The function of early career awards

The NIH has identified the age at first R01 as a problem stat, and its recent response has been to try to promote early career development. Cue skepticism, but anyway, examples include the K99 “transition” award and some new skip-the-postdoc award, which are supposed to get people into productive PI mode faster. What I’m going to suggest without much evidence is that what these awards do mainly is perpetuate the pedigree/patronage system. Times are tough. Funding and faculty positions are harder to come by, even for the anointed trainees of the alpha dogs. Wouldn’t it be nice if they got money first, thus automatically moving their applications to the top of the short list?

Rather than wade through CRISP – a true testament to government record keeping – I found that some institutes just list K99 awardees on their Web site. For the last 2 years, in fields I am more or less familiar with, I Googled the recipients to see what postdoc labs they came from. Not a lot of surprises. I know a few K99 recipients. All did good postdoc work, and all came from pedigree labs. They will be good PIs, I’m sure.

What I don’t know how to compare these people against everyone who didn’t get a K99. And I’m not saying that anyone on the recipient list didn’t deserve a K99 as much as anyone else. Just sayin’, when times are tight the people at the top take care of their own.


11 Comments on “The function of early career awards”

  1. this should not be that difficult to test. Get list of K99 and sponsors, get list of sponsor R01 see if they correlate

  2. DrugMonkey says:

    Agreed. In my areas the K99/R00s (and PECASE awards for jr fac) are going to those from highly NIDA/NIAAA funded / respected / networked groups.

  3. jbashir says:

    It seems to me that the K99 is certainly by design meant to go to the alpha dogs. That’s the environment, and mentor part of your applications. Good ideas are nice, but they don’t beat good ideas plus fancy pants university & big wig mentors.

  4. Dave says:

    Well, having applied (without success) for a K99, I can say that it is certainly a very difficult award to get. This year my main institute (NIDDK) had an impact score payline of 10 – 15 and the PO told me directly that they have K99s with scores of 10 which they will not be able to fund. At that kind of payline, who the fuck knows how decisions ultimately get made. They may as well just draw straws.

    I received a respectable score that may have been in the fundable range a couple of years ago. I generally received good comments, but what killed me was the lack of a glamor mag pub. Two out of the three referees made comments like “excellent publication record, but competing candidates have Cell, Mol. Cell, Nature Med papers”. All my papers are in top society level journals. It was almost like they were saying it apologetically. Regardless, that was game over for me.

    The point is that I am honestly not sure how much more important pedigree/mentor is over the glamor of the journals the candidate has published in.

  5. miko says:

    That is some serious bullshit. I can’t believe some fucking witless douche sits there and doesn’t even pretend that the merit of the work matter more than where it’s published.

  6. Dave says:

    The funniest thing was that I pubmed…ed (?) every single member of the study section. Not one of them had a pub in any of the high-IF journals that the reviewers mentioned. Not a single fucking one of them, and only a few had published in the top journals in our field like I have. I acually know a member of the study section and she told me later on that they are obsessed with glam mags in the review process for the Ks, much more so than on other sections she had been involved with (R01 etc).

    Conclusion? Some of the K-study sections are clearly holding the very young candidates to brutal standards which they themselves can only dream of meeting. But with a limited budget in the existing system, how else can they differentiate between otherwise equal candidates?

  7. biochembelle says:

    I attended a seminar at EB2012 on career development awards, which was presented by a program officer from NIH. Regarding K99 awards, he specified that the sponsoring lab had to be well-funded for the duration of the applicant’s K99 portion for the application to really be considered at all…

  8. rxnm says:

    The K99 PA is full of “pedigree” code language. Hey…that’s short enough for a tweet!

  9. rxnm says:

    There is a bunch of crap about “mentoring track record” (i.e., old + your previous postdocs have gotten jobs, therefore you are good at getting people jobs, therefore we should help you get people jobs)…. I am essentially the first postdoc from an untenured prof’s lab to go on the job market. I don’t know why I put myself through it.

  10. Dave says:

    Just to be clear here, I work for a very, very famous researcher in our field, but the work we/he does is clinically focused with some basic elements to it, and so this does not easily lend itself to C/N/S pubs.

    But as an illustration of how stupid this all is, his “landmark” paper was rejected from all the sexy medical journals 30 years ago and was published in a well respected society-level journal with an IF of 4. It has now been cited almost 5000 times since then and is probably one of the most significant pieces of work in our field for decades. He has had an R01 for 35 straight years and has won every single award/honor he can in our field. All this without a sinlge C/N/S paper. Not one.

    I guess I bring this up to demonstrate two things: (1) pedigree means little in K99 review, up to a certain point. Once you cross a “pedigree threshold”, C/N/S papers are probably more important; (2) a C/N/S paper is not in any way a requirement for a highly successful research career (at least not historically) and, if we are making decisions on who can/cannot follow their scientific dreams based on this single criteria, then science is in a lot of trouble because a very large number of outstanding scientists will be lost forever.

  11. […] than you think. New Genetic Test Reveals Your Cat’s Ancestry CDC: Pretty Much Everyone Is Fat The function of early career awards A Dirty, Deadly Bite Make Us Do the Math Good Scientist! You Get a Badge. Precious research money […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s