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!