Notice Number: NOT-NS-15-048
Release Date: November 17, 2015
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Background. The development of outstanding clinician-scientists is critical to the mission of NIH and, specifically related to neurological disorders, NINDS. One pathway for this development is for individuals to 1) obtain both clinical and research training in an integrated MD/PhD program, 2) join a residency program for intensive clinical training, 3) obtain fellowship training, at least part of which is directed at re-engaging in scientific research that will position them to obtain an NIH career development (K) award, and then 4) obtain a 5 year mentored K award that will protect their time for research and help them launch an independent research career. On average, the integrated MD/PhD program takes 8 years to complete, residencies such as neurology take 4 years to complete, and the standard NINDS mentored K award lasts 5 years. The average time from the end of residency to an NINDS K award for a dual degree applicant is 45 months. Thus, the average training duration (time from the start of medical school to research independence) for an individual with an MD/PhD degree is ~21 years.
NINDS has made it a high priority to decrease the time it takes to develop outstanding, independent, clinician-scientists. To help accomplish this, NINDS is implementing programs to reduce the time from residency to K award.
Change in guidance to NINDS K application reviewers. Prior to residency, many clinically-trained individuals, most with PhD training but also many without, have conducted one or more outstanding research projects and published the results in highly regarded journals. Following residency, which includes little time for research, these individuals must re-establish their research programs, often in a completely different research area. As part of the K application review process, reviewers have, in the past, evaluated candidates in part on whether they have published during or after residency on their proposed research topic (as an indicator that they have re-established a research program). Consequently, the time in training for a clinician-scientist is extended not only by the time it takes to obtain high quality preliminary data for this new research project but also by delays associated with completion of the study and publication of the results in a top journal.
Effective immediately, NINDS will provide guidance to the NST-1 study section, which reviews K08 and K23 applications for NINDS, that is intended to minimize the impact of delays associated with final completion and publication of manuscripts related to the proposed research project. The premise of this review guidance is that publication of important, high quality research prior to residency can be taken as evidence of the candidate's ability to conduct, and see to completion, a high quality research project. Consequently, NINDS will suggest that reviewers consider a lack of publication during and/or subsequent to residency to be of limited concern under the following set of conditions, for applicants who are within approximately 18 months of their residency training:
1. Applicants have, by their prior record, demonstrated that they can conduct and complete an outstanding, significant, research project. This record must include peer-reviewed research publications in highly regarded journals, for which applicants were lead authors.
2. Applicants have submitted a well-organized, well-written application on a significant topic (i.e. the science is highly significant, the application includes compelling, high quality preliminary data, the approach is excellent, etc.).
3. Applicants have presented an excellent career development plan.
4. Applicants have outstanding mentors and mentorship plans; strong mentorship becomes even more important when funding applicants earlier in their research careers.
5. Applicants have made a convincing presentation that the proposed project has the potential to provide significant information during the K award period and will form the basis for future, independently funded research.
6. Applicants have provided reviewers with confidence via all aspects of the application, other than having residency and post-residency publications, that they will be successful in their K application research and subsequent transition to an independent research career.