beginner2011

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I'm currently in the process of completing a clinical postdoc and plan to pursue a research postdoc afterward with the intent of pursuing a research-focused career. I've been considering applying to T32s, but haven't yet found one that checks all the boxes for me. The primary limitation is that my area of interest is fairly narrow, and there aren't T32 faculty doing the work I'm most excited about. Conveniently, a researcher who is one of the superstars in my niche (would be #1 on my admittedly short list of possible K mentors in an ideal world) just offered me a postdoc position with them to analyze/disseminate results from multiple recently completed RCTs, is aware that I'm completing another postdoc, and tells me that I can start whenever and can do so remotely.

How do informal postdoc arrangements like this work? I'm a bit concerned I won't be able to develop my own research agenda due to the demands of analysis/dissemination.

Is it reasonable/appropriate to request that I have some portion of my % effort protected for working on a career development award or another form of independent funding, even though this is an informal non-training focused postdoc (non-T32)?

My eventual aim is to do soft-money funded work in an institution that is not where PI is located, but I do have a lot of pre-existing professional connections at my target site already. Would it be unwise to postdoc somewhere other than my target site?
 

Ollie123

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In my experience there is usually a big element of trust to these things. I don't know that X amount of protected time is likely to happen. Honestly, they may not even be able to truly formally offer it depending on funding sources. Scripps just paid a ten million dollar lawsuit because you can't pay someone on one grant to write another. Don't get me wrong, it absolutely happens but it's technically not allowed. If you are being paid from institutional funds there may be more flexibility.

If you definitely want to work one place and can go there as a post-doc it's probably easier to do that then try and move later. It also has some downsides though since folks who "grow up within" also lose out on some things.

I will say that while I know folks who have pulled it off, I would NOT plan on writing a CDA for a job elsewhere while at a different institute. You can write one to say and then try to move or you can move and then write one. The K99/R00 is a bit of an exception, but would likely mean a longer-than-usual post doc.
 

beginner2011

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Scripps just paid a ten million dollar lawsuit because you can't pay someone on one grant to write another. Don't get me wrong, it absolutely happens but it's technically not allowed.
Whoa, that's a huge deal, isn't it? Don't most PIs on soft money rely on using % effort from one grant to fund subsequent grant writing? Isn't that kind of the basic funding structure for most of the research that happens in med schools?
 
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MamaPhD

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My eventual aim is to do soft-money funded work in an institution that is not where PI is located, but I do have a lot of pre-existing professional connections at my target site already. Would it be unwise to postdoc somewhere other than my target site?
Not unwise necessarily, but you seem to be aware of the fact that what you're being offered is not a training position comparable to a T32. I agree w/ Ollie that this comes down to trust. I would want to know more about this PI's history with postdocs and junior faculty.

If I had my mind set on becoming faculty at a particular site, I would pull up the CVs of every junior faculty member there and find out how they came to be there. If a large number of them did a postdoc at the same site, then I would try to make that path work. Each site will have its own culture around recruitment/retention of postdocs and early career folks, but it's common for the postdoc to be a glide path into a junior faculty job. It sounds like you might be a little rigid about who would be an appropriate PI to work with on your T32. It's expected that you will develop your own line of research and it can be advantageous to work with someone who is working a bit outside your own research area. You can still get find outside mentors for content/niche issues.

This would be a good time to reach out to the people who are already connected with your target site and float this idea, if you can trust them to give you honest advice.

Is it reasonable/appropriate to request that I have some portion of my % effort protected for working on a career development award or another form of independent funding, even though this is an informal non-training focused postdoc (non-T32)?
You can ask.

Don't most PIs on soft money rely on using % effort from one grant to fund subsequent grant writing?
I've never seen a progress report that said so!
 

beginner2011

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Not unwise necessarily, but you seem to be aware of the fact that what you're being offered is not a training position comparable to a T32. I agree w/ Ollie that this comes down to trust. I would want to know more about this PI's history with postdocs and junior faculty.

If I had my mind set on becoming faculty at a particular site, I would pull up the CVs of every junior faculty member there and find out how they came to be there. If a large number of them did a postdoc at the same site, then I would try to make that path work. Each site will have its own culture around recruitment/retention of postdocs and early career folks, but it's common for the postdoc to be a glide path into a junior faculty job.

