is a lot more traumatic for those involved.

  • lurker says:

    The R00 is a double-edge sword, as I said on DM's other blog site: http://drugmonkey.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/berg-on-the-sequester-1000-fewer-nih-funded-investigators/#comments

    8 interviews and ZERO offers before K99 got reviewed. One school failed to get their first candidate then learned I got my K99, gave me a call back, and 1 day after the interview gave me a job offer. Distortion? Absolutely.

    Being on the ass-receiving end of multiple A1's just failing to make payline (but scored, woopideedoo), I am testimony to CPP's observation that R00s are expected to publish like rockstars to get any credence. I'm just a "mere mortal", with 2 corresponding (lower IF) and 3 co-corresponding (medium IF) papers from my lab with R00 money (no postdoc mentor listed), and I'm still getting dinged in my molecular field as "not productive enough". Yeesh.

    Now that I'm two years dry since the R00 ended, during teh worst funding climate evah, I understand the trap of the R00, erroneously thinking this dollop of funding would embiggen me to do my best/honest science when I should have done my quickest, dirtiest, corner-cutting science instead, just to pad that CV. Three years is just a dollop, and one fuckke up, like in the tour-de-france or any tournament sport, and you can forget the jacket, there is very little room for error at a time when I was a complete n00b.

    DM thinks the R00 funds a project? Puhleease. Aim 1 worked (because it was already done when I wrote it), Aim 2 was a BS idea abandoned after 3 months, Aim 3 never even got started because 3 years sub-modular was not enough smack to wrap up Aim 1. The tripe I wrote on career development that is suppose to be the heart of the K99 was a complete charade. I invented a "meeting schedule" with my "mentors dream team" and wrote the drivel that these mentors slapped onto their letter head, and we never had a single mentoring meeting afterwards. Like those Section members really know my field better than me, but really, I got my K99 because of my pedigree and my glamour pub as a PD, pure and simple. I know I'm NOT Da'Shitte, I was simply lucky, right time, right project, easy referees. That glamour pub goes a long way at coloring how an approach gets analyzed and a proposal gets scored.

    600 K99/R00's a year sounds wonderful until this cohort approaches the cliff 3 years later, and those that just lack enough "momentum" to reach other side of R01-land will have a nice time descending into the abyss. I'd like to see Rockey (who won't or slather icing on it) and the Berg (who will and do so with objectivity and acumen) do that analysis.

    But of course, ask any BSD, and they will say "it is not taht bad, it's cyclical, and besides, we threw you a bone with the K99 program". Nothing more to see, everything is fine. Until they wake up and see our reality, we can only just smoke DM's kumbaya and advice to take a deep breath. Ain't gonna help the impact of the fall.

  • anonymoose says:

    It was democratic in the sense that peer reviewers were going to be deciding who got the primary awards.

    Not entirely true. I just had the unsettling experience of getting what seemed to be a safely fundable score for a K99 (high teens; no percentile reported, which I think is normal), but no award was made. The PO wields a lot of power, and at least in my case, the institute is being pretty programmatic about what gets funded.

    My concern with the K99/R00 mechanism, as a transition mechanism, is its emphasis on new training. If the idea is to identify future successful PIs and facilitate their transition from being a postdoc to an R01-seeking faculty member, it seems unnecessary to require 1-2 years of additional training in a substantively different area/method. Particularly when most competitive applicants will have already been a postdoc for 2-3 years and thus should be adequately trained already.

  • Davis Sharp says:

    @Anonymous Postdoc - the cutoff for triage is based on the reviewers' preliminary scores, i.e. before the meeting. After the meeting, all triage grants, irrespective of preliminary scores, are considered "not discussed" and treeated equally. The JIT link is automatically triggered to torture people.

  • qaz says:

    The problem with the K99/R00 is that it solved a problem THAT NEVER EXISTED. The people who would have gotten a K99/R00 got faculty jobs just fine. The got F32 NRSAs with super good scores. They did their 3-5 year postdoc. They got their faculty jobs.

