NIH: thoughts from reviewing K99/R00 grants

I’ve just finished an IC-specific study section that reviewed K awards and R03s.

A few thoughts on how K99/R00’s get reviewed.

Of the different components, its clear that the Research Plan is most important, certainly more than others., However, a bad training plan can sink the score even if research is rated “1”. Rule of thumb if you are writing one: Excellence in everything, but some things need to be more excellent than others. The quality of the mentors clearly ways heavily and can carry the “environment” part of the score.

Things that we were explicitly told is that the applicant needs to have a transition plan from K to R phase. It isn’t enough to say “it will flow naturally”- it needs to show how the work will transition from one place to another, from one career stage to another, and how the mentor sees it.

 More technical concerns: the applicant needs to be senior postdoc, not for initial phases of postdoc training. But… applicant  must justify training in the k-years. Its not good enough to say that “I will finish up a project I’ve already started”. Finally, at least at this IC, the qualification for application is going from 5 years post terminal degree to 4 years  post terminal degree. However, if there is time off between degree and start of first postdoc, then the start of the job will be counted as the starting point. 

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11 thoughts on “NIH: thoughts from reviewing K99/R00 grants

  1. I’m not sure about how the final scores of my application (recommended for funding) were rated, but my training plan received a higher score from all 3 of my reviewers than my Research plan. You’re comments about justifying the K-years and developing the transition plan are important. I set up my K-years to really learn a new technique, that would be integral to the R years, while also proposing research strategies that I have mastered. For my R phase I outlined a new collaboration with a different lab and developed aims that were not dependent on the results of my K aims.

  2. That strategy for K-to-R transition is a good one. I still felt that the research plan had to be entirely strong, and was far more significant than the training.

  3. What are your thoughts on the “you have to move somewhere else for independence to be real” critique.A stellar post-doc’ I know in a one-horse town (a.k.a. one university city) was given this spiel in the pink sheets, and personally I think it’s total BS. It is none of the f***ing reviewer’s business if the applicant happens to be married to someone with a bigger salary and they have kids in school and don’t want to sell their house and move away just so they can take the risk that the fellow might be able to succeed in an academic career. None whatsoever. Butt out and keep it about the science!

    As first-time PI’s get older and older, the likelihood that they are attached to a particular location, for family or financial or other reasons, will only continue to increase. As such, I would hope there are people willing to call out such BS at study section. Staying in the same place should not be a deal-breaker.

    For the record, I moved, so you can’t pin this opinion on my own experiences.

    • I agree 100%.
      In my experience, though if you can make a convincing argument you can stay, but not in the same department. I’m moving w/ my PI to a new MRU, but also about to start my K99. I contacted the PO ahead of time about “rules” for staying at the Uni. With 4 kids (1 starting high school next fall), if the opportunity arises to stay (another department has an opening) and my family likes it there and has settled I would really hate “having” to move. My PO seemed to indicate that if the case could be made, at least in this situation, it would be possible to do so.
      Then again, I didn’t have staying as part of my career plan, so the reviewers weren’t able to mention it.

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