This would be a good time to reach out to the people who are already connected with your target site and float this idea, if you can trust them to give you honest advice.
I'm actually quite close with four people who started at on or another formal postdoc at target AMC (T or other institutional funding) and are now acting assistant or assistant at the AMC (3/4 have a funded K and 1 is planning to submit soon). I don't know anyone who received a position coming from a totally unaffiliated institution. I'll see if I can do some sleuthing to find out more about those who came from other institutions. Thanks for the idea. I've reached out to a couple of the folks who I know a bit better since receiving the offer yesterday and will chat with them more in the future. My impression is that it will take some strategic thinking, but isn't a total dead end.

It sounds like you might be a little rigid about who would be an appropriate PI to work with on your T32. It's expected that you will develop your own line of research and it can be advantageous to work with someone who is working a bit outside your own research area. You can still get find outside mentors for content/niche issues.
Appreciate the thought. You're probably right. I'm geographically constricted. I'll pm you.
 

Ollie123

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Whoa, that's a huge deal, isn't it? Don't most PIs on soft money rely on using % effort from one grant to fund subsequent grant writing? Isn't that kind of the basic funding structure for most of the research that happens in med schools?
Officially - definitely not, no one would ever do such a thing! Unofficially - 100% yes and it is standard practice in virtually every AMC I am aware of. Scripps got in trouble because they actually had 100% soft money faculty which is a no-no. Most will be more like 95 or 90% soft money. Which is still BS because anyone spending 5% of their time (2 hours/week?) writing grants is producing maybe 2 a year if they are really super-efficient at it, which is not enough to cover your salary even if both came through....and with funding rates anywhere between 5 and 20%, getting both is unlikely. I know tons of academics with <=10% hard money and I know precisely zero who spend <=10% of their effort no grant writing. I think this is a relic from decades ago when funding rates were closer to 50%. That said, everyone seems comfortable with the current "look the other way" approach to keep the bloated academic beast alive as long as no one makes too much noise. 10 million is actually a pretty small penalty. Duke paid back something like 112 million a few years back (though this was for research fraud).

Not unwise necessarily, but you seem to be aware of the fact that what you're being offered is not a training position comparable to a T32. I agree w/ Ollie that this comes down to trust. I would want to know more about this PI's history with postdocs and junior faculty.
This is great advice. I'm actually a good example here. I took a post-doc on a non-T32 line much akin to what it sounds like you are considering. However, my mentor had 4 post-docs prior to me. Three were on K's within 1-3 years of starting. The only one who wasn't had skipped straight to an R01, and still published with him despite having left the institution. I'd have felt a lot less comfortable if the previous post-docs had all hung around for 5 years and then left for clinical jobs. My situation worked out and I had a K submitted within 6 months of arriving.
 

R. Matey

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Ok, so millions of dumb questions here because I'm in a similar position to beginner and literally ALL of my grant experience is through NSF and not NIH. I'm less geographically restricted (I have a region in mind), but would prefer an area of the country that gives me one or two AMCs to choose from.

1. What's the best way to apply for T-32 grants or is it all informal insider "you have to know the right people" kind of thing? Do I search indeed, google? I'm fine cold emailing PIs if they're cool with it.

2. Is there a number of publications that are considered competitive or does it matter? I have a few published with a few more in review or in-press, but I don't know if there's a specific number or ball-park that people care about. PS: I'm first or second author on everything I've touched.

3. I've worked on grants before as more of a project manager, and then ended up being funded through another mechanism where I worked with my adviser to write a large grant that was funded. I'm not the PI, so I don't know if I should be documenting that on my CV. It was a lot of work.

4. My content area is super duper nitchy, but it's not an area I'm married to. On a more general note, I'm very stats-y, know R and a few other stats packages and wouldn't mind switching areas to something that NIH would care about. I'm saying that I think the AMC life seems to be the mix of clinical and research that I'm looking for, and am trying to figure out how to get there.
 

Ollie123

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1. Do you mean F32s? T32s are institutional so you can't apply for them as a student. If you are looking for a spot ON a T32 though, look up relevant ones on NIH Reporter. Cold emailing is fine once you find them.

2. Depends on many factors. I would say 5 is about the minimum these days. 10+ is pretty solid. It depends where you publish too. First author paper in Nature? You might be fine with just that.

3. You can list it as research experience, but will look ridiculous if you list it as funding. You don't have to be PI, but if you aren't a named investigator you will just look like someone trying to inflate their credentials who doesn't understand.

4. Really all that matters is being able to tell a story and "market" yourself. If you did neuroimaging studies of schizophrenia and want to switch to doing qualitative research on eating disorders that will be hard, but most jumps are not that extreme. Niche-y can be fine, but sounds like you are worried your niche may be a dead end or otherwise just not something funders care about? That will need to change to succeed in AMC land. Just make sure you can spin a story about why you want to apply and how your skills are helpful for that particular type of work.
 

