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Funding for your aging research: From Ph.D. student to postdoc

Dario Dieguez
Dario DIEGUEZ, Jr, PhD, MPH,
Health Scientist Administrator,
Scientific Review Branch (SRB)
Maria Carranza
Training Officer,
Office of Strategic Extramural Programs (OSEP)

The science of aging is evolving fast: We need fresh, transdisciplinary expertise from investigators with different perspectives to tackle novel and unsolved problems in our field. In other words, if you are a doctoral student with an interest in conducting aging research (or a mentor who can help us spread the word to them), we want you!

How we can get there

NIA is highly invested in training the next generation of aging researchers. Even if you’ve never conducted aging research before, an interest in the field is all you need to start forming successful, multidisciplinary collaborations. Since 2019, NIA has offered a specific funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to recruit Ph.D. students into aging research: The Transition to Aging Research for Predoctoral Students (F99/K00) supports the transition from doctoral student conducting dissertation research (the F99 phase) to a postdoctoral fellow (the K00 phase). Currently, the FOA does not require that aging research be a component of the Ph.D. student’s research, but aging science must be the focus of the proposed research during the applicant’s postdoc training.

This unique opportunity enables future Ph.D.s to transition into a new area of research without evidence of previous success in the field. In addition, having acquired such funding can be a strong negotiating point in your search for a postdoc mentor and lab.

Maximize your chances of success

As with any FOA, be sure to carefully read and follow the application instructions. After reading it, don’t hesitate to email the program officer. They are there to help and would be delighted to assist you with the application process (but not write or edit for you). Navigating the application submission process at NIH is a valuable experience that will help you throughout your career.

Here’s how you can improve your chances of being funded:

  • Be absolutely clear about your research plans and include both your Specific Aims and Milestones.
  • Include a timeline with scientific, professional development, and career milestones for both the F99 and K00 grant phases.
  • Avoid proposing research that is overly ambitious or lacks feasibility in terms of time and/or resources.
  • Avoid the “domino effect,” in which, for example, Aim 2 cannot be pursued if Aim 1 is unsuccessful, or provide clear alternatives to prevent or address this.
  • Ensure that the research plan and proposed research are sufficiently developed.
  • Keep mentorship in mind throughout the process by:
    • Identifying an expert potential postdoctoral (and related fellowships) mentor, or, at a minimum, begin inquiring with potential mentors prior to submitting your application.
    • Considering inclusion of co-mentors that complement your primary mentor’s expertise, especially if your proposed research involves multiple disciplines.
    • Considering inclusion of a statistical expert on your mentor team, if applicable.
  • Highlight the scientific approaches, strategies, techniques, methodologies, skill sets, etc., to be acquired during your doctoral training that can be applied to aging research.
  • Describe your aging-relevant training plans (for example, aging-relevant research methods, coursework, professional development) during both grant phases.
  • Propose novel research on some aspect of aging during the K00 phase in which you will acquire new research skills with a mentor (or co-mentor) experienced in aging research. This mentor should provide a letter of support, if possible.
  • Consider how to achieve continuity of research plans when going from the F99 to K00 phase in terms of either research methods or theories.
  • Abide by NIH policies regarding Sex as a Biological Variable and Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Include letters of recommendation that are tailored to your experiences and potential and speak to your strengths.
  • Include a biosketch for yourself and all mentors and co-mentors.
  • Include only text, figures, tables, and illustrations that are clear and easy to read.
  • Be current (or describe your plans to be) in your training regarding “responsible conduct of research.”
  • Include a power analysis to demonstrate how you determined the number of research subjects to be included.
  • Abide by NIH policies regarding inclusion of hyperlinks in grant applications.

So there you have it: a tailor-made path to getting more involved in aging research. If you’ve been thinking about making the jump, now is the time! Keep an eye out for the next F99/K00 FOA coming soon later this summer. We wish you luck in applying, and if you have questions, please leave a comment below.

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