Archive for: December, 2013

Some thoughts on recent K99/R00 updates

Dec 19 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

Even though classes are over and I'm about to leave for a few blissful days of eating and drinking with friends for the holidays, the all-too-imminent Jan 6 start of spring semester here has me feeling like this break is basically a joke. My goal is to have one paper, one foundation grant, and one R01 submitted by Feb 5, which is essentially tomorrow. However, I felt compelled to pop in here for a moment to make sure you saw the recent Notice of Reissuance for Career Development (K) awards. Most relevant to this blog are a few notes made on the K99/R00, or Pathway to Independence award.

Many people will tell you that a K99/R00 is a necessary thing for getting a TT job. While this is demonstrably false (mine was triaged), I can't deny that they help  A LOT, and I think if you're eligible, you should definitely apply. But are you eligible? It seems that NIH has started tightening the reins on what makes the perfect Kangaroo candidate, and I find some of the new bullet points here noteworthy (bold mine, italics theirs):

  • Candidates for the K99/R00 award must have no more than 4 years of postdoctoral research training experience at the time of the initial application or the subsequent resubmission.
  • Although the duration of postdoctoral training may vary across scientific disciplines, candidates must propose a plan for a substantive period of mentored training not to exceed 2 years.
  • It is expected that K99 awardees will benefit from no less than 12 months of mentored research training and career development before transitioning to the independent, R00 phase of the program.
  • Individuals who are close to achieving an independent faculty position, and cannot make a strong case for needing a minimum of 12 months of additional mentored training, are not ideal candidates for this award.
  • If an applicant achieves independence prior to initiating the K99 phase, neither the K99 nor the R00 phase will be awarded.

So! Let's work backwards here. You must have fewer than 4 years of pd training before submitting, including your A1. Best case scenario you're looking at 8 months in between A0 and A1 submissions, since you'll get your summary statement from A0 too close to/after the immediately following submission date. So be sure to submit right around the 3rd year mark, hopefully after you've gotten one or two nice papers out from your post-doc so you actually look competitive.

The 2nd bullet point is not that interesting.

The 3rd, however, I believe has gotten a little stricter than past iterations. You have to NEED that K99 phase, folks. At least a year. But what that really means is that at the time of applying, you need at least 2 years of subsequent mentoring, because of the math described above. So you should, I suppose, figure out what you're going to learn in the time the proposal goes through review and council, and then what you'll still need to learn after that.

"Close to achieving an independent faculty position" is such an interesting choice of words, isn't it? What does that even mean? You've had a couple interviews? Your big Nature paper just came out? I have no idea how anyone without an offer letter in hand could claim to be "close" to having a faculty position.

And if you do happen to sign that offer letter after applying but before accepting the award, NO GRANT FOR YOU! This I find very interesting, and perhaps a little confusing. I can understand that the NIH really wants this grant's primary purpose to be to help people get TT jobs, and so if you get a job before you get this grant, yay for you! Go write an R01 like the truly independent investigator you are and let some genuinely needy but exceptional post-doc have your money. But I can also imagine a scenario in which someone gets a great score and an offer letter sort of at the same time, and maybe that person works out a deal with the hiring institution to defer their appointment for a year so that they bring all those juicy R00 funds (and indirect costs) with them.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts. Interested to hear yours, and what your current experience with the kangaroo has been. Oh, and happy holidays!

30 responses so far

How do you choose a post-doc mentor? A guest post by SciTriGrrl

Dec 06 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

If you're hoping to end up on the tenure track, the work you do as a post-doc is arguably the most critical factor in whether you'll get there. Picking the right lab, then, is huge. But how do you know what the right one is? And is there just one? Weighing in on her experience is semi-regular guest post-er and all around amazing person NatC, aka SciTriGrrl.

How I chose a Post-doc lab [The most unhelpful post on choosing a postdoc that you’ll ever read]

This follows from a tweet from @TellDrTell quoting a speaker on the importance oc choosing a BSD for a post-doc. @dogwearingahat wrote about his experience and rationale for choosing a smaller lab.

At grad school, I started in the lab of a BSD.

It didn’t go well.

So I changed labs, and ended up with Professor X who was established, as yet untenured, had just gotten enough lab space to expand her lab, and worked on the topic that I super ridiculously interested in.

Reader, I was her first grad student.

I got a lot of advice when I started looking for a post-doc - on how different (or not) the research should be from my PhD, on what kind of lab I should join, what type of person I should work for, and where I should live.

My PhD advisor’s advice (because she is TEH BOMB) was simply this: go and do the research you’re interested in, somewhere you think you can do it well.

(For the record, my PhD advisor is now a BSD. And she is till awesome.)

Swedish Postdoc, not Swedish Chef

Swedish Postdoc, not Swedish Chef

My very good friend the Swedish postdoc told me that his criteria were (1) being able to have a good working relationship with someone; (2) doing good science, that you were interested in; and (3) being in the lab of someone that is around to be a mentor.

