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SL Forsburg susan_forsburg at QM.SALK.EDU
Mon Jul 1 10:26:25 EST 1996

Megan Brown wrote:
> I know a
> couple of people who have completed their postdocs (and their postdoc
> fellowships) but have obtained positions as staff scientists in the same
> lab. They have their own space there and an independent project that they
> developed. They have written grants for NIH (I don't know if it's R29 or
> not since I don't know the lingo too well) and they have been
> unsuccessful. If R29 is the grant for new assistant professors to apply
> for, then what is the grant for staff scientists? These staff scientists I
> know told me that one reason they desired the "staff scientist" title was
> that it enabled them to apply for certain NIH grants for which they were
> ineligible when a postdoc (the R29 or something else?). Have they been
> misinformed?

The R29 is designed for beginning, independent investigators, whatever their
title. They may be called assistant professors or staff scientists.  
Both are eligible for this grant (which is almost certainly what Megan's 
friends have applied for) as long as they have an appointment from their institution. 
 At many institutions, there is a soft-money non-tenure track of "staff scientists" or 
"research assistant professors" with some lab space and a genuine institutional
 appointment.  But it's not the title  that matters to the study sections.

The key word here is "independent".  The R29 requires that the applicant
"must be genuinely independent of a mentor" and "must be otherwise eligible to 
serve in the same capacity [ie, PI] on a traditional research project grant (R01) 
awarded to the applicant institution."  (I quote from the FIRST award bulletin).  In 
addition, it requires "A letter or memorandum from a suitable department head
or dean....When the application is from the institution where the proposed PI
received postdoctoral research training, it must be made absolutely clear that 
the FIRST award would support a research endeavor independent of that
conducted in the former training environment. [The letter should also include]
Details of intended commitment of the insitution to the project for the five 
year period."

Some institutions don't care what someone calls their senior postdocs, or
if the senior postdoc is given a corner of lab space by the PI, but that
isn't institutional commitment.  Ifthe only commitment is from the PI,
 that isn't good enough for the R29 reviewers.
(By the way R29s are reviewed and scored alongside R01s).  There is an
explicit concern to establish that the R29 is independent and not a case of
PI telling postdoc "okay, I'll give you a bench and you can apply for your
own grant."  This isnt necessarily what happened to Megan's friends;  if it
is, it would probably be mentioned in the pink sheets (= reviews).  And just 
because you  have an independent position doesnt mean you'll get your R29 
(the success rates on R29s run about 25%).

So, it's not a bad idea to write a grant and move on with it, it's just that to 
pull off an R29, you need an actual, real appointment from your institution.  Some
institutions are reluctant to make every senior postdoc a staff scientist. At my
institution, for example, the same appointments committee that appoints and
promotes faculty must approve staff scientists.  They don't do it easily. 
And before going through the labor of writing a grant, you want to be sure it
is worth it and you won't get nailed for one of these administrative-type reasons.
  I just worry that a crowd of women postdocs reading this board
will spend all their productive science time writing an R29 without being aware
of the potential pitfalls.  And as I said, I've seen people WITH R29's fail
to find jobs when those without do fine, so it isnt a guarentee .  IMHO the best
way to get a job is to do the best science you possibly can.

hope this helps.

-- susan

PS:  sorry if more than one copy of this shows up;  my news server has a brain cramp.
Susan L Forsburg PhD
MBVL, The Salk Institute
susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu

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