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Dear GrantDoctor,I'm in between finishing my B.A. and applying to med school. Several years have passed since I completed by B.A. and I would like to finish paying for it before I embark on the M.D./Ph.D.I am currently involved in SCI clinical research and would like to invest more of my efforts, but there isn't room for the junior scientist without a doctorate or masters. Is there any funding for someone like me? I'm focused on my work and am working to clear the way to med school, but I would love to focus mainly on the science even if I have to put off the M.D./Ph.D. for a few more years. Are there any loan-repayment programs at my level? Or are my credentials above the undergrad and below the graduate radars? What about those of us who are in the middle?RMD


RMD,

Thanks for your message.

Is there money for someone like you? There's lots of money out there for biomedical research, and if you have the skills and talents to make yourself useful to a lab, then I'm sure you can find someone to pay you (possibly as a lab technician) even if you don't have an advanced degree. On the other hand, I can't help thinking that if you have the skills and talents to make yourself useful to a lab and a desire to go on to graduate/medical school, then you should get started as soon as possible.

The goal of loan-repayment programs is to encourage more young scientists to go into critical areas of research. It's natural, I think, for these organizations to hedge their bets: They want to make sure you're well on your way to a research career before they help you pay your loans. Otherwise they'd have to deal with loads of applications from people who were just looking for a clever way to pay for medical school.

As far as I know, research-related loan-repayment programs are uniformly postdoctoral. Furthermore, they have a service requirement; if you don't work in the field (whatever it might be) for a certain period of time, you have to pay back the money they've paid toward your loans. Bottom line: It's impossible to fully realize the potential of these programs until 2 or 3 years beyond the Ph.D. So it's much too early for you.

As you probably know, if you go back to school, your undergraduate student loans can be deferred; you won't have to start paying them off again until you're done with med/graduate school. At that point, if you go into an area of research supported by a loan-repayment program, you can consolidate your student loans and work on paying them all off at once. So, although you can't get help repaying your loans right now, it's reasonable--if slightly risky--to factor loan-repayment programs into your financial planning. Loan-repayment programs are risky because they are competitive and research budgets go through cycles. It's unlikely that these programs will be eliminated by the time you're ready for them, but the funding levels might go down. Furthermore, as research priorities change, these programs change as well.

You're not getting any younger, and there's lots of important work to be done. Science needs you now, but paying off your loans can wait. Apply to your preferred M.D./Ph.D. programs as soon as possible.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor

Hi Doc,Where do you get NIH statistics?Antoine


Dear Antoine,

I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

The good Doctor can't very well go 'round giving out her trade secrets. If she did that, she might be out of a job.

Then again, it's my job to make myself redundant, isn't it? When all the young scientists in the world know everything they need to know about research funding, it'll be time to move on to something new or--maybe--take a vacation. I can't let a little thing like employment get in my way of dispensing good advice.

NIH does a very good job making its statistics available to the public via its Web site. The very latest numbers aren't always available (maybe there's a future in this Grant-Doctoring business after all), but the site probably has what you need.

The problem is that NIH is a complex place, and it stashes numbers everywhere. It can be hard to know where to look. Fortunately, though, the most important statistics are in just a few places.

Most of NIH's award data are available at http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/award/award.htm. Another repository of valuable information, this one focused on training programs, is http://grants1.nih.gov/training/outcomes.htm. In order to understand what this all means, you may need to use NIH's document Activity Codes, Organization Codes, and Definitions Used in Extramural Programs, which you'll find at this URL: http://grants2.nih.gov/grants/funding/ac.pdf.

Each NIH institute and center (IC) has it's own funding plan, and well-informed grant writers should be familiar with the funding plan for every IC funding work in their area. Most--and possibly all--NIH institutes provide this information online. Here are some examples:

http://www.niaid.nih.gov/ncn/budget/default_budget.htm

http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/grantspolicies/FinalFundLtrFY03.htm

http://www.niddk.nih.gov/fund/FY2003/fundstat.htm

http://www.nigms.nih.gov/about/financial_management_strategy.html

http://www.nichd.nih.gov/funding/funding-guide.htm

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/funding/ninds_funding_strategy.htm

http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/extramural/fyfund.htm

Each of these pages lists the pay line and the funding strategy for each institute for the current fiscal year.

The most useful resource NIH provides, however, is undoubtedly the CRISP database, which allows scientists to view an abstract for every NIH-funded project. There's no better way to find out who's doing the kind of work you are doing (or wish to do) and what kind of work NIH is funding.

Be Well,

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!