Not that Kind of Career Development Award: Tales of Living with the K99/R00
My previous posts have covered writing career development awards (here), tips for the K99/R00 specifically (here), and the events you await during career development award review (here). In this final post on career development awards, I will address some questions specific for the K99/R00. As always, n=me and a few of my friends.
How long should the K99 phase be? Per the program announcement, the K99 provides up to two years of funding, and trainees should complete at least one year of the K99 prior to transitioning to the R00. Most of my fellow awardees used one year plus a couple of months. The general consensus was that we did not want to run out of time to secure a position before the K99 ended, so we started applying for positions in the first year. Would we have been more productive staying an additional year and could we have had better job prospects later? Perhaps. However, none of us were willing to risk falling off the K99 cliff, and quite a few of us were ready to move on to more permanent positions. While the K99 and R00 are meant to be seamless, there is also wiggle room in the K99/R00 for a break between the two, should you need it. As always, consult your Program Officer (PO).
What do I need to learn during the K99 phase? The point of the K99 phase is to do some science and learn how to be independent. Being independent means managing every aspect of a research group, which is not something for which we are trained. Use this time to learn how to manage people and resources. Learn from the strengths and weaknesses of your mentors. How do they run their research programs? What works? What fails? How do they select graduate students, postdocs, or technicians? Meet with your departmental finance person. Ask questions. How does effort get calculated? How much can you move your budget around before you reach out to the NIH for permission? Learn how to monitor expenses. It is a lot easier to ask questions while you are still a trainee rather than a new faculty member. Take this opportunity to learn from the successful and appreciate the scope of your mentors’ responsibilities.
Should I change institutions for the R00? The K99 and R00 phases are designed to be split between institutions. For PhDs, I always recommend making the move. Your home institution is unlikely to match the start-up of a new institution, and you will struggle to become demonstrably independent from your mentor. You may have compelling reasons to stay, and you are not obligated to change institutions for the R00, but your PO must be satisfied you have the resources to succeed as an independent investigator. For MDs, your situation is complicated by your clinical commitments and the investment by your Chair in protected time, but I would still advocate exploring other institutions. The decision to stay for either PhDs or MDs must be based on data, so explore your job prospects thoroughly, collect the data, report to your PO, and make an informed decision.
Why does my PO want to see my offer letter? Most POs will want to see your job offer letters to make sure the criteria for transition into the R00 is satisfied before you accept a position. Your PO needs to believe that your new institution will give you adequate support for your research program. Your offer letter should include a tenure-track (or equivalent) position, a substantial start-up package, adequate laboratory space (if you run a wet lab), and demonstrate commitment to your research career while acknowledging that your position is not contingent upon R00 activation. Through this review, you gain a powerful ally in the negotiation process. When Chairs/Deans/Presidents are informed that a PO has concerns about protected time, size of the start-up, access to mentorship, etc., and will not transfer the award, they listen. Use this wisely.
How do I transfer the award to my new institution? In order to activate the R00 portion of the award, you will need to submit a transition application two months before your start date. This application document includes everything from an updated research strategy, to a letter of institutional support, to a plan of separation from your current mentor, and a timeline of when you will submit you first R01 (surprise, it is about a year and a half after you start). In an ideal world, your R00 will activate on your first day of your new position. In the real world, this occurs several months after your official start date.
The K99/R00 and career development awards open doors, but not all doors. In my next series of posts, I will recount tales of job applications, the job market, and the interview process compiled from friends with and without career development awards. Mini-spoiler: you do not need a career development award to get a tenure-track position at an R1 institution. Stay tuned for more tales!
Still have questions? More confused than when you started? Need to vent about the process? Feel free to send some electrons my way in the comments, via Twitter @PipetteProtag, or through traditional electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org