The mentorship thing was big for me - partly because of my first unhappy lab experience on this side of the world, but also because what I wanted to do was keep one foot in the kind of research I had been doing, while simultaneously moving the other foot into a square over *there*. And I knew enough to know that I had no idea what I was putting that foot into.

At that time, there were few labs doing exactly what I wanted to do. There were a couple of BSD labs, and a couple of others dotted around, and a fair number that started a couple of years after I began my post-doc, but 8 or 9 years ago, there weren’t many. But there was one person, Professor Z, whose work I knew, was already an established scientist, but still untenured, moved to the US

What sold me was that upon meeting Professor Z is that we were able to discuss science, ideas, have a drink and a meal. At my interview, she and I argued about my dissertation topic for so long that we were late to my talk. Any by argue I mean in the best possible kind of rigorous discussion. It was fun.  I joined her lab because of these things, plus (and this was critical) the timing and the funding worked out perfectly. When I joined her lab there were three of us.

In the lab of Professor X, I learned all I know about what is now a huge component of what I do, while simultaneously able to be productive. I worked on projects that ended up going on winding paths and ending up in entirely unexpected places - and I would not have been able to get there without her knowledge and mentorship, which for me was a balance between plenty of freedom, with the support to ask questions and discuss issues when they came up (and the occasional swift kick in the arse, applied with love). Later, with her encouragement, I was able to start, and get funding for, a crazy project, with several collaborators in entirely different fields.

One of the unsung advantages of doing some training in a smaller lab is that you learn how to set up or make things work with what you have. I was also able to learn from her experiences in dealing with the US system for the first time, and departmental politics, and the importance of getting everything in writing.

It worked out for both of us - I am a n00b TT faculty, she is now a full Professor.

More importantly for me, I had one of the best post-doc experiences of anyone I know. It wasn’t that I worked less hard or was less productive, it was that my mentor was around to be a mentor, and that she is an amazing and wonderful person - and I was so lucky to find someone I get along with so well.

My take on finding a post-doc that the thing that matters most is you - what do you need in a mentor and in a lab? What do you want to do? There are different advantages in different types of laboratories, and things will change dramatically over your post-doc - the lab you leave will be a very different place than the lab you joined (when I started in the lab there were 3 of us. When I left, there were 9) and your PI will be in a different career stage (unless you’re working with BSD).

As was pointed out in the twitter discussion, not everyone from any lab - BSD or not - has a fantastic postdoc, or chooses to try to stay in science. Telling people there’s a formula for a post-doc is complete bullshit. Similarly, some people have a great post-doc experience, and for others it sucks, and it more depends on personalities involved (and luck) than on the type of lab you choose.

So my 2 cents is this:

Want to succeed in science? Then you’ve got to want to stay in it. To do that, do research you are interested in, in a lab that you can grow, and in a place you’re going to enjoy. Listen to all the advice, then make up you’re own damn mind, for your own damn reasons.

So you don’t need a BSD, HHMI, Nobel-laureates lab to succeed. But if that’s the kind of lab you want to work in, go for it.

5 responses so far

Why is this important again?

Dec 05 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

And....exhale. Classes are over, my final exam written, and in 3 days I head for the sparkling sands of [redacted] for the annual meeting of Very Exclusive  Organization that Doesn't Seem All That Impressed With Me But Which I Continue to Jump Through Hoops For Anyway.

JK, I'm not really relaxing all that much. In fact, my blood pressure remains quite high, as I'm not only waiting on a summary statement for a very good-but-not-amazing score on my first real R01, but also a score on another big grant, my first manuscript decision, and a couple of symposium proposals. My 3rd-year review is coming up in less than 4 months, and I really need to push--papers especially.

To that end, I've started writing up the results of our first data set from my R21, which has been hugely productive.  In fact, the results are pretty awesome, and we're going to shoot pretty high with this one. Which means this paper needs to be impeccable: not just beautiful figures and compelling data, but tight, persuasive writing that will make the reviewers feel as if they've been raptured. With words.

But when you've been thinking about your own work for so long, you can forget how exciting, novel, and important it is. As I slogged through a draft of the intro yesterday, I whined to my colleague that I wasn't sure it had enough oomph. Her advice was so freaking brilliant that I had to share it with all of you: go read the summary statement. 

I mean, is that genius or what? Here are ten pages full of things people wrote about how your science is so exciting, novel, and important that they thought the government should give you HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF US DOLLARS to do it! I have to admit, it was a great little ego boost to go back and revisit all the nice things they said. In addition, I think it's useful to keep in mind what other people find compelling about your work. Whoever thinks "the science should speak for itself" is delusional (I may need a separate post on this attitude, which I encounter all too often).

Consider this little nugget of wisdom my holiday gift to you, lovely readers. Have a super December, filled with below-payline scores, manuscript acceptances, festive foods and beverages, and lots of  happiness.

2 responses so far