The Plight of the Post-Doc



There are many beautiful features of NYC that inspire feelings of awe and wonder in me; the Brooklyn Bridge, the view of midtown from the north side of the Central Park Reservoir, and the bourbon wall at Char No. 4 in Carroll Gardens are a few examples. But on the rare occasions that I get out to the mountains, it’s a whole other kind of awe. America is so pretty sometimes!

So I was out in the mountains this week for a small meeting, the focus of which was about as close as you can get to my exact specific interests. It was so awesome.  So much nature-y and science-y goodness!  Plus, I knew a ton of folks there—some friends from grad school, some acquaintances I’d met at previous meetings over the years—I felt like I was with my people, you know?

I learned so much and had so many great conversations, and I’m returning to New York just bursting with ideas for experiments.  It’s a nice feeling to want to get back to lab.  I also learned something VERY INTERESTING from my roommate re: the flexibility of NIH funding policies.

As we were introducing ourselves and getting to know each other, I mentioned that I’d unsuccessfully applied for a K99 award.  When she asked me whether I’d resubmitted, I lamented that by the time the following due date rolled around, I’d passed the 5-year postdoc mark, making me ineligible. 

“Oh no,” she said, “a guy in my lab was in the exact same boat as you with an unscored proposal and had passed the 5-year mark as well.  But he appealed to be allowed to resubmit on the grounds that he’d started the process before the 5-year mark, and they let him and it got funded!” 

Well! I’m sure you can imagine my response to that!

I mean, WTF, NIH?  It explicitly says in the K99-R00 FAQ that

Investigators who have more than 5 years of postdoctoral research training experience at the time of initial application or subsequent resubmission(s) are not eligible.

I might be crazy, but what this suggests to me is that you cannot resubmit if you have over 5 years post-doc experience?  I’m of course totally happy for this guy who found a way to make it all happen, but obviously if I’d thought there was any wiggle room in what is an exceptionally straightforward rule of eligibility, I’d have done the same thing!  There are many instances where a well-argued appeal makes sense, but I feel like in this case, it should either be a rule or not, you know?

Look, I know this post reeks of sour grapes, and I know that life isn't fair, and that complaining rarely achieves much beyond annoying the people listening to you (sorry guys!). But sometimes you just gotta vent, and I mean, isn't that what the interwebz are for?   


Venkat said...

That's a very valid thing to get annoyed about! Seems like it would have been worth the shot if you had known this earlier. I guess the only way to take it is that you followed the rules and that's that.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I'd wanna see some fucking evidence that this actually happened before I'd go getting all bent.

Dr. Dad, PhD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FemalePhysioProf said...

Sometimes it pays to pretend to be just plain ignorant and ask for permission to do something you know damn well is not allowed. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. But ain't nobody gonna call you up and say: Dr. Becca, your K99 was almost kick ass enough to get funded and I know you are now past the 5 year limit on applications, but gosh darnit you and your science are so kickass that we want your revision anyway.

So, ask. Be polite while asking, don't admit you know the official answer should be "no", just ask.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I don't know the specifics, but I think the key is the wording of the RFA. Note that the timeline is based on the *initial* application, not the current one. In other words, if you were eligible in the beginning, you're eligible now. Or at least that's how I interpret it.

This is totally fucking wrong. The wording of the FOA is very clear, and says the opposite of your "interpretation".

Gerty-Z said...

As far as I can tell, there are few rules set in stone for any big gov't bureaucracy like NIH. I would always ask for a ruling before just assuming that I knew ANYTHING about WTF they were thinking over there.

Matt L said...

Are you saying that every single bottle in that picture is a bourbon? That's awesome.

Professor in Training said...

What PP said times two.

If you're planning to hit the TT job market, talk to your PI about using the application for your first R01.

Unknown said...

a little further down the page:

7. Are applicants with greater than 5 years of research training experience who have changed research directions or disciplines eligible to apply?

In unusual circumstances, exceptions to the 5-year limit may be approved, e.g., where significant changes in fields of study have occurred, such as moving from physical science to life science research, or from engineering to behavioral research. Such unique exceptions will be considered on a case by case basis and will require concurrence of NIH program staff of the Institute or Center (IC) most likely to be assigned the application for potential funding. IC concurrence must be obtained prior to submission and a statement describing the circumstances must be included in the application. A list of NIH program staff contacts for the PI Award can be found at: (see table of IC contacts in the FOA and at the top of this page).

maybe this person met one of these unique requirements

Candid Engineer said...

Sux. Upside = the valuable experience you gained from applying.

Becca said...

@Matt - that is exactly what I am saying.

@Dave - interesting! I kind of doubt this person changed fields, but maybe he was able to convince his IC that he had...

@CE yes, absolutely. And I do think I'd be able to take the project with me. I have a habit of coming up with projects that fit within the general context of whatever lab I'm in, but that are just funky enough that the PI doesn't care so much to hold onto it.

Anonymous said...

Filing cabinets have no feelings. Just remember to put on the steel capped boots first before you give them a good kicking.


Anonymous said...

I know of a person who did this.

Becca said...

Anon 6:46, care to elaborate? I'm so curious!

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:46 clearly knows me...My cover is blown!


Balancing Act said...

Not that this comment adds a lot, I just wanted to say I got a good chuckle out of your lol-owl 'o rly' and have had that same expression on some things related to funding in the past couple months.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dr Becca,

I think I know of your frustration and feel very sympathetic.
Listen, you are great in your reaction to it. I have been laughing for 30 minutes really loud at your "birdie Orly" Figure. So loud that I got a call from Times Square NY Police alerting me that they will jail me if I don't stop. Apparently, my laughs are causing overwhelming drivers's distraction and subsequent public distress. ( I am at the other side of the pond)...........HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA.

Thanks Dr Becca. you're great !

Anonymous said...

I would call BS with CPP, but I also have heard of this happening. Of course, this person had started a new postdoc within the 5-year time limit, so maybe that's the key. I will say that it sounded like the decision was almost completely at the PO's discretion, so giving your PO a call might not be a bad idea.

I also really love the owl...the mental picture is priceless! I've printed it out to put on my bench when I need some comic relief.

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