    The stated goal of the K99/R00 was to move people from postdoc to faculty faster. But the people who are now getting K99/R00s are the people who did those 3-5 year postdocs. The people who did 6-8 year postdocs and tried to get faculty jobs aren't getting K99/R00s now.

    The problem (which NIH knew at the time that they implemented the K99/R00) is that the buzzsaw that knocked people out of the pipeline was never the "can't get a faculty job", it was getting that first real R01 and then getting it renewed. It was when they went up for tenure and the universities said "we're not prepared to give you a lifetime appointment, so bye".

    Look - the real test is are more people getting faculty jobs now that didn't before? I'm pretty sure the data on that is a definitive NO.

  • Jonathan says:

    qaz - that has always been my chief complaint too.

    Lurker - unless things have changed (and I will have a look at some point when work is not quite so insane) it's actually 200 kangaroos a year, not 600.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Qaz, you are wrong. Absolutely I can look at the K99/R00 winners in my fields of interest and compare them to my generation. My generation of folks that made it to R01 funding eventually had fewer hard money / startup offers and transitioned later in life. We will have to see about overall numbers after another decade but I bet there will be far more PIs from the current generation.

    This *could* just be demographic inevitability but you would be hard pressed to prove that. K99 and ESI have a quantifiable effect in contrast.

  • DM- "jojo- IME f32 apps from postdocs in labs without R funding are not favored" - IME not just "not favored" but not funded. Not enough $$ on the K-phase to support work. It's a problem with K-awards in general and their $25-40K/yr research funding.

    Of course a R00 will help get you a job. So will a R03, or an AHA or MJFF or any other starter funding. It's not that the uni wants the money, because the amount is pocket change. It is a signalling device (in the economic sense) that this is someone who can get funded.

    Lots of jobs, even at toxic MRU, where churn & burn of faculty is a thing, want to hire people who will be successful. Everybody's horrid personal experience aside, it is the belief of departments that having money is the best predictor of being able to get more money.

  • qaz says:

    ESI is a very different thing. There is no question in my mind that ESI has helped provide the generation eligible for them advantages that previous generations didn't have.

    Now this may be a field difference, but in my field there is no question that the people who were rising stars (top 20% of the field) got plenty of offers. When I look at the people getting jobs quickly, there has been absolutely no change (certainly not more offers!) from the 10 years before the K99 appeared. If I compare the faculty who have joined my department pre- vs post-K99, there is no difference in time from PhD to faculty.

    What we need to measure quantitatively is how many people went to faculty jobs in the K99 timeline (within 5 years after PhD) before the K99 vs after. Remember that the K99 has a very specific eligibility timeline. (I don't think number of offers is a good measure. You only need one good offer if its the right one.)

    "My generation of folks that made it to R01 funding" - That's changing the issue. The buzzsaw that we met in my generation was definitely POST-faculty job. It was getting R01s and renewing them. I see no evidence that the K99 is helping get R01s. In fact, isn't what you and Berg are reporting that R00's are having MORE trouble getting R01s?

  • eeke says:

    Just curious - does the shrinking timeline to K99 (from 5 yrs to 4) throw women off the pipeline? Is any time allowed for maternity leave or any other type of familial obligation? I was interviewed for a Burroughs-Wellcome, and it didn't escape notice that I was only one of 3 female finalists among 50 candidates total that were selected for interviews that year. The cut-off for nomination was 4 yrs post-doc. It's not enough time.

  • anonymous postdoc says:

    I do know that the 5 year K99 deadline was not flexible due to medical leave issues, including childbirth. I presume that the same insensitivity will be extended to future K99 applicants. It is particularly confusing given how easy it is to extend ESI status due to childbirth - but that only applies after you got the job. I know powerhouses who got K99s and gave birth to one or more children during that time, but it is rare.

    In a sense, now that I am done with K99, I am liberated to actually start having kids because there's no more reason to rush.

  • drugmonkey says:

    ESI is a very different thing.

