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A supplement to keep scientists on track at critical life junctions

Shahrooz VAHEDI [Former NIA Staff],
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA).

Note: This post was authored by Shahrooz Vahedi, Ph. D., former NIA training officer.

As John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This famous adage rings true in scientific careers, where critical life events — the arrival of a child or a loved one’s illness and caregiving responsibilities — often pause a promising career. NIA is happy to be part of a new NIH administrative supplement program designed to support investigators facing these major life changes and to help keep them on the path to a successful independent research career.

The importance of mentorship for early career scientists should not be underestimated, and many related NIA funding programs underscore our commitment to this priority. Scientific workforce studies have shown that the transition from mentored support to building an independent research career is a key intersection where investigators’ career plans can easily be derailed.

New parents and informal caregivers such as immediate family members who provide care to individuals with a variety of age- and disability-related conditions are especially “at risk.” More than 40 percent of American female scientists leave full-time research after the birth or adoption of their first child. As more adults become part of the “sandwich generation” — caring for aging parents at the same time they are raising children — the stress of sticking with a research career only intensifies.

To address these challenges, earlier this year the NIH issued the Notice of Special Interest: Administrative Supplements to Promote Research Continuity and Retention of NIH Mentored Career Development (K) Award Recipients and Scholars. This program is specifically designed as a safety net and ladder to ease the retention and transition of these promising investigators from mentored career development into research independence and to minimize departures from biomedical research workforce at this critical time.

Through this program, postdocs and junior investigators with an active career development award can request up to $50,000 in additional support for one year to lessen the impact of critical life events on research progress. These funds can be used to purchase supplies, equipment and services and/or to hire additional personnel. This extra help is intended to enable awardees to keep their lab and program running smoothly when they need to step away to care for a new child or take care of a sick/disabled family member.

Administrative supplements must support work within the scope of the original project, and applicants must provide justification for how the life change could affect their mentored career advancement or productivity. Researchers can also plan for upcoming big life events by submitting supplement requests in advance. Supplement requests must be submitted in accordance with the “parent” program announcement PA-18-591(or subsequent reissue equivalent): Administrative Supplements to Existing NIH Grants and Cooperative Agreements (Parent Admin Supp Clinical Trial Optional). NIA will accept applications on a continuous basis.

Applications received by June 1, 2020, will be considered for funding during the current fiscal year. Applications received after June 1 will be considered for funding after September 30, 2020. Career development awards (Ks) in no-cost extension are not eligible for supplement support.

K awardees who are late stage postdoctoral scientists, instructors, and early stage faculty members are encouraged to apply. For more details, please see the Notice of Special Interest. For retention supplements to support first-time NIH R01-Equivalent Awards, please refer to the companion Notice.

If you are interested in this program or have any questions, please email me. We welcome your feedback and suggestions to support the research workforce in times of need!

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