Funding Agencies Still Champion The Young Investigator

If you’re working in science (I would assume all of you do!) then you know how dire the funding situation is in this current fiscally challenging environment. The good news is most of you are young investigators. Funding agencies still champion the young investigator because we are the future of science, so take advantage of your odds!!

AHA: The American Heart Association has always been dedicated to funding the early stage investigator, at the graduate (Predoctoral Fellowships), post-graduate (Postdoctoral Fellowships), and early career levels (beginning grant in aid (BGIA)). In fact, out of the 964 total awardees of AHA grants, 791 (or 82%) are dedicated to early career investigators. While many are nervous about the new AHA strategically focused programs, if the AHA budget continues to increase at a 4% clip per year, the funding to early career investigators will remain constant. The percentage of success depends on the particular AHA affiliate you apply to, which can be found at the following website: AHA Research - Funding Success Rates

NIH (NHLBI): While there was a 5.7% cut in funding from 2012 to 2013, the NIH F31, F32, and F33 pre and postdoctoral Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSAs) are still at 30%! All K awards have a priority score of 25 (~23.5%), which is still a great funding line. Further, while the NIH has already increased the amount of Pathway to Independence Awards (K99/R00) from an average of 180 to 212 overall awards in 2012, the NHLBI is expected to further increase the K99/R00 to a 30% funding line due to the success of these awards creating R01 funded investigators. However, the limit of postdoctoral experience has been decreased from 5 years to 4 years, so make sure you prepare early! As for the R01 funding lines, they have recently increased from 6% earlier in 2013 to 11% at this current posting. While this may not seem very significant, a 5% increase is definitely nothing to be upset about and is almost a doubling of early levels. Remember for you early stage investigators (ESIs), you still get a 10% boost, so if you’re applying for your first R01, the cutoff moves from 11% to 21%! Remember, the NHLBI is trying to look out for young investigators, so submit your best science and good luck!

Many of us apply and are awarded AHA grants at the beginning of our careers and use them as a successful bridge to NIH funding. From personal experience, I’ve had an AHA predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowship, which I believe led to the successful funding of my NIH F32 and, eventually, my K99/R00. Tell us your experiences and ask us for help. As your ECC members, we are here for your benefit!

Posted by A Phillip Owens on Sep 4, 2013 12:49 PM America/Chicago

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I think there are two great points in Phil’s post: 1) the funding levels at NIH are exceedingly low, and 2) there are numerous mechanisms to bridge or promote funding of early stage investigators. I also agree that young investigators do need to take advantage of many of the mechanisms that are in place, and need to start planning for most of these several YEARS in advance (i.e., from “day 1” of your post-doctoral fellowship). I would add, however, that while the strategic diversion of funding to early career investigators is essential in the current environment (where PhD scientists get their first R01 at an average age of 42, and MD/PhD scientists are slightly older), it is still not a sustainable model, as all of these early career investigators will be “established investigators” someday, competing at 6-11% funding levels. Thus, I would urge all early career investigators to become involved with AHA’s grassroots efforts to increase NIH funding (e.g., joining at and support for biomedical research. There are many talented undergraduates and graduate students that are discouraged from pursuing a career in science because of the low funding levels, and it is likely that the exceedingly low funding levels at several Institutes at NIH is a significant contributor to the poor recruitment of under-represented minorities to careers in science (which is not pure speculation on my behalf, but the result of my discussions with undergraduates in the latter group). Admittedly, I don’t know what a sustainable funding level is, I just know it is not 10%. For those who are skeptical that becoming involved with grassroots efforts will do anything beneficial, I can assure you that doing nothing at all is not a logical solution. This being said, poor funding levels or not, there is no other career I would rather have. I have been fortunate enough to train in terrific environments, and was supported by a T32 (predoc), T32 (post-doc), F32, K99-R00, and now have an R01. I have also been fortunate enough to become involved in the AHA’s efforts to develop young investigators through the Early Career Committee and receive support and insights from leaders in the ATVB Council. Collectively, it is my opinion that if you work hard, get involved, and help others in any way you can, good things will ultimately come your way…
  • Posted Wed 04 Sep 2013 03:01 PM CDT

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