    Not really. When Potnia said:
    It's not that the uni wants the money, because the amount is pocket change. It is a signalling device (in the economic sense) that this is someone who can get funded.

    she underlines my point. The creation of the ESI and the happy talk about extra points on the payline enhanced confidence on the part of hiring institutions that some youngster was going to get funded.

    What we need to measure quantitatively is how many people went to faculty jobs in the K99 timeline (within 5 years after PhD) before the K99 vs after.

    Abso100%lutely. We will not know which of our anecdotal reports captures the overall NIH wide trend until we see some broader survey data along the lines of the Bridges to Independence report from the NRC/NAS.

    That's changing the issue. The buzzsaw that we met in my generation was definitely POST-faculty job

    that's your perception of your subfield. Mine differs. I think from your comments that you and I are approximate timeline equivalents on this so it isn't just the timing. It may not even be subfield, it may just be your circumstances. It was once upon a time news to one of my early readers and commenters that people struggled up to the independent, R01 funded level via anything other than a traditional job-search/hire/startup assistant professorship you know.

    I haven't really considered deeply whether the people that I think of as my generation in my subfield ran into a buzzsaw after the first award...but mostly no. Struggled, yes, but there was not some great culling of the people who made it through the soft money / less-than appointment struggle in my view. I suspect this is no coincidence.

    In fact, isn't what you and Berg are reporting that R00's are having MORE trouble getting R01s?
    Absolutely not. Berg reported the number of expired R00 PIs that were not funded in the subsequent year with an R-mech. That's all. PP is reporting an apparent higher standard at grant review but we have no idea if that is widespread or what the real impact of that criticism has been.

    The cut-off for nomination was 4 yrs post-doc. It's not enough time.

    Any timeline pressure for anything in the career is going to have the effect of disadvantaging women who wish to have children. So if an explicit exception is not carved out for this purpose, yep, it's a screw job. That's separable, in my view, from generalized whining about having time constraints at all. Clearly the goal here was to attempt to do something about a BAD thing....the ever increasing time-to-first-R01. From a systems point of view, the K99/R00 and ESI pushes are a decent way to go about it. You HAVE to have cutoffs to achieve the goal- substantial encouragement to getting younger people in independent PI jobs and with R-mech funding. Unfortunately this means that there are going to be people who miss the essentially arbitrary deadlines.

    Sidebar: Four years of post-doc is PLENTY. Really. It is just nonsense to say that, on a systematic level, we need our faculty to spend any more than 3-4 years in postdoc after the typical 5-6 yr graduate student stint. Me, I'd like to see grad school at 4 years and then a 3-yr postdoc. PLENTY of seasoning and training. All the rest can be learned on the job.

  • Dr. Noncoding Arenay says:

    "Me, I'd like to see grad school at 4 years and then a 3-yr postdoc. PLENTY of seasoning and training. All the rest can be learned on the job."

    This. Couldn't agree more. Wish it was implemented already.

  • dsks says:

    "Me, I'd like to see grad school at 4 years and then a 3-yr postdoc. PLENTY of seasoning and training. All the rest can be learned on the job."

    Yep. Dropping class requirements for PhD grads would be a good start towards reducing that time, imho.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Except there is no time for on the job training because funding pressure does not allow for anything less that exquisite, immediate crunch time.

    Since K99s are distorting the interview pool, and K99s have a time limit, there are ramifications noted above by DM that I think are very serious. The exclusion of non-K99 eligible candidates for interview slots is likely to be disproportionate against women or those with alternate career paths or in second post-docs. I certainly wouldn't put too much weight on a K99 signaling fundability- the award reflects much more than the applicant- it reflects the lab where the work is being done and other things. And since pay lines are so low as that predicting funding should get harder and harder, it probably comes down to money for institutions. Labs with R00 probably can stretch their fumes for at least an extra year, so I would say money probably dominates even though it might not seem like much.

