Evaluating the "success" of the K99/R00 awards

May 26, 2011

The topic was launched by a query over at writedit’s blog. Someone wanted to know if any K99/R00 awardees had landed R01 grants.

The answer is yes. Some have.

I suspect the question was motivated by a broader curiosity given that it referred to “success” of the grant program itself.

How would you define “success”?

Do you ask about the proportion that landed R01 support versus folks hired at same time w/o a K99/Roo? Seems to miss the idea that transition to independence was the point of the program. Valid or not, the assumption is that these folks were appointed faculty earlier than otherwise would have been the case. Or, appointed, period.

How about versus postdocs awarded F32 at time of K99s? That seems like a better comparison to me. Or maybe the K01- the K99/R00 population I am familiar with is one that might otherwise have been poised to pursue small level funding in almost-faculty positions typical of K01 recipients of my acquaintance.

On the smaller scale answer about success, I know 4 or 5 current Assistant Profs who were/are K99/R00 recipients. All of them seem to feel this was a positive contribution to their job hunt and negotiations. Although one has R01 support already, I don’t think it is necessarily expected value at this point. We’ll have to give it another year or two to really assess if they are having trouble landing grants or having an easy time of it, given the difficulties everyone faces right now.

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  1. I have heard complaints from R00 awardees of my acquaintance that their R01 applications are being judged harshly on the basis of “prior productivity”: i.e., whether they have produced senior-author manuscripts while funded by the R00. They feel like the R00 is hurting their ability to get an R01 compared to their cohorts with the same amount of independent faculty time elapsed who lack R00s.

    (I have no independent verification of this; I’m just reporting what I’m hearing.)

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  2. anon Says:

    opposing data point to cpp’s:

    I have an R00. No issues at all with prior productivity came up during my R01 reviews, and I got it.

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  3. qaz Says:

    The real question is not do K99/R00 recipients get R01s. But would they have gotten the R01s without the K99/R00? Are they more likely to get R01s than the top F32 recipients were before the K99/R00? Are they more likely to get R01s than F32 recipients are now?

    My feeling has always been that the K99/R00 was addressing a non-problem. People were getting appointments. People were even getting startup funds. People were getting their first R01s. My understanding is that the problems were hitting on the second R01s/Renewals.

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  4. Pinko Punko Says:

    I would terminate this program with extreme prejudice, given that it places NIH artificial constraints on the job applicant pool- people with shorter post-docs and already proven records (from grad school and likely a nice early result in the post-doc). Because K99 recipients are preferentially being given interviews, this is limiting those who might be competitive but have done longer post-docs or have had to do two. I would instead institute some sort of R21 program for 2 year grants that maybe do not count against ESI status. This will remove NIH from being the arbiter of who receives positions (in this financial climate at least) and would provide a mechanism for supporting early stage investigators.

    I feel that the current climate, K99s are impacting the interviewing pool for positions in a negative or exclusionary fashion.

    “We’re only looking at candidates with funding” is increasingly the mantra of search committees and the K99 promotes this attitude.

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  5. drugmonkey Says:

    What if they trashcanned all the F32 and T32 support for postdocs and put all that money into K99/R00s Pinko Punko? Would that be better?

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  6. Pinko Punko Says:

    I support F32s for sure- I think they are spread in a better fashion than K99s, they are more meaningful in terms of training and support in realistic time frames for more individuals. If the top of the top are getting K99s, what is the point of their further training (yes it could give more freedom)? The timing of the award doesn’t make sense. It is going to people that have good track records as grad students and already have shown productivity as post-docs- essentially people with records that make them competitive for jobs already. In addition, the time frame between submission and funding is reasonable chunk of the time the funding is supposed to be for- and the guidelines state that the K99 part really should be for training, but in my experience awardees that I have known have pretty much gone on the market the year they’ve had their K99 awarded, which I don’t think is the idea.

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  7. whimple Says:

    This will remove NIH from being the arbiter of who receives positions (in this financial climate at least) and would provide a mechanism for supporting early stage investigators.

    This may be true, but regardless of who gets the positions, the NIH will be the final arbiter of who gets to keep those positions, so maybe picking NIH-club insiders from day one makes sense (particularly in this financial climate)? If you can’t get a K99, can you be realistically competitive with members of your cohort that have one?

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  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    I think you probably overestimate the number of K99/R00 awards versus open faculty positions. Also there seems to be some logical smear here about who was most competitive for jobs before this mechanism was invented. The fact that it is a guidepost identifying the creme de la creme (or “insiders” if you prefer) doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before.

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  9. DrugMonkey Says:

    PPunko re: timing- this is a problem with F32 awards as well in this climate of revisions. I’m one who thinks we should move to one attempt and done for those.

    Nevertheless, while I’ve seen some folks be on the market as the K99 phase starts, I’ve also seen a few for whom that first interval really was used as late-postdoc support. So what? The real purpose of the award is to facilitate *transition*, not to emphasize late-stage postdoctoral “training”.

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  10. neurowoman Says:

    The purpose of the K99/R00 program, as I understand it, was to shorten the length of postdocs, especially among the most promising young scientists. Did the K99/R00 recipients all get jobs? I suspect they did. Would they have gotten those jobs without the K99/R00? Probably, but perhaps a little later, so in that sense perhaps they shortened postdocs for those select few. I don’t think it’s done much to shorten postdocs for the entire cohort of people who were just as good as the K99/Rooers but didn’t get the awards for purely statistical reasons (only so many to go around), perhaps made them longer, since it introduced a bias for the K99/R00ers among search committees.

