What the new NINDS grant mechanism means for postdocs

By Helena Lucente

On Monday, the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke announced it had discontinued its participation in the NIH-wide F32 National Research Service Award for postdoctoral scholars. Instead, the NINDS has established a new F32 NRSA where only graduate students a year prior to joining a lab or a postdoc in their first year may apply for funding. This is the first institute at the NIH to create an F32 mechanism that restricts the number of years a postdoc can apply for federal funding. Postdocs in their second to fourth year will have the opportunity to apply to NINDS for a K01 award that funds postdocs for up to six years.

The F32 is the primary method for postdocs to obtain funding for their training, and is often seen as a stepping stone to a faculty position. Consequently, the new eligibility requirements may affect a trainee’s competitiveness in the academic job market and the trajectory of their career. By the end of an NINDS F32 award, postdocs would likely be in a position to compete for a K99 to transition to a faculty position. However, due to the timing of the award, K01 awardees may not be as competitive for the K99, which restricts applicants to having no more than four years of postdoc experience. Could the new NINDS F32 lead to a two-tier system where F32 awardees are destined for an academic position and K01 awardees are not? And if so, what are the career prospects for K01 awardees?

Postdocs often spend considerable time training and many complete several postdocs before moving on to another position. It is not clear how the new award structure will affect training for all of the careers available to postdocs, or if this early and late-stage approach will reinforce the sense that someone who doesn’t get an F32 is unsuited for an academic position.

It will be interesting to see how the NIH grant mechanism evolves overtime. Continue to follow the RBR blog for more information on issues that directly affect postdoc funding.

helena-smile-2Helena Lucente wants to bridge the gap between science and society through improving science advocacy, policy, education and communication. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in Oncological Sciences and M.S. in Clinical Investigation at the University of Utah. She can be reached on Twitter at @HelenaLucente1 and via email at Helena.Lucente@hci.utah.edu.

The RBR Writing Program is intended to help graduate students and postdocs receive policy writing experience. For more information, contact RBR Director Chris Pickett.