  • rxnm says:

    What the fuck is "easing the transition"? The hard part is getting a job. The transition is a fucking cakewalk in comparison. Potty is right, K99s are a signal of fundability to employers, so how kangaroos compare to similarly situated faculty in terms of first ~5 years of productivity and in landing an R01 is the relevant comparison. Given the many non-causal covariates of success and K99-having and the fact that they should in theory have comparable start-ups + the R00, they should be doing way, way better. Shooting the frikin lights out compared to their non-K99 TT peers, in fact. Anything less is a failure...if the only boost they get is in getting TT jobs, then it's just search committees outsourcing their brains to the NIH.

  • clueless noob says:

    How much of a distortion are the R00's causing? Over the life of the program, it looks like nearly 25% (n=239) of R00s were awarded to the same institution where the K99 was awarded, which to a cynical mind might suggest that a substantial fraction are getting startup and a ginned-up "tenure track equivalent" position at the med school. (Interestingly enough, in 2013 one person managed to skip the K99 phase and go directly to the R00).

    Not including those awards that stayed at the same institution, the most frequent hiring institutions for the R00 were also among the top producers of K99s. At first glance, anyway, it looks like there's a lot of sloshing around within the same 20 or so schools. It may be that if you want a job at U of M, UNC, Johns Hopkins, UW, WUSTL, UCSD, UCSF, or Yale, the K99 is necessary to get a foot in the door, but these represent a small fraction of biomedical research job openings each year. (Or I could be mis-interpreting RePORTER. Note that the IC and serial number are the same for the K99 and R00 phase, so RePORTER sleuthing is pretty straightforward; the R00 phase appears as a competing renewal rather than a new award.)

  • drugmonkey says:

    Getting a job IS the transition, rxnm.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am no fan of obligatory academic nomadism but given the language of the K99/R00 program, 25% at same Uni is totally bogus.
    [ETA: The FOA for the K99/R00 says that a different institution is "encouraged (but not required)". I will confess I thought this was somewhat stronger in tone. Still, I guess we can bench race what this would mean in our personal interpretation or recommendation. I would think this an exception for extreme circumstances so more like 10%?]

  • qaz says:

    I don't see why the K99 signals fundability any better than the F32 NRSAs used to. In all the study sections I've been on, K99's are graded as much on the advisor as the candidate. This means that K99 is not a signal of fundability any more than the old F32s were. Before the K99, you "had to get an F32" to signal that you were a good candidate. Now you have to get an F32 then a K99.

    In terms of short postdocs, I agree completely. In many fields that are just as complex or difficult as biomed, people go straight from graduate school to faculty. In fact, because the skill-set of being faculty (management) is so different from being a post-doc (advanced in-lab) it's not clear that the postdoc teaches you anything important. I was told once that being a post-doc is a waste of time unless you are going to learn a specific skill.

    I will say that (again in my anecdata [not anecdote!] experience), longer PhDs led to better later success. But I don't support holding graduate students back. I support letting them take longer if they want to get more publications to build on.

    The problem as I see it is that the K99 draws a bright line between the stars and not. My point is that stars always existed - before the K99, they got F32's, took 3 years for postdoc, got a couple of major publications, and got faculty jobs. The rest took time to work up a strong enough publication record to get in later. Because the K99 has a time limit, it labels "star", and someone who misses that time limit (because they graduated early or because they stumbled or because they took some time off (horrors!)) simply can never get a K99.

    Before the K99, people could get an F32 if they could make the case that the training plan was good. This meant a lot more flexibility to take a non-traditional path to the faculty job. Now, you have to go straight - graduate, rush to postdoc, get some fast pubs, get a K99, and get a faculty job to get an R00. If anything, the K99 is making it HARDER to get to R01 without taking the standard path.

    ESI is very different. The ESI helps AFTER the faculty job (which was [in my anecdata] where the problem was). I don't like the ESI because it's a generational selection, but I understand that it solved a problem that the NI tried to and failed (because you were NI if you were had been only NSF funded for 30 years). These are necessary because noobs are graded differently from grayhairs. And, in fact, CSR labels both NI and ESI, so you can see which are which.

