Any funding you can get as a postdoc gives you more leverage--and helps you cultivate independence more effectively--than if you were paid out of your principal investigator's (PI's) grant. So below, we list a few of the most important grants, career awards, individual fellowships, and junior-leader positions for postdocs in Europe and the United States, with asterisks (*) beside the ones that are especially aimed at cultivating independence.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) have an R03 grant mechanism to support small research projects for up to 2 years with or without preliminary data. These can be useful for senior postdocs who can get their PIs to collaborate on a grant proposal.
*The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) offers the Veni, Vidi, and Vici research grants for postdocs in all fields to pursue their own lines of research at different stages in their careers.
Training Awards and Fellowships
*The NIH Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) offers a salary and training, research, and travel expenses for up to 5 years for a supervised career-development experience leading to research independence.
NIH's National Research Service Awards for Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships (F32) offer postdocs a stipend as well as training and travel money for up to 3 years.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) offers postdoctoral fellowships in many fields, including the *NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowships (AAPF), which enable postdocs to carry out independent research at the host institution of their choice for up to 3 years.
Some other NSF awards:
*The Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) for underrepresented groups in biology and biological informatics.
The International Research Fellowship Program (IRFP).
*NASA awards Hubble Fellowships to help postdocs pursue independent research related to its Cosmic Origins Program, with a stipend and research and travel money for up to 3 years. NASA also offers Einstein Fellowships for research related to its Physics of the Cosmos Program and Sagan Fellowships to its Exoplanet Exploration program.
The European Commission gives Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowships (IEF) for career development for European postdocs to spend up to 2 years in another European country with a mobility and travel allowance and research funding. It also offers International Outgoing Fellowships (IOF) for career development for European postdocs to go to a non-European country and then come back. Marie Curie fellows may gain further support for 2 to 3 years with a *Marie Curie European Reintegration Grant (ERG) while securing long-term employment.
Postdocs who have spent at least 3 years away from Europe may apply for a Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant (IRG) and win financial support for 2 to 4 years to come back. Non-Europeans may also apply to come to Europe with a salary and research money for up to 2 years with the International Incoming Fellowships (IIF).
*The Spanish Ministry for Science and Innovation offers 5-year fellowships, with prospects for an independent position, to young scientists with less than 10 years of postdoctoral experience through the Ramn y Cajal program.
Independent Funding and Positions
*The NIH Pathway to Independence Awards (K99/R00) offer postdocs a salary and research funds for a mentored phase of 2 years followed by support for 3 years after recruitment into an independent position.
*NIH offers Independent Scientist Awards (K02), which give newly independent scientists salary support and protected time so they may focus on their research for up to 5 years.
*The Burroughs Wellcome Fund offers Career Awards for Medical Scientists and Career Awards at the Scientific Interface for physicists, mathematicians, and computational scientists working on biological questions. (Note that these have been suspended for the 2009–10 year.)
*The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research runs the Whitehead Fellows Program, which consists of an independent appointment with lab space, resources, and institutional support for up to 5 years with no teaching responsibilities.
*The Sandia National Laboratories established the President Harry S. Truman Fellowship in National Security Science and Engineering for newly graduated Ph.D. scientists and engineers to pursue independent research of their own choosing at one of the laboratories.
*The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Austria offers IMP fellowships to scientists with less than 18 months of postdoctoral experience so that they may start a group independently. These fellowships consist of a 5-year appointment with start-up funds, salary money for a Ph.D. student and one undergrad, and travel money.
*The European Research Council offers Starting Grantsto scientists of any nationality with 3 to 8 years of postdoctoral experience to establish or consolidate their own research team in Europe. Funding is for 5 years and may be for up to €2 million per grant.
*Through its EMBO Installation Grants, the European Molecular Biology Organization offers scientists negotiating a full-time position at an institution in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Portugal, Poland, and Turkey research funding (including salary) for up to 5 years as well as additional training and networking opportunities.
*The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in the United Kingdom offers scientists with less than 10 years' research experience (Ph.D. included) the David Phillips fellowships. These include a salary and independent research support for 5 years.
*Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) offers scientists with 3 to 8 years of postdoctoral experience Starting Investigator Research Grants (SIRG) so they may pursue independent research in biotechnology, information and communications technology, and sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies within a mentor's lab. The award is for up to €500,000 for 4 years and also provides funding for a postgraduate student.
*The German Research Foundation (DFG) set up the Emmy Noether Programme to give scientists with less than 4 years of postdoctoral research experience the opportunity to run an Independent Junior Research Group in a German institution and start teaching duties for up to 6 years.
*The Max Planck Society in Germany offers Independent Junior Research Group Leader positions with lab space, start-up funds, and salary money to recruit a postdoc, a Ph.D. student, and a technician for 5 years.
*The French National Research Agency set up the Jeunes Chercheuses et Jeunes Chercheurs program to help young scientists within French national research centers and universities start their own research lines or independent group. (Note: To apply, you need to have secured your first permanent position, which in France usually means working within the group of another principal investigator.)
- The 2005 Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey of postdoctoral researchers in the United States
- Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies, published in 2000 by the U.S. National Academies
- Committee on Postdoctoral Education: Report and Recommendations, a 1998 report from the Association of American Universities
- The Rise of the Post-Doc as Principal Investigator? How PhDs May Advance Their Career and Knowledge Claims in the New Europe of Knowledge, a 2008 paper in Policy Futures in Education by Chris Armbruster
More Science Careers articles to help postdocs gain independence
Updated: 21 August 2009
Elisabeth Pain is contributing editor for South Europe.