Q. Dear GrantDoctor,

I am British and have recently completed my Ph.D. in Molecular Evolution/Bioinformatics in the U.K. There is a U.S. lab that I would love to join for my postdoc, and the professor there says he is very interested in my work and we need to sort out funding. However, I now find that funding I thought would be open to me--the NATO fellowships--are only for Eastern Europeans. What do you suggest?

Sincerely,

Seeking Yankee Postdoc.

A. Dear Seeking,

Even today, when the value of international research experience is widely acknowledged, it isn't easy to find fellowships that support postdoctoral work abroad. In Europe, finding programs to support research in other European countries is pretty easy, but finding support for work outside Europe is a different story.

One possibility is the Human Frontiers Science Program, which provides long-term fellowships for interdisciplinary scientists pursuing international collaborative research. Here's the scoop, from the source: "Long-term Fellowships provide young scientists with up to three years of postdoctoral research training in an outstanding laboratory in another country. The third year of the Long-Term Fellowship can be used either for repatriation to the Fellow's country or in the host laboratory. The fellowships provide approximately $45,000 U.S. per year, including allowances for travel and research expenses. To be eligible, a fellow must either come from or go to a member country. Long-Term Fellows who return to their home country at the end of the fellowship may apply for the competitive Career Development Award." Both the United Kingdom and the United States are eligible countries. Pre-registration is in August.

It's a long shot, but the European Molecular Biology Organization also offers Long-Term Fellowships, for a maximum of 2 years abroad, and for researchers with no more than 3 years postdoctoral experience. Moving from a European member state to a nonmember state is not favored, but it is allowed, so your application must be compelling and your choice of an overseas lab must be well justified.

From the U.S. side, the Life Sciences Research Foundation offers 3-year postdoctoral fellowships that allow non-U.S. citizens to work in a U.S. lab. Molecular evolution is among the covered disciplines. All federal fellowships are limited to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but disease-specific private philanthropies permit applications from foreign scientists. Of course, disease-specific philanthropies are unlikely to support molecular evolution research, unless it has a specific and compelling connection to their disease of choice, which is certainly a possibility.

Finally--and most importantly--you should note that less than a third of all U.S. postdocs are supported by fellowships; the rest receive grant-supported salaries from their institutions. Indeed, outside the biomedical sciences, postdoctoral fellowships in the United States are quite rare. Grant-supported salaries rarely have a citizenship requirement, so, although your new advisor will no doubt be much happier if you are able to acquire your own support, support from your advisor's research grant is the most probable option. Then again, if the P.I. you've hooked up with doesn't have the funds, the statistics don't matter.

Best of Luck,

The GrantDoctor

Q. Hello,

I have an NIH NRSA fellowship but am very short on money to finance my research. Any ideas on appropriate research grants?

Cheers,

Itai

A. Itai,

NIH makes a very clear distinction between trainees and independent scientists. The distinction is, in some cases, a fiction--some "trainees" are more independent than their faculty mentors--but from an administrative/bureaucratic standpoint it's important. As an NRSA fellow, NIH regards you as a trainee, and trainees do not apply for research grants.

So, what to do? It's the job of your advisor to fund her own--and your--research. If you have your own good ideas, write them up in a one-page prospectus and give it to your advisor. If she's interested, write a proposal, develop it carefully, revise it, and submit it in the name of your advisor and your institution. Depending on your institution and your advisor, it may be possible to add you as a co-PI (I'm assuming you're a postdoctoral fellow and not a graduate fellow; you don't specify in your question).

If you feel you're giving away your good ideas to serve your advisors career … well, get used to it and get over it. It's extremely common and, if you have potential as a scientist, you'll have many more good ideas before you're through.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor