NCI will ease that difficult transition to postdoc

December 24, 2015

I am still not entirely sure this is not an elaborate joke.

The purpose of the NCI Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award (F99/K00) is to encourage and retain outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated potential and interest in pursuing careers as independent cancer researchers. The award will facilitate the transition of talented graduate students into successful cancer research postdoctoral appointments, and provide opportunities for career development activities relevant to their long-term career goals of becoming independent cancer researchers.

The need for a transition mechanism that graduate students can apply for is really unclear to me.

Note: These are open to non-citizens on the appropriate visa. This is unlike the NRSA pre- and post-doc fellowships.

27 Responses to “NCI will ease that difficult transition to postdoc”

  1. Mad Sci Says:

    Can’t a pre-doctoral NRSA just transition into an post-doctoral NRSA in the same general field?? Assuming GS advisor/committee don’t just decide to screw over the trainee and demand they spend the entirety of the NRSA in GS (which was my experience)?


  2. Dave Says:

    Didn’t see this coming. What’s next? Undergraduate to gradute school teansition award?


  3. Dave Says:



  4. drugmonkey Says:

    Cradle to grave


  5. Philapodia Says:

    There is already a transition award. It’s called the R01 that the mentor has to support grad students and post-docs. This will probably just end up being a supplement for current R01 holders (who will likely write the grants largely themselves with minor input from students).


  6. Morgan Price Says:

    I’ve heard some talk about how grad students should be funded by training grants or fellowships not R01s. Maybe this is similar but for soon to be postdocs?

    Philopodia — I think the idea is that you’d apply before you’d have a postdoc lined up. “The F99/K00 award is intended for individuals who require 1-2 years to complete their Ph.D. dissertation research training (F99 phase) before transitioning to mentored postdoctoral research training (K00 phase).”


  7. The Other Dave Says:

    Didn’t everyone else find it annoying to have to pay postdocs until they got their own funding? This makes it possible to only hire postdocs that already have funding.

    …another great scam by the top labs to make things better for themselves ๐Ÿ˜‰


  8. The Other Dave Says:

    Dave: There will never be an undergraduate to graduate award, because the financial burden is already on undergraduates for that phase of their career. Thus, there is no incentive for fat cat labs to shift the burden to taxpayers.

    And please don’t mistake undergraduate training programs as anything other than a way to exploit undergraduates for indirect cost money. Every dollar going to entertaining a student is worth 50 cents to a dollar for the institution.


  9. qaz Says:

    It’s another step! Now the next generation needs to get a Bachelors (UG) then a PhD (*) then they have to get the F99/K00, then they can get an F32, and then a K99/R00, and then, finally, a faculty job and an R01. This way, they never need to renew their R01 because they’ll be ready to retire by the time they finally are faculty. As with the K99/R00, it solves a non-existent problem.

    * Also, don’t forget some UG believe they have to take 2-3 years off between UG and PhD working either as techs in a lab or getting a Masters.

    In reality, (assuming this is not a practical joke), I think they’re trying to take a first step towards making each student bring their own funding, with the eventual goal of moving away from R01s as the means of funding personnel. This is in keeping with the concept of “people not projects” that they have been espousing.

    In practice, this is going to be yet another marker of protege-hood. Just as the K99/R00 has become a marker for new faculty hiring but didn’t change the number of new faculty hires, the F99/K00 will become a marker for postdocs. The golden proteges will have had F31 to F99/K00 to F32 to K99/R00 funding and be marked as on their way.


  10. The Other Dave Says:

    Qaz: Someone at NIH has figured out that most of their money keeps going to the same people at the same places over and over again, and decided that it would be most efficient to just hand money to those people without the bother of project review. They are externalizing the intramural funding program.


  11. qaz Says:

    Sounds OK to me as long as I get to be one of those people. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  12. Established PI Says:

    I am waiting to hear what problem this program is intended to solve. Or are the rich not getting richer quickly enough?


  13. DJMH Says:

    I’m pro. A good student nonetheless sometimes discovers she can’t join the lab of choice for a postdoc because they don’t have money for her. This is a chance to take a flyer on that promising but underfunded lab, rather than having all the best postdocs go to the BSD labs.

    Or, it’s a Golden Ticket scheme and only the Veruca Salts of this world, with Uncle Howie ripping open study section candy bars on their behalf, will make it through. Who can say?


  14. Juan Lopez Says:

    I think this is good. It would allow some PhD students to apply and find out before finishing their PhD if they have an opportunity at guiding their own future.

    If they get it, they will be more attractive as post docs, and will have much more freedom to pursue their own projects since they will not be supported by the PIs grants.

    If they don’t get this award, maybe it’s the message they need. This will give them a better sense of the system they will live and die by as post docs and potential PIs.

    Of course much of the money will go to the same BSD labs, but that’s going on already.


  15. Emaderton3 Says:

    If they are going to fund more people on the front end, then they better be prepared to fund more people on the back end. Why create the potential for more cancer PIs if you cannot support them all later?


  16. AcademicLurker Says:

    what Emaderton3 said. I can’t believe that NIH is still convinced that the most pressing problem facing the biomedical research enterprise is that we’re not pushing enough noobs onto the career track, irrespective of how many of them end up dropping out within 5-10 years after incurring massive opportunity costs.