    And DM - yes, I suspect we are similar ages. Certainly, I realize that my personal sequence is anecdote. But I am very hooked into several fields (admitedly 3-5 out of hundreds) and I am comparing the candidates among junior professors at a number of universities and institutions (FOAF, admittedly, but what else do we have?). This is definitely anecdata, but it's not anecdote. Among my colleagues, friends, and postdocs at various universities, the buzzsaw was definitely between getting the faculty job and tenure. I've also been faculty for a while and we did a lot of hiring before and after the K99. But I agree, what we need is real data. What I want from that real data is a comparison between the K99 and before separated for "stars" and "not".

  • icearoni says:

    Regarding F32: a NIH PO straight-up told me that the merit of the applicant and her proposed project is the 3rd most important criteria. 1st two criteria are how "successful" (i.e. well-funded) the sponsor is, and how many of the sponsor's former trainees have gone on to become "successful".

    I suppose this is because they want the recipients to have plenty of financial support for research costs, and to have experienced mentors. In practice, it means that the recipients almost exclusively come from labs of senior BSD's. It also means that a mediocre student from a BSD lab who has someone to help them with their application is way more likely to get the award than a stellar student from a not-BSD lab.

  • girlparts says:

    I suspect my situation is common: Spouse got tenure track job first. I got K99/R00 and it allowed us to solve the two-body problem by staying at the same institution. I know at least one other colleague who did the same thing at another school.

    Incidentally, NIH did extend K99 eligibility by the length of parental leave. Not enough to really account for what having an infant does to your productivity, but it was something.

  • The Other Dave says:

    All postdoc support needs to die.

    The K99/R00 is designed to pump more postdocs from postdocdom into academia, where they can continue to glut up the overcrowded system. Who needs that?

    At least the F32 allowed for the possibility that it was worthwhile training postdocs who might not actually end up in academia. But hey -- we have too many postdocs in general. So kill F32s too.

    I mean, seriously, how hard is this folks? Why does NIH keep feeding the same monster* it endlessly complains about?

    * Too many applicants

    ALTERNATIVELY...

    The U.S. can move toward a more European-style funding system, where project grants are decoupled from personnel support. In this case, NIH could gain even better control over the trainee pipeline, and institutions couldn't so easily abuse the system with soft money positions (which are basically just professional grant-writer/ICR-getter jobs).

  • dsks says:

    "How much of a distortion are the R00's causing? Over the life of the program, it looks like nearly 25% (n=239) of R00s were awarded to the same institution where the K99 was awarded"

    Wait, WTF? Somebody tell me that's a bad calculation, because if not, that stinks to high heaven.

    I also second somebody else's point that the mentored training aspect of the K99/R00 mech is pointless horseshit.

  • E-rock says:

    TOD - According to Berg, the number of applicants is what POs use to justify budgets for particular IC/Programs. So personal incentives to the stakeholders (POs & NIH) don't mesh with your identified problem/solution (to us). In today's job market, an academic post doc will not get you an industry job. I wish there was an NIH post doc fellowship that you could take with you to industry. It's a risk-free way for the industry to test the potential scientist before long term investment, it obviates the unpaid industry internship I've heard about, and it syphons suckers like me away from being the middle of the pyramid scheme. A short term, 2 year commitment on the part of NIH to get scientists safely out of the system seems like a good payout (to society), it reduces the number of NIs churning out apps every cycle that reviewers will scoff at. Metrics could be job placement rates, etc. A company could be required to commit to a 2-3 year contract with potential for perm employment after NIH funded term is done.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am very hooked into several fields (admitedly 3-5 out of hundreds) and I am comparing the candidates among junior professors

    Your orientation seems decidedly toward traditional hire, at least partial hard money, probably academic versus med school and possibly even the medium size research institutions to me. My greater frame of reference (not exclusive, just greater) leans more toward soft money appointed people. People who got their start with something a bit less than a full fledged hard money, startup encrusted Assistant Professorship in a traditional academic Department of -ology.

    Maybe it is my subfields of interest that differ. Maybe it is the accident of who I am closest to both scientifically and personally. or maybe, as I assert, there is a relatively larger proportion of the soft-money types in our approximate age/career progression cohort.