    Is getting those talented scientists into full time positions earlier a good thing? Hard to say. You’d have to know what the success rate for full funding (R01’s, etc; or HHMI money) is among R00-awardees versus the top cohort of non-R00s, which is pretty impossible to delineate.

    I can tell you that getting F32 support and then independent R03 support can’t compete with the glamour of the K99/R00 during the TT job searches…

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  11. becca Says:

    “I can tell you that getting F32 support and then independent R03 support can’t compete with the glamour of the K99/R00 during the TT job searches”
    It’s not necessarily glamor, though, right? Just adding up the institutional $$ it seems like the K99/R00 would be the clear choice from the institution’s perspective.

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  12. I have chaired and served on numerous search committees both before and after the K99/R00 program started, and we have never given any particular weight to the possession of one of these, and pay more attention to F32s.

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  13. gerty-z Says:

    Pinko Punko, I’m not sure that your anecdotal experiences are actually “normal”. I know lots of folks, including me, that weren’t necessarily the superstar postdoc but that were able to get good jobs, in large part because of support from the K99 program. I do think a quicker turnaround would be better, but I disagree that the program is fatally flawed.

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  14. neurowoman Says:

    Interesting, CPP, I find it difficult to believe, but maybe that’s just my sour grapes of being too old for the program by the time it came along!

    Becca – sure, it’s somewhat about the $ amount, but also about your likelihood of acquiring funding in the future. One could argue that the R03 be considered as good a stepping stone to R01: shows initiative and independence, ability to write a straight-out grant, productivity based on that grant, project management, possibly personnel management. Not so dependent on being the star trainee in the super-PI lab (my bias regarding K99s, but that might just be a preconception, as Gerty-Z writes).

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  15. newbie anon Says:

    I think the better comparison would be people who got K22s. Basically the Independent side of the R00. Is there a difference between people who got K22’s and people who got K99’s in their ability to get a RO1 once they got a job. I would expect it to be pretty similar.

    I do agree that the K99 people get a bump when going through search commitee’s (they did here in my dept.) but any funding is needed here. We can’t hire without some type of grant, either K08, K22, K99, RO1, etc.

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  16. drugmonkey Says:

    Is that “can’t” or “won’t”? How does that work exactly if it is “can’t”?

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  17. Pinko Punko Says:

    My experience in the last three years is that interviews have been limited for a number of searches by existing funding of candidates. I think this doesn’t allow what I think would be the maximal spread of candidates to be seen in interviews. I think that it narrows the field of candidates based on criteria for K99 that I think are different from R01 or NSF funding or any number of grants that can keep a lab running. So, yes, whimple, I think that many people without K99s could be competitive to those with in the R01 arena. I’m not convinced the competitions are the same.

    I do think that it can shorten the post-doc if post-docs with the award are more attractive because they have a shot at R00 money, but I don’t think that is how the K-part of the award is written.

    I think this hasn’t been observed for CPP because CPP is, I think, at Fancypants Med somewhere, and a K99/R00 couldn’t make or break a candidate because I presume the candidates that they are after will require substantially more funds to snag them in that market.

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  18. BikeMonkey Says:

    Comrade PhysioProf @ #1, this would be the same for any other research support obtained early in the career. May be unfair based on timeline (first two years of appointment and no papers? Gasp!!!) but it is standard stuff for someone who has held research grants of any reasonable size.

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  19. Crisp Says:

    My boss told me before applying for K99R00 grant that you are not in a David Baltimore lab! Despite the preleminary data I showed in the grant being extremely novel and propospects of future research goals equally comprehensive. The status I received at the end—NOT DISCUSSED! After some time I published a hgh impact paper after working on the same goals as proposed in the grant.

    Bottomline: Nepotism is killing science. I wanted to let the review commitee ask what makes them not to discuss my grant. Was it their incompetence or mine?

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  20. drugmonkey Says:

    Yours or neither.

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  21. physioprof Says:

    I wanted to let the review commitee ask what makes them not to discuss my grant. Was it their incompetence or mine?

    If that first sentence exemplifies your ability to write in English, then it was most likely yours.

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  22. My story Says:

    I got a K99 and I am not in a famous lab or at a famous insitiution. I am guessing my success came in part from 1) having a novel research idea that was polished by clever input from my mentors, colleagues, and chairman 2) discussions with PO/s early in the development of the research strategy and throughout the process, 3) a custom training plan that specifically addressed my weaknesses, 4) demonstration of a mentorship committee that was dedicated to my success (each detailed their roles and responsibilities), 5) respectful and thoughtful responses to A0 critiques that included proof-of-concept prelim data in the A1, 6) lots of support from family and friends, and 7) luck! Early on I was discouraged by some because I was not in famous lab and did not have a paper in Science. I am thankful that I persisted. A few of my colleagues from ‘famous’ labs turned their failed K99 into successful R01s. In these cases, the K99/R00 proposal was lacking either a very strong/detailed training component or clear divergence from ‘famous’ mentors research. Because their science and potential were excellent, their proposals fared very well as R01s (n = 2). Not sure if this is helpful, but I would hate to discourage someone from applying for this mechanism based on fame of mentor or instituion alone. I would also argue that the experience and relationships gained from the process are valuable, regardless of the end result. Of the 3 people I know who got a K99, all would say it helped them get a job and a good start-up.

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  23. iGrrrl Says:

    Anyone considering a K99/R00 should read My story’s comment again. The big problem I see with these proposals (and also with K01, K08, K23, etc.) is the lack of a clear plan for the K portion of the award. What skills are you missing? Do you have a project that requires those skills? How will you get them? How will you be mentored through this process? This part gets short shrift in most K-type applications.

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