Well that was quick. I was just appreciating that the "Early Stage Investigator" (ESI) designation is significantly different from the older "New Investigator" (NI) designation in NIH-speak. There is now a Guide notice out to clarify.
The NOT-OD-08-121 tells us:
The NIH will continue to encourage all New Investigators to apply for NIH R01 awards. However, under this new policy, those New Investigators who are within 10 years of their terminal research degree or within 10 years of completing a medical residency, will be identified as Early Stage Investigators. Their applications will be identified and their career stage will be considered at the time of review and award. It is hoped that by providing an advantage for ESIs, the NIH will be able to directly encourage earlier application for NIH research grant support.
(A little more detail, just for those that aren't up on the NIH speak. )
New Investigator: An NIH research grant Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) who has not yet competed successfully for a substantial, competing NIH research grant is considered a New Investigator. For example, a PD/PI who has previously received a competing NIH R01 research grant is no longer considered a New Investigator. However, a PD/PI who has received a Small Grant (R03) or an Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21) retains his or her status as a New Investigator. A complete definition of a New Investigator along with a list of NIH grants that do not disqualify a PD/PI from being considered a New Investigator can be found at http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/resources.htm.
Early Stage Investigator (ESI): An individual who is classified as a New or First-Time Investigator and is within 10 years of completing his/her terminal research degree or is within 10 years of completing medical residency (or the equivalent) is considered an Early Stage Investigator (ESI).
Extension of ESI Eligibility: The 10 year period after completion of the terminal degree or residency may be extended to accommodate special circumstances including various medical concerns, disability, pressing family care responsibilities, or active duty military service. Guidelines for requesting and considering such requests are being developed and will be announced.
Translation: "We will be focusing our pickups on those within 10 years of terminal degree".
Actually this is nowhere as bad as I had anticipated, frankly. The K99/R00 PI award limited the awardee to 5 years out from the terminal degree and I was suspecting they'd go with that. Ten is much more realistic at present for picking up someone who is an independent investigator and competitive for an R01 in the current environment.
One wonders how much real effect this will have, however. Once you clip off those NI types who skate in by the narrowest of technical criteria (longterm productive NSF or foreign-funded investigators) and the within-10yrs individuals, are there really that many competitive PIs left? With the NI pickups in the past couple of years, have these not been going to the within-10yr crowd? Have they been funding only the technical-criteria people? Why are they never up front about this stuff?
I'm also very doubtful this will "encourage early transition to independence" in any meaningful way. The transition to independence that is most important is the acquisition of a professorial-level (at minimum grant-writing) appointment. This is still very much in the hands of the local Universities and I see nothing in this reclassification that encourages them to hire new faculty with fewer postdoctoral years under his/her belt. How many places are offering positions to people with 9yrs of postdoctoral training (for starters) and are going to start hiring at 6-7 years out from degree? I don't see the prospect of increased "consideration" for funding being much of a motivator.
Oh, and how has that K99/R00 thing been going, anyway? Now THAT is a real transition mechanism that actually encourages Universities to pony up positions. My sources rumour that while sure, there are some hires taking place there are also a lot of people not getting offers. Also, a fair number are simply staying where they were as postdocs and ascending to the research and/or tenure-track faculty tracks. How about it NIH? Is this program working as intended or not? If so, expand it. Me, I suggest replacing all current postdoctoral fellowship mechanisms (Individual and Institutional) with this. If it is not working, well...the designation of the ESI isn't going to do much about "early transition".