NIH is changing the K99/R00 rules. Seriously NIH?

Feb 14 2013 Published by under Careers

So the NIH has decided they're going to change the rules for the K99/R00 mechanism. The Notice of Intent can be found here. The big change is the postdoctoral training application window is being decreased from 5 years to 4.

Bad move in my opinion.

As I noted on the Twits, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all postdoctoral experience.

I understand having an upper limit on postdoctoral training for applicants. The amount of time postdocs are spending in a holding pattern trying to land a tenure-track position has become ridiculous. An upper limit of five years is reasonable since it will give most people the chance to gain the experience they need for TT, but excludes those who's chances of obtaining such a position are dropping off due to "excessively" long* as a postdoc.

But four years? That's too short for many people. If you don't hit the ground running and pump out data rapidly in the first couple of years you will have at best one shot at applying for a K99/R00. Not all science is amenable to that. Most worthwhile science turns out not to be.

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* For the record, I landed my position after more than 6 years as a postdoc/research associate.

20 responses so far

  • Yes! Especially if you want to learn something new in your postdoc. This kind of stuff forces people to continue to do exactly what they did in grad school in order to publish something fast.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Also, since the A1 needs to be within the 4 years as well (if the old rules regarding that still apply), that means that A0 needs to go in probably in the middle of the 3rd year at the latest. In many disciplines, this is hardly enough time to establish a "track record" for yourself as a promising future independent researcher.

    For the record, I also had more than 6 years of post-doc work under my belt before getting my faculty offer.

    What I think they should do instead is make the K99 part of things only 1 year--enough time to generate some preliminary data to take with you when you go, maybe learn a new technique. By the time you're competitive enough to get a K99/R00, do you really need 2 more years of "training?"

    • odyssey says:

      Yep, the old rules still apply. See Mike's comment below.

    • Bashir says:

      Then what happens to people who don't get a TT position right then during year 1? Does the R00 money disappear because it takes another year to land a gig or can it be saved? Right now I believe the rule is if you don't land a TT gig during the K period the R00 money disappears.

      • jakester says:

        My experience with the NIH was that they were very willing to provide an extension between my K99 and R00 period. I had interviews but my offers didn't come until late into the season. I ended up only needing a few extra months but there was talk of giving me an extension of up to one year. No extra money of course, but I didn't lose the R00.

        • Bashir says:

          ok that's good. I thought the two year K period was a firm cutoff. If they are flexible on the time of the K period, regardless of the money, that will make things much better.

  • sara says:

    I agree with both comments so far, though I do see an advantage to reducing the window of application, since the sense I get from my program director is that only the postdocs in the 4th-5th are even competitive.

    But... maybe I'm missing something, but often the postdoc years are when people start having babies, and won't putting a 4 year cap on an opportunity like this (many people say you can't get a job without it) discourage people who want families from pursuing science even more?

  • Mike says:

    4 years maximum for the initial submission or the resubmission. How many get accepted without a resubmission? So it's actually barely more than 3 years for the initial submission.

  • MitosRock says:

    I'd really prefer to see a situation where they shorten the time-to-review after submission. Right now (assuming you go through A1) it can easily be 18 months from primary submission to $$. It may not matter much if you successfully compete for the grant. But for those who don't, they're basically waiting to see what their future will be while other opportunities may be passing them by. Allowing A1 submissions to not drop a review cycle would cut this by 6 months, and do more to let postdocs be proactive about their careers than imposing time limits on eligibility.

  • anonfornow says:

    Well, I got my K99 on the first round, within the four year window in fact. Pigs do fly. But I think this change is in response to a very real situation: virtually all the K99-ers I know went on the market in the first year of their K99, rather than the second as is sort of intended by the award. This is because the lag is so long--by the time your funding starts, it is almost a year after your submission, so (if you're like most people) you're in your sixth year of postdoc already anyhow. And, of course, with the K under your belt, you figure you have a good chance at the job market.

    Dr Becca's solution to this problem is to shorten the K99 period to one year. The problem with THAT is that it only works well for certain rounds of funding. If your funding starts in, say, Feburary, it's too late to hit the job market that year--but by February of the following year, you are still just visiting campuses in the sleet! So that doesn't really work either.

    I think this move ends up prejudicing the K99 applications in favor of people who had stellar graduate careers, so as long as they have a society-type paper out by year 4 of postdoc, they're going to get it. It reduces the utility of the K99 as a metric for postdoctoral success, which I think is a shame....not everyone who does well in grad school is destined for later lab success, and vice versa.

  • anonfornow says:

    Agreed with MitosRock, the real problem here is the delay between application and funding. Obviously NIH would rather not solve their self-created problems, and instead is choosing to push the ramifications of those problems onto postdocs.

  • qaz says:

    The K99 was a stupid idea in the first place. NIH knew going in that this was not where people were falling off the road. Universities were (and still are) happy to hire people they think will succeed in getting grants. All the K99 did was up the ante for the universities to be able to put less of their own skin in the game. Universities were hiring before the K99 and will hire again when it is dead and gone.

    What we REALLY need is better systems for second-grants. That's where people were (and still are) falling. Not after postdoc, not after gradschool, but after 6 years of faculty, when they don't get tenure because they don't get that grant renewal.

    • SearchChair says:

      I disagree with this. Universities across the board are requiring funding to start out now. Either a K22 or K99 for postdocs. I agree that the next step and second grants are hard to get but I think that having a grant gets you the job which then hopefully gives you time to get the R01 or R21 that you need to take off.

      • qaz says:

        Yes, universities are demanding grants now. But they weren't then! And they were hiring the same number of people. The K99 had no effect on number of hires. (At least I have never seen anyone show an effect of the K99 on increasing hiring.) If the K99 went away, universities would no longer demand them.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    Yes, these changes are bad for women. Come on NIH, I thought you could do better!

  • BostonDoc says:

    I understand all the stated pluses and minuses of 4 versus 5 year time limits for this award. But I'm a little unsure how I feel. As someone commented 4 years may favor those who had stellar graduate careers and didn't significantly change fields as a postdoc. But is that so bad? Maybe it should? Funding is ridiculously tight and why should someone with a good graduate career and 3 solid years of postdoc need to wait another 3 years before securing funding that will likely lead to a faculty position? In my humble opinion that's ridiculous. At my rather large East Coast school I see many people doing one 4 year postdoc and then starting a second for another 3 or 4 years - how successful will all these career postdocs now be as faculty members.

    Maybe in graduate school we should be going into the postdoc experience with the mindset of 3-4 years and then faculty (or something else!)

  • Benjamin Teller says:

    The tough part, that nobody wants to talk about, is that even with a K99/R00, the chances of getting a tenure track position are getting worse. Furthermore, the chances getting an R01 are remote. The truth is that in the Sequester Era, NIH has circled the wagons around a few labs that it has chosen to fund and the rest are left to twist in the wind. It almost doesn't matter how brilliant a grant you write anymore. They also continue to fudge the numbers on grant success rates and tell us that everything is fine. Yeah right.

    • odyssey says:

      Actually there's quite a lot of talk about those kinds of things on the blogosphere and twits.