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News on Career Development Awards funding

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NIA Blog Team

We are now paying career award applications to a score of 15. I know this will bring cold comfort to too many of you. And, the shock of learning that we are paying those career award applications with an emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease to a score above 30 leaves a sharp sting for those whose worthy aims do not address that priority.

What’s the reason?

What happened? The Alzheimer’s part is easy to explain. In fiscal year 2016, we received $350 million in additional funds directed to research on Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s-related dementias. Some of these funds have found their way to the career development line, and that will bring joy to a few of you.

The other part is harder to explain. The money available for competing awards comes from the total allocation for career development awards minus the funds that we have already committed to spend on continuing, non-competing awards. In a year when fewer than the average number of career awards have ended, more money stays with continuing awards. That leaves fewer funds for new competing awards. And that’s what happened this year.

We have also seen an increasing number of better scores, in the 10 to 15 range, in recent years. A better class of candidates? Perhaps some grade creep? In any case, the major cause of having less money available for competing awards this year, combined with the minor cause of the improving scores, leaves us paying only through a score of 15.

What are we doing about it?

First, we will keep applications active into the next fiscal year and consider them for payment then. More immediately, we’re looking for additional funds that we can apply to the career development line now. That is why we have not declared an “official” pay line for these awards. Still, I don’t imagine that we can wave a wand that will have us paying all the way to 19 as we did last year.

A little bit of good news?

I will say that applications to our career development program are close to an all-time high. This has its own effect on the success rate. Certainly, interest in aging research has noticeably increased in recent years, and all of our funding lines have tightened (except this year for Alzheimer’s research) because of a surge in well-scoring applications. That interest is welcome—indeed vital—as we confront and cope with an aging society. But, a healthy competition for funds can turn into a lottery among too many equally compelling projects or individuals. It is in no one’s interest for such a circumstance to endure for any period of time, whether it’s in our career development line or any other funding line.

So, we will continue to look for funds to try to make awards to a few more of these compelling applications.

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