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Career development awards and fellowships: of paylines and priorities

Career development awards and fellowships: of paylines and priorities

Posted on June 26, 2013 by Chyren Hunter, Deputy Director and Training Officer, Division of Extramural Activities. See Chyren Hunter's full profile.

The NIA views support for research career development and pre and postdoctoral fellowship training as a priority. The availability of funds to support career development (K) and fellowship training (F, T, and NRSA) awards is critical to the advancement of the next cadre of scientists conducting research on aging and age-related disorders.

There are many different kinds of career development and fellowship awards.

Here’s some information on NIA K awards, as well as more from the NIH Office of Extramural Research explaining all of the different career development K awards.

There’s also a good NIH website to explain F NRSA fellowship awards including data and statistics on funded fellowship and career development awards.

Although these awards focus primarily on training and there are many different kinds of them with different eligibility criteria, they do have two things in common with other NIH grant programs. First, they are funded based on an established “payline.” Second, when awarded, they have an initial award period followed by a subsequent annual funding period(s) called the non-competing or “out” year.

What goes into the payline calculation?

To make awards in any given year, we must consider funds available to support new awards as well as to pay for the out years of existing grants to which we’re already committed. What we call the payline then, basically represents the dollars that we have to support new awards after meeting our out year financial obligations. This is related to the success rate, which is the fraction of new awards we can pay of the total submitted.

This year’s sequester budget cut provided us with a real dilemma: do we fund fewer new awards or do we cut the funding of researchers with non-competing awards in their out year?

We think cuts to existing career development awards and fellowships are especially difficult.

R01s and other grants held by established scientists usually support several team members and staff. We know that the 5.5% cut to the NIA’s budget as a result of the sequester, while painful, might be distributed among different activities and people on these awards. These researchers also might have support through teaching, or clinical work, and through non-federal funding. In short, a cut to the non-competing years for these grants, while difficult, might be managed.

Fellowships and career development awards are different. Most of the funds go to paying a single person, the recipient of the award. A cut to an existing fellowship or career development award comes directly out of the stipend or salary of that person. There is little room for distributing the cut to other costs.

So how did we handle this?

Different awards call for different strategies. So, our decision was to cut non-competing years of R01s and other research grant awards by 5.5%, but not to cut existing, non-competing fellowships and career development awards. What this means, however, is that the money available for paying new fellowship and career development applications is reduced. In other words, we made the hard decision to make fewer new F and K awards rather than cut the budgets of existing scholars. The bottom line? For this year then, the payline for new career development awards and fellowships is reduced. The fiscal year 2013 funding policy has more information about NIA fiscal strategies and paylines.

2013 funding for NIA career development awards and fellowships.

These decisions translate into the current NIA funding paylines, as of the June 2013 meeting of our National Advisory Council on Aging. For career development awards, the success rate for fiscal year 2013 is estimated to be around 20%, meaning we think we can fund about one fifth of the applications we receive.

For fellowship applications we estimate a success rate of 15% to 19%, depending on the kind of fellowship. So, we can fund about a sixth of fellowship applications considered in fiscal year 2013.

For both career development awards and fellowships, the success rate could change a little over the next few months, as our fiscal year does not end until September 2013. You can find more information about this year’s NIA success rates in our fiscal year 2013 funding policy. Success rates for previous years are also available from NIH RePORT. Excel files displaying success rates by funding mechanism and NIH Institute for the last 10 years are also available.

There are no easy budget cuts.

Of course, about now you are wondering if the NIA is the right place to send your application!

These success rates are frustratingly low at a time when opportunities in the field are growing and interest is at a peak. We know it. However, we continue to try to fund these applications as much as we can. For a full discussion of NIA fiscal strategies and paylines for R01 and other grant programs please see our fiscal year 2013 funding policy.

…we are still making awards to some of those who are bold enough to submit!

If you have questions, please comment below. I welcome your thoughts.


Read next:

What is the sequester?

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