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Author Topic: med student -> postdoc funding basics  (Read 20053 times)
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« on: December 01, 2011, 4:56:39 pm »

Hi everyone. I'm currently doing a research year during medical school and loving it (after finishing third year at a solid US medical school, I was granted the opportunity- a few every year are who want to and have their stuff together- to do a year of research before returning to finish med school). I have always had a passion for research and have accumulated an impressive research CV relative to my stage of the game (predoctoral... I have about 8 publications with 3 pending- mixed bag ranging from first authored papers in good/great journals to 2nd author abstracts, a couple prestigious undergrad research grants/fellowships totaling $8K- scattered topics).

I am now strongly considering not specializing in clinical medicine (at least for now, maybe will do a residency later--although I am super competitive applicant for any subspecialty in medicine) and instead I think a better match for me than traditional clinical training is pursuing an interdisciplinary nutrition/global health research career.

The Earth Institute at Columbia Univ postdoc fellowship program is where I'm looking into most for a good fit. This program has built in funding for its fellows. Other programs that seem fit to me do not have built in funding- at least I don't see online salaries for any set up fellowship for example at Harvard's Dept of Global Health and Social Medicine. My question is mainly basics about funding. My work is going to be enough medically related still that NIH grants are going to be in the equation for me.

so here's my questions:

1) how do i get to research at a place like Harvard's Global Health Dept when I don't see applications for fellowships there with automatic funding for them if you get accepted? Am I supposed to win an extramural grant and bring it there? Like apply for an NIH grant and  then take it to whatever institution I like/co-apply with a mentor for an NIH or some other grant?
2) if i get a postdoc fellowship with designated funding- can i apply for an NIH grant or other extramural grant anyway to add on to the salary/research funding??

For NIH funding I'm looking at the K99 and F32 grants. Seems like K99 is $90K of funding while the F32 would be just a 40K stipend for Postgraduate year 1 folks. If you get a K99 or something else with a bunch of funding, how does it work capping what you pocket for your salary vs how much must go towards research expenses? Does the university you're taking the grant to cap a max for your salary and the rest must be used on research expenses? So K99 vs F32 is same personal salary but with K99 potentially an added $50K for the mentored postdoc years for your research?

3) What would be the holy grail/most competitive funding for a postdoc they can land? Is it to bring an extramural K99, a prestigious university postdoc  fellowship like Mellon or Earth Institute... or a combo? Or something else am I missing? I don't want to give up a career in clinical medicine to just get a so-so post doc position. If I do it I want a really good outfit, $, researching my own passion, etc. so I want to make sure if I I do this, to do it right since my other option of staying in clinical medicine ain't that bad (especially for my enormous medical school debt) and I know some post doc spots can get bad (in terms of slaving away, and low funding).

Excuse any severe ignorance on my part- I'm very new to figuring out how the finances work in the world of competitive postdocs. Here's hoping though to that I'll be doing nutrition research in the developing world soon enough.
Eventually, if you hang around long enough, they'll make you a
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Posts: 503

My mother-in-law would point out God's gray hairs.

« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2011, 10:00:08 pm »


You posted this a few days ago, and yet there are no responses.  Sorry about that, but it may be to do with a few issues in your post.

Nonetheless, my suggestion is that you seek guidance on your own campus.  Surely some of the faculty you know or can connect with have held positions that you seek.  A friendly invitation for coffee or a brief chat in the conference room may work wonders.  Don't reject those folks that are right in front of your nose.

Dale (original)
That's not screaming; that's rock and roll
Distinguished Senior Member
Posts: 10,137

« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2011, 10:09:29 pm »

This might not be the best forum for postdoc questions.  I would do a broader search for postdoc specific forums and start posting your questions there.

In addition to what Dale has suggested, for your Q#1, I suggest you contact the programme officer at the Global Health Dept and start a conversation about how their fellows are funded.  Start with email and move to a phone conversation, if you can.  If you have a particularly helpful or friendly officer on the other end, and the conversation leads towards self-funded fellowships, you might gingerly pose your Q#3.  For Q#2, it sounds as if you need to talk to a programme officer at the NIH, though I'm not sure I've understood the question correctly.

I think what you might also find extremely helpful is advice from current postdocs at some of these institutions. I think you would also do well to find a mentor who could steer you in the right direction. Surely there's someone in your current med programme who champions MD/PhD training?  That's who I would approach.

Best wishes, keep digging, and don't become discouraged.

I strive with a mission to proliferate superiority knowledge
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Posts: 1,432

« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2011, 10:21:36 pm »

If money is your goal, then stay in clinical medicine.