R. Matey

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1. Do you mean F32s? T32s are institutional so you can't apply for them as a student. If you are looking for a spot ON a T32 though, look up relevant ones on NIH Reporter. Cold emailing is fine once you find them.

2. Depends on many factors. I would say 5 is about the minimum these days. 10+ is pretty solid. It depends where you publish too. First author paper in Nature? You might be fine with just that.

3. You can list it as research experience, but will look ridiculous if you list it as funding. You don't have to be PI, but if you aren't a named investigator you will just look like someone trying to inflate their credentials who doesn't understand.

4. Really all that matters is being able to tell a story and "market" yourself. If you did neuroimaging studies of schizophrenia and want to switch to doing qualitative research on eating disorders that will be hard, but most jumps are not that extreme. Niche-y can be fine, but sounds like you are worried your niche may be a dead end or otherwise just not something funders care about? That will need to change to succeed in AMC land. Just make sure you can spin a story about why you want to apply and how your skills are helpful for that particular type of work.
Thanks, Ollie. This is helpful. I'm graduated and on a formal clinical postdoc within a large hospital system so I think I mean T32s for the following year, but I'll confess that I really don't know the difference.

Yes, I'm 100% sure that NIH gives approximately zero effs about what I researched in graduate school. The construct I did my dissertation on has health implications and I've thought that might be a bridge. I'm fine with changing it up personally, but how common is it for someone to come in with research experience, but in an area outside of the grant?
 

Ollie123

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Thanks, Ollie. This is helpful. I'm graduated and on a formal clinical postdoc within a large hospital system so I think I mean T32s for the following year, but I'll confess that I really don't know the difference.

Yes, I'm 100% sure that NIH gives approximately zero effs about what I researched in graduate school. The construct I did my dissertation on has health implications and I've thought that might be a bridge. I'm fine with changing it up personally, but how common is it for someone to come in with research experience, but in an area outside of the grant?
Yeah, you really aren't eligible to "apply" for T32s as a grant. I said student, but I guess I should have said trainee. These are awards institutions/centers get so they can hire a bunch of grad students/post-docs. The PI is usually a senior (oftentimes VERY senior) faculty member with a long history of successful NIH funding. You can apply to BE one of those post-docs, but that is just applying for a job, not applying for a grant. It works just like any other job application - they'll advertise it and you submit a CV, cover letter and whatever else they want.

F32s are post-doc grants you <actually> apply for yourself that would count as you getting your own funding. That said, while there may be exceptions you largely need to already be working at the place you want to write one. It is one reason why they are unusual in clinical psych and more common in fields where it is the norm to spend 5-6 years as a post-doc (neuro, biology, etc.). I only know a small handful of people who got one - most just went other routes.

Its very common for people to branch out on post-doc - in fact we actively discourage people from continuing the EXACT thread on post-doc. The whole point of post-doc is to diversify training experiences and it can actually work against you if you don't. Again though, you just need a thread connecting them. "I don't really know anything about addiction or EMA, but it sounds cool and my research is a dead end with no hope of ever being funded so I need a change of pace" doesn't make for a compelling cover letter. "My research on normative development has helped me develop expertise in large-scale longitudinal modeling. However, I'm looking to expand my work to cover high-intensity sampling over shorter time scales to gain insight into momentary behavior change that can impact long-term changes. The work of Lab X using Ecological Momentary Assessment to understand the influence of affective fluctuations on opioid use sounds ideal. It would allow me to expand my work to integrate cutting-edge methodology on a high-priority topic area. My expertise in random effects modeling would allow me to easily transition into this area, expand the scope of work being done by Lab X and apply a developmental framework towards helping to understand and resolve this important issue."

I'm just making crap up (and have no idea what you study or what your skillset is), but hopefully you get the idea. Just figure out how to market yourself to places you think could be a good fit.
 

beginner2011

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However, I'm looking to expand my work to cover high-intensity sampling over shorter time scales to gain insight into momentary behavior change that can impact long-term changes. The work of Lab X using Ecological Momentary Assessment to understand the influence of affective fluctuations on opioid use sounds ideal.
That's...ahem...an oddly specific set of made up crap!
 
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Ollie123

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Promise it is genuinely made up (I do addiction and EMA, but not anything like that). Specific is the point though...vague interest in a topic is sometimes enough for grad school applications and might even be enough for certain post-docs, but T32 spots with clear paths to faculty jobs would expect a lot more by the time you get to that stage.
 
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