The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) released two Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) over the past few months that re-work how the Institute funds postdoctoral fellowships. MDF encourages trainees to consider these options, as well as funding from other NIH Institutes, including the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
The first Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), the NINDS Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for Training of Postdoctoral Fellows (F32; PAR-16-458), has been the standard funding mechanism for individual postdoctoral fellowship awards. The change in this FOA pertains to the timing of eligibility for an F32: “support by this program is limited to the first 3 years of a candidate's activity in a specific laboratory or research environment. For example, if an award is made 18 months after the start of the postdoctoral position in the fellowship laboratory or research environment, the award duration will be for a maximum of 18 months.”
Effectively, this FOA limits the timing of submission of an F32 application to the period from 12 months before to 12 months after the actual start date of fellowship training. The stated rationale is to encourage project design and F32 submissions at an early career stage and timely completion of mentored training. Applicant-generated preliminary data is discouraged in order to facilitate proposal of innovative projects with substantial impact. F32 award budgeting levels are set by the NIH annually.
NINDS recognized that additional training and research accomplishments for Ph.D.s (medical-degree holders have other K award options) may be necessary to facilitate the transition from an F32 to an independent faculty position. The second FOA in the series, NINDS Postdoctoral Mentored Career Development Award (K01; PAR-17-145), provides an important vehicle for the transition. This FOA allows for the timing of submissions at any time “between the second through fourth year of cumulative mentored postdoctoral research experience.” K01 funding also is restricted to the first six years of cumulative postdoctoral support.
Overall Funding Strategy for Postdoctoral Fellowships
Collectively, NINDS’ F32 and K01 FOAs provide support for the postdoctoral training of Ph.D. recipients. They also represent mechanisms for increases in salary and research support when advancing from F32 to K01, as well as elevating the level of responsibility that the trainee would take in the research. The value of the K01 for later stage trainees lies in some differences from the F32, including: (a) recipients can carry their K01 to a faculty position, (b) salary paid by the award can be up to a maximum of $95,000, and (c) the K01 carries $30,000/year in research and career development funds.
The overall strategy here is to help candidates take on innovative, impactful projects while moving more quickly toward, and being more competitive for, independent faculty positions. As with any NIH application, an understanding of Institute-specific requirements and the review environment is critical to success. Thus applicants for these postdoctoral support mechanisms should seek advice from NINDS Program Staff very early in the process of preparing an application.