    I understand entirely what you mean about anecdata, I don't assume you are just talking about yourself...neither am I.

    and I can rattle off at least a dozen traditional hire folks of my approximate generation so I'm not talking exclusive effects here. I'm going to chat some of them up about the post-appointment, post-first-award buzzsaw to which you refer at my earliest opportunity, maybe I'll come around to your point of view eventually.

    It also means that a mediocre student from a BSD lab who has someone to help them with their application is way more likely to get the award than a stellar student from a not-BSD lab.

    yeah, icearoni, agreed. I'm not too enthused about this reality either.

    Incidentally, NIH did extend K99 eligibility by the length of parental leave.

    thanks for the correction.

    The U.S. can move toward a more European-style funding system,

    As always, I caution that there are serious costs to this that are readily apparent within such sinecure-funding-for-life systems. I, for one, am VERY loathe to give up the relative democracy of opportunity that is formally established, if not always perfectly accomplished in practice, by the NIH system. ...and I try very hard to remember why I think this is so as I age in the career and might have some minimal confidence that I would have a decent shot at one of the lifetime dealios, should it ever come to that. Being a ladder-puller is not an attractive place to be, in my mind.

  • drugmonkey says:

    dsks- the FOA says "encouraged but not required" when it comes to the R00 phase being sought at a different institution.

  • rxnm says:

    "Getting a job IS the transition, rxnm."

    Huh. I thought the transition was going to from spending someone else's NIH grant to spending your own.

    Then it truly does nothing except enforce pedigree. Just because it's one of many ways pedigree is enforced doesn't make it less pointless or insidious. Given all you've written on diversity in the workforce, I'm surprised about how blase you are about yet another mechanism that allows study sections to wink-wink at universities: "this one of our guys."

    So again, compared to the majority of junior TT faculty, these kids better be fucking crushing it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I'm surprised about how blase you are

    Perhaps it is because 1) I've always been aware of how pedigree helps, 2) I am alert to events that appear to violate or question the sole value of pedigree and 3) I've seen some saves happen at the grant review level.

    Just because it's one of many ways pedigree is enforced doesn't make it less pointless or insidious.

    I disagree. I would argue that it is possible for a K99 holder to come to the table without a lot of Glamour or the most amazing 1%er pedigree. This puts her into serious competition with people who have one or more of the latter attributes but haven't managed to get a K99. This distribution of the hire-able pool to a different pedigree mechanism opens up faculty chances to more people.

  • rxnm says:

    "I would argue that it is possible for a K99 holder to come to the table without a lot of Glamour or the most amazing 1%er pedigree. This puts her into serious competition..."

    Maybe possible, but I wonder how often. The anecdata described above matches mine... these tend to go to BSD anointees (not always), but maybe we can get an altmetrics wackaloon to look at kangaroo awards relative to some neurotree connectivity index.

    I think in principle the NIH should not be inserting itself into hiring decisions like this. It's glam. F awards too.

  • […] a comment on a prior thread asserted that something more like 25% of R00 awardees had remained at the same Institution in which […]

  • drugmonkey says:

    in principle the NIH should not be inserting itself into hiring decisions like this

    Why on EARTH not? It is their workforce we're talking about here. They should be getting even MORE involved.

  • rxnm says:

    The intramural program is their workforce. You could argue that universities aren't where biomedical research should be taking place, though it's worked pretty well so far.

  • another lurker says:

    I have to agree that the K99/R00 is a double-edged sword. The newest four faculty members hired in my department in the last five years each had a K99/R00, so it seems there was a bias towards those with this type of funding. Two of them got R01's quickly in their first year riding on their prior accomplishments. The other two have encountered the unrealistic expectations of what is demanded of an R00 recipient applying for an R01 in year 2 or 3. Study section members don't seem to remember that it can easily take a year before your lab is up and running (buying and setting up equipment, getting your job ads approved by HR, recruiting the right students, etc). Expecting that a new lab would have multiple glamor pubs (or even one glamor pub) by year 3 is not reasonable. I can't even imagine what will be expected of those who had the R00 and an R01 for an overlapping period of time when it comes time for renewal. Probably a nobel prize.

