PREVIOUS ADVICE

1. What funds are available for an assistant professor to research the genetics of hearing?

2. Where can I find salary support to do a postdoc in chemical oceanography?


Dear GrantDoctor,

I am at the beginning stage of my academic career at the University of California, San Francisco, with an assistant professor status pending. Since I do have a PI status, I am eligible to apply for grants directly. I have several small grants under my name including the R03 training grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).

I work in hearing research, and I am now working on genes that are linked to blood (platelet) disorders as well as with mouse models expressing mutant steroid (androgen) receptor genes. I would like to write grants requesting funding from organizations that support research in blood disorders or disorders of mutant androgen receptors. Will you be able to send me a listing of funding sources for research in blood disorders and funding sources for disorders of mutant androgen/steroid receptors?

--Anand N. Mhatre


Dear Anand,

Androgen receptors are remarkable for their diversity of roles in human disease. They are linked to prostate cancer and to breast cancer, to aging issues like Alzheimer's disease and early childhood development--which means that there are many possible funding sources. It also means that deciding where to apply is a little harder.

Let's start with the obvious source of biomedical research funding: the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There are other sources around, but as an early career biomedical researcher your ability to obtain NIH funding will be a key determinant of your success. At some point you're going to have to earn your first R01 grant; no time like the present.

A search of the CRISP database of NIH-funded research projects on three key words--mutant, androgen, and receptor--yields 24 projects funded since 1999 by nine different NIH institutes: the National Cancer Institute (eight projects), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS, three projects), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (three projects), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (two projects), and the National Center for Research Resources (two projects). Work was also funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke NINDS, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This is a small subset of all the NIH-funded research related to the work you want to do, but it is a fair sample of the diversity of androgen-receptor research within NIH.

Different centers fund androgen-mutation research for different reasons. The National Cancer Institute is interested in androgen receptors because of the role they play in breast and prostate cancer. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is interested because androgen receptors are important to female fertility--and also because of their relevance to the developmental disorder androgen insensitivity syndrome. NINDS is interested because androgen receptors play a role in neurodegenerative disease.

The NIH has a two-stage review process. Your application is reviewed for scientific merit and scored by a study section at the Center for Scientific Review; it is then evaluated for funding by whatever institute is chosen to consider it. You can--and should--recommend a study section and an institute in your cover letter. You need to choose an institute and study section that share not only your area of research but also your particular goals. Since you are interested in hearing loss, the NINDS may be your best bet--but study the CRISP database to see which institute is funding research in your areas of interest. You should also check the study section rosters for names you recognize--people who are doing research similar to the work you want to do (not all study sections publish membership rosters, but you can always see who was at the last meeting by clicking on one of the "member roster" links). The choice of study section is important, but the institute will make the funding decision, and that decision will be determined by the institute's funding priorities--so be sure to request an institute with priorities similar to yours.

As for blood-disorder research, the obvious source of NIH funding is the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. But that isn't your only option; the NIGMS also funds research on blood disorders--as do several other NIH institutes. Once again, choose an institute and study section with care.

If you're applying for an R01, be sure to indicate that you're a new investigator. Your previous R03 does not disqualify you from new-investigator status. Reviewers use different criteria in considering new-investigator applications: for one thing more emphasis is placed on feasibility and less on preliminary data. This is useful in cases when a researcher is moving into a new area.

And don't forget about R21s--NIH Exploratory/Developmental Grants. These small, short-term grants are intended to fund early-stage research where insufficient preliminary data exist to write a compelling R01 application. R21's are perfect for researchers looking to expand their area of research competence.

Beyond the NIH, the GrantDoctor found a few private "pilot" programs exist in the biomedical sciences--for instance, the Charles E. Culpeper Biomedical Pilot Initiative from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund might be a good match.

As for other non-NIH funding, any foundation or institution that funds general medical science is fair game. I think you'll find several potential funding sources listed on GrantsNet. Browsing the Funding Directory, you will find other potential sources of support and you'll get an education on the universe of biomedical funding into the bargain. Best of luck.

--The GrantDoctor

Dear GrantDoctor,

I'm looking for the fellowships or any supporting funds for my postdoctoral position. And I really need it!

I'm now finishing my Ph.D. in environmental geochemistry area at Florida State University. I applied for a postdoctoral position at a prominent Chemical Oceanography Lab at Stanford. The PI replied to me that she was interested in me and my research; however, she has too many trainees to support right now, so we need to find some supporting money for my postdoc salary. She can pay for research expenses. Thanks in advance,

Sincerely,

Yonghoon Choi


Dear Dr. Choi,

You are working in a hot area and there's a good bit of money available. Many U.S. government sources, including programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation fund postdocs in environmental geochemistry. Just check out the Web sites of those organizations. Several corporations, including BP and Ford Motor Co., are also putting money into understanding global biogeochemical cycles (although most of this money is being doled out to institutions and not to individuals); carbon-intensive studies aim to identify cost-effective ways to intervene in the global carbon cycle to reduce atmospheric CO2.

If you are a U.S. citizen or have permanent residency status, you're in good shape. If you are not a citizen and you don't have permanent residency status, it's more complicated.

The two most common types of support for researchers at U.S. universities are traineeships and research grants. Traineeships are granted directly to students and postdoctoral trainees. The goal of traineeships is to train scientists--U.S. scientists. Research grants are made to institutions or individual investigators, generally faculty members at universities and other institutions. The goal of these research grants is to get the work done, so they can, in general, be used to support foreign scientists, including foreign students and postdocs.

Given that your putative new PI has already told you that she can't support you on a research grant, a traineeship would seem to be the obvious alternative. But with very few exceptions you can't get a traineeship from U.S. government sources without U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status. Furthermore, most sources of funding information list only fellowships for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. (GrantsNet is an exception, but GrantsNet's focus is biomedical.) This can make learning about funding opportunities harder, too.

I've looked high and low, but I've found little money for non-permanent-resident trainees working at U.S. universities, except for certain targeted groups (citizens of NATO partner countries, citizens of newly independent eastern European nations, etc.). I found a few specific programs, but all of them were in biomedical sciences. If anyone out there knows about such money, the GrantDoctor would like to hear about it. Drop me a line. In the meantime, (soon-to-be-) Dr. Choi, it's time to get creative.

Step 1: Find out who funds the lab you want to work at, discuss with your new advisor the possibility of applying for a supplement. One source of her funding is Stanford's Bio-X program, funded by Internet impresario Jim Clark's $150 million contribution. Find out if Bio-X, or one of the lab's other funders, would be willing to supplement existing research support in order to cover the cost of your salary and benefits.

Unfortunately, the Bio-X pot may be in jeopardy: Clark has recently announced that he's withholding $60 million as a protest against the government's decision to limit stem cell research. That may limit your (and your future advisor's) ability to win a supplement from Bio-X.

Step 2: If that doesn't work, write a new research proposal. Naturally, you'll need your future advisor's full cooperation. You'll also need good ideas and initiative. Study the work your new lab is already doing, read the literature, and come up with an idea for something new. Write it up, pass it around to as many experts as you can for comments, fix it up, and get your new advisor to submit it, in her name, to an established funding source. This will take some time, so hopefully you have an early start.

The key to this plan is the support of your new advisor, and the key to gaining that support is to prove that you're more of an asset than a burden. You are at the point in your career when you need to prove that you can do good work independently. Your challenge is to make yourself valuable to your future boss even before you're hired. If you can do that your chances of success are good. Best of luck.

--The GrantDoctor

Due to the high volume of questions received, The GrantDoctor cannot answer all queries on an individual basis. Look for an answer to your question published in this column soon! Thank you!