NIH grant will probably be the best credential.
Senior member
Posts: 731

« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2011, 11:00:58 pm »

Hi -

For context, I'm Chair of a Med School Dept.

The positions you are referring to almost certainly will come with funding if you are accepted.

Don't worry about the funding:  worry about the fit.  If you think the fit is great, by all means contact them and let them figure out how they will pay for it (they do that routinely already.)  Postdocs do not pay their own way in medicine.

There are $$'s in the area you are looking into, especially given the massive funding input from the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, and I am sure there are others.  I think it's a great area.

Good luck!

May the roses rise to greet you.
Posts: 100

« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2012, 2:06:36 am »

Your writing sounded a little over the top and conceited to me.  So, first off I would suggest taking it down a notch and not sounding so confident when you contact people.  It will put some researchers off if you act like a medical doctor and brag about yourself too much.  You may have 8 publications and that might look good to a PI, but you are probably going to put off your coworkers too if you come into a lab bragging about your credentials.

Also, if you really want to work in a lab then just start emailing mentors that you are interested in at the institution.  As someone else above said, don't worry about funding, instead worry about the fit and openings in the lab.  If the lab likes you and thinks you will do good work then they will have funding for you.  If they don't have funding but they still want you in their lab, then they will likely tell you what grants to apply to in their field so that you can get funded for a post-doc.
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Posts: 463

« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2012, 2:48:25 pm »

I don't think you sound arrogant or overly confident.  I think you know your strengths and you know how to sell yourself, as well as knowing where you stand in your field, and too many grad students don't know that.  8 publications for a PhD student in a research-based program would be impressive; 8 publications for a medical student in a clinically focused program is even more impressive.

Anyway, there are a lot of postdocs out there for MD holders who want to make the switch into doing research.  I'm in the health sciences myself, and many of the postdocs I am interested in would have me working alongside recent MD recipients.  Some of them require a clinical residency first, and others don't.  The ones I am thinking of are the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

I also want to note that although the K99/R00 allows you to apply for up to $90,000 in salary support for your initial postdoctoral phase, it's very unlikely that a postdoctoral MD fresh out of medical school will get approved for that much.  The NIH funding levels for a new doctoral graduate with 0 years of postdoctoral experience is a little over $38,000.  But the K99/R00 would definitely be the best one you can get, primarily because you have built-in funding in your first three years at a new institution who has recruited you AND you can prove that you can bring in external grant funding because you already have done it.  Many schools like people who already have their own salary and research support.  The second-best would be F32, because it also shows you can get independent research funding.

As others said, though, fit is far more important than funding at this point.  The first thing you have to do is establish connections at the university at which you want to do your postdoc (or several, if you are still deciding).  Contact potential mentors and talk about the possibilities of postdoc research there.  As others said, they will tell you what to do re: funding - whether you need to bring your own, or whether there is some for you.

A quick search on "postdoctoral nutrition" yielded a lot of results, so I don't think you'll have a hard time finding a nutrition-specific postdoc.

As for the loans, look into the NIH's Loan Repayment Program.
Junior member
Posts: 78

« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2012, 3:34:02 pm »

There is good advice above.  A few additional thoughts.

1.  Doing a residency soon after med school is much easier than going back to do it some time later.  (Clinical skills and thinking get rusty, drugs/procedures change, and the long hours/late nights are harder on your body.)  You should be able to find a residency that allows for sufficient research time (perhaps by extending the years of training) to allow you to pursue both clinical and research training.

2.  Doing a residency and incorporating some element of clinical practice in your career will open up additional funding mechanisms, give you different insights into the problems you're working with, and will improve your interactions with clinicians.  (At least this was true for me, although my research interests are quite different from yours.)

3.  Any decent fellowship will pay your salary.  You'll apply for a K99 or similar from the fellowship, not before.  (Typically, as these grants are to facilitate the transition to independent faculty member.)  As noted above, the K99 salaries are maximum.  My study section would balk at recommending $90K of salary for an MD a couple of years out of med school.  A year or two out of residency it would be expected.

4.  Don't worry about getting the most "prestigious" fellowship.  Follow the research directions, and find the mentors that will allow you to accomplish what you feel is the most interesting and significant research.  You're in a unique position where you have the MD to fall back on, which many working in research do not.  (That is, "you'll always have a job.")  You get more respect from what you accomplished, published, and grants gotten, not which fellowships you held. 

5.  There may be a loan repayment program targeted to someone of your interests.  Seek it out as this may save you a lot of $'s.
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