  • lurker says:

    Thanks, another lurker. I'm not going to have any sympathies to those who got an R01 overlapping with their R00's. At least they had 5 years to sort things out. The R00 itself is too short, 3 years is not enough time to get projects off the ground with new staff and barely knowing how to motivate such staff without becoming a freakish micromanager that I have learned to become now.

    The new rules shortening the eligibility for the K99 are complete crap, certainly would have disqualified me if I had to apply then. It's misogynistic. In fact, to call the kangaroo a "training" and "transition" grant is yet more indication that this concoction was a farce dreamed up by a cadre of BSDs and NIH honchos to throw a bone to the tide of research "youngsters". The kangaroo is distorting research because it promotes 'fast' (and maybe wrong) science, sloppy but sexy science, and DB's who know how to muscle themselves over the backs of others into that first-author slot of a glamour pub. Forget about life-work balance, starting a family, or even doing science methodically accurate or taking on a risky project or thinking about switching fields from doc to post-doc.

    No way can such "traditional" scientist do such things and expect to survive in this tournament model. Convenient that you don't yet have to submit a urine sample when you send in your grant applications.

  • drugmonkey says:

    rxnm- you have drunken some bizarre Bethesda talking point Flavr*ade if you don't think extramural science works for the NIH in all ways that matter.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I don't think the K99s do anything to ease transitions- they go to the people that already look great on a shorter term for their post-docs, they just separate that cohort artificially through feed forward of shininess on those candidates. That said, it is pretty dumb that study sections would ask for more for someone with an R00 than not. New labs have startups- very early on time is the dominant variable, and then increasingly funding. It's all just a mess. Not clear where any of these discussions will really lead, but might as well still talk about it.

  • iGrrrl says:

    For AT who was looking for data:
    http://report.nih.gov/FileLink.aspx?rid=827 It's a ppt file, which DM has posted before, and if you page through it rapidly, it's like an animation of a cultural shift.

    This is from this page: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/#data

    The last three bullets under the Data on New Investigators heading would be of interest.

    But I do not view the K99/R00 as a hiring distortion. I see Engineering departments requiring an NSF CAREER award for tenure as a potential distortion, because not every great researcher will be a great teacher/scholar with a creative education plan. It is not enough to have talent; you have to also have initiative. The initiative to apply, the skills and savvy to succeed, are as DM as said, markers for the kind of faculty member they can expect.

  • rxnm says:

    "rxnm- you have drunken some bizarre Bethesda talking point Flavr*ade if you don't think extramural science works for the NIH in all ways that matter."

    You might have a point for soft money jobs, otherwise... meh. "ways that matter" is a weasel phrase.

    F-awards and K99s are structurally exactly the same thing as glam publishing. I don't get what why one bothers you so much and the others are just par for the course.

  • jojo says:

    "jojo, the vast majority of postdocs are already paid on research grants."

    "jojo- IME f32 apps from postdocs in labs without R funding are not favored"

    "IME not just "not favored" but not funded. Not enough $$ on the K-phase to support work. It's a problem with K-awards in general and their $25-40K/yr research funding."

    It might be the case in med that the "vast majority" of postdocs are paid directly from research grants to the PI, but that is not my experience in evo-eco where it's pretty much a 50-50 split between fellowships and Research Grants with a dash (5-10%?) of teaching fellows who also do research. And, yeah, a lot of F32's are granted to people in evo-eco through NIGMS and some of the other institutes (e.g. people who study echolocation in bats might get one through NIDCD or something).

    A common case is a postdoc starts on NSF or NIH funding, then a proposal is written for an F32, which frees up enough grant money to support the postdoc's project (rather than just the postdoc's salary). Anyway, I think F32's are essential for this type of research, where PI's have grants (such as NSF grants) that require man power but don't have enough funds to support it AND cost of supplies.

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