    Alternatively, TOD and Established PI have it right.


  17. Craig Says:

    There seem to be some good aspects of the mechanism. As others have pointed out, F99/K00 puts power into the trainee’s hands. You can advertise yourself to labs of interest as a postdoc with 4 years of funding in-hand. While the potential PI still needs to have the resources to support the research you want to do, it would be so nice to go in knowing you’re set (in salary terms at least) to focus on publishing and career transition awards.

    I also noticed that the K00 section is both A) salary support and not fellowship money and B) higher than current NRSA levels.

    There are also many institutes that only allow diversity applications for pre-doc NRSA awards. I would have liked the opportunity to apply when I was a grad student, as after the NSF NRSA window closed there really weren’t any options available aside from institutional training grants.

    My concern is how reviewers could possibly determine who is going to become an “independent cancer researcher” when an individual still has years left in graduate school at the time of application.

    Still, props to NCI with their recent creativity in trying to address problems in career progression.


  18. Dave Says:

    Another concern for me is that there is a precious moment in ones scientific career where money isn’t the number one concern, and that’s during the early post-doc years. I worry about burdening young researchers with grants too early on. We all know how grant chasing can affect our relationship with science.

    Yes, yes, I know it will help prepare them for a career and all that, but they are still learning to do experiments during this time and should focus on that without having to worry about their salary.


  19. qaz Says:

    Dave – While it may have been true that money was not the number one concern of graduate students in a previous era (*), it is no longer true anymore. In my experience, current graduate students are very aware of money situations, and the best ones are always applying for grants and planning money issues very much like PIs.

    * My graduate program kept graduate students insulated from funding woes. (Whether this was the field or the time or the school, I don’t know, but it was a great thing.) I try very hard to make it clear to the graduate students in our program that they have a net and that it is our problem as PIs to make sure they’re funded, but they are very aware of the funding situations because those funding situations affect their lives pretty directly.

    Craig – Because this thing will be the mark of success, it will be like DM’s point about the HHMI – the people are successful because they’ve been picked. Generally, I think it would be easy to pick people in year 4 of graduate school who have a high chance of success in becoming faculty. The problem is the people who don’t make the AAA team – would they have succeeded if given a chance?

    An interesting point about the F99/K00 application, though, which makes it very different from the NRSA: When awarded, the committee will only know about the graduate advisor, not the postdoc advisor. This will make it easier for students from famous PI labs and big-name schools to get these awards and go do postdocs in smaller places / less-famous PI labs. This is the opposite of what I’ve usually seen (that students progress from small/less-famous to large/more-famous). I wonder if that is a good thing or not. I suppose it depends on whether the effect is to free up the postdoc to go to smaller, less-well-funded labs, or whether the F99/K00 kids go from famous labs to famous labs and the effect is to shift the you-must-be-this-famous-to-play line earlier.


  20. jmz4 Says:

    Generally this seems like a very good concept, if the point is to expand the program to cover a large number of postdocs. In theory, it would give the NIH pretty direct control over the number of postdocs, which is essential to fixing the workforce pipeline issues.
    If it stays limited in scope, it will, much like the K99, just become another way for the corrupting influence of glamour magz and pedigree worship to seep into the training pipeline, and in doing so, allow big labs to garner more of the NIH pie.

    This language:
    “The salary must be consistent both with the established salary structure at the institution and with salaries actually provided by the institution from its own funds to other staff members of equivalent qualifications, rank, and responsibilities in the department concerned”
    Usually means that institutional rates will apply. The only people I’ve seen kick up salaries to the max level of a fellowship are the hospitals, and they usually do that by promoting the person to a new position, which wouldn’t really be workable here.


  21. Newprof Says:

    This is only 1 application/ institution/due date though so I’m not sure what happens at big institutions with multiple big labs..


  22. Dusanbe Says:

    Those who think that this will allow bold young risk-takers to join a small scrappy lab for their PD are utterly deluded. Quite frankly I can’t believe that y’all are that innocent. Naw, these awards will go straight to the mini BSD clones who would NEVER dare step off the A-train. They will have a proven record of PEDIGLAM (pedigree + glam) and a proposal that promises a double serving of the same. They will then be able to land a coveted spot in a place like the Broad where they can have an army of research specialists do all the vertically ascending experiments and analyses for them.


  23. The Other Dave Says:

    I wish I could upvote Dusanbe’s comments.


  24. I have a crazy thought: use the money to make new PI positions… so those former ‘genius’ grad students get a perspective.


  25. also, what Dusanbee said.


  26. jmz4 Says:

    “They will then be able to land a coveted spot in a place like the Broad where they can have an army of research specialists do all the vertically ascending experiments and analyses for them.”
    -Ugh, I wish I could hate the Broad model of science, except that it works for the people in the institution (and their collaborators). Hopefully we can at least hold it up as a reason that having well-paid staff scientists is a good idea.
    But yeah, people on job search committees, don’t expect that guy/gal coming out of the Broad to be able to do actual research on their own. They might be able to, but the environment certainly doesn’t select for it.


  27. Lincoln Says:

    Less “transitioning” and more “positioning”, please.


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