Career Reentry and Swedish Postdocs

Q: Dear GrantDoctor,

I am looking for funding opportunities for a female postdoc who just started in my lab. She took time off from the bench after her Ph.D. to care for her young family and now would like to come back to the bench and begin a postdoc fellowship.

Are there any fellowships designed to help women wanting to "restart" their careers after taking time off for family obligations? Our research area is molecular organogenesis.



A: Dear K.M.,

Do you have a major research grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)? If you do, you're in luck: NIH offers administrative supplements for precisely this purpose. Applications for NIH's Supplements to Promote Reentry Into Biomedical and Behavioral Research Careers aren't subjected to further scientific evaluation; if you have an NIH grant, you just contact your program officer, explain the circumstances, and--if the money's available and you qualify--NIH writes you a check. These supplements are intended, says the program announcement,

to support individuals with high potential to reenter an active research career after taking time off to care for children or attend to other family responsibilities. The aim of these supplements is to encourage such individuals to reenter research careers within the missions of all the program areas of NIH. This program will provide administrative supplements to existing NIH research grants for the purpose of supporting full-time or part-time research by these individuals in a program geared to bring their existing research skills and knowledge up to date. It is anticipated that at the completion of the supplement, the reentry scientist will be in a position to apply for a career development (K) award, a research award, or some other form of independent research support.

To qualify, you must already have a grant from one of the following NIH programs: R01, R10, R18, R24, R35, R37, P01, P40, P41, P50, P51, P60, U01, U10, or U54. Your new postdoc must have a doctoral degree (M.D., D.D.S., Ph.D., O.D., D.V.M., or equivalent) and "must have had sufficient prior research experience to qualify for a doctoral level research staff or faculty position at the time they left active research." Candidates must be citizens, noncitizen nationals, or permanent residents. These awards are intended to initiate the process of reentry--applicants already supported by a traineeship, fellowship, or other form of support aren't generally eligible--but I'm confident the program officer won't penalize your or the candidate for finding a bit of short-term money for a deserving applicant.

So, what if you don't have an NIH grant? NIH, as you know, is by far the most important supporter of biomedical research in the United States, so it makes sense to try to tap them anyway. Some NIH institutes and centers employ the K01 mechanism (the Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award) specifically to promote reentry into a research career after a family-related hiatus. These awards are open to all qualifying U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and noncitizen nationals. Contact the program officer at the appropriate NIH institute or center for more information.

If a K01 award doesn't pan out, a Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) might. NRSAs are competitive and are not intended specifically for reentry, but you can be assured that an application from your new postdoc will be considered on its merits, without undue concern for a family-related interruption.

I'm aware of no other U.S. programs that aim to promote the reentry of women into science following a family-related career interruption, so good luck with these.

Be Well,

The GrantDoctor

Q: Dear GrantDoctor,

I'm a U.S. citizen currently finishing my thesis work at Washington University examining the proteolytic mechanisms underlying organelle degradation in the ocular lens. Soon I will be starting a postdoctoral position at the University of Göteborg in Sweden, studying forkhead transcription factors during development. I'm interested in applying for a fellowship for my studies, particularly for fellowships funding U.S. citizens studying abroad. Unfortunately, I'm not very familiar with what is available for me in Sweden. Any ideas?



A: Dear Anna,

It sounds as though your postdoctoral research will be in a substantially different area from your Ph.D. work. That's good, because it means you may be a strong candidate for a Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP) Long-Term Fellowship. I say "may be" because there's a catch: You must have at least one first-author publication in order for your application to be taken seriously. HFSP applications are also frequently rejected because the research topic doesn't fit with HFSP's scientific agenda--maybe it's too clinical, too agricultural, or too disease- or drug-related.

Although your description of your proposed research is very brief, to me it sounds like a good fit with HFSP's goal of supporting "basic research focused on complex mechanisms of living organisms"; anyway, you could successfully spin it that way. HFSP supports fields from "molecular and cellular approaches to biological functions to systems and cognitive neuroscience." Your application should state clear scientific objectives and have a clear and specific research plan. Pay close attention to the writing; make sure it is clear, concise, and correct. HFSP awards are, of course, highly competitive; last year's success rate was about 13%.

Other possibilities? The Fulbright Foundation has a reciprocal agreement with Sweden, as it does with many other countries, but there's no Swedish award that is ideal for your circumstances. The American Visiting Lecturer/Research Scholar program provides support for 3 to 5 months abroad, plus travel expenses. All their other awards for Americans who wish to study in Sweden are for students.

The Swedish side offers two possibilities. Annika Johansson of the Swedish Research Council (SRC) says her organization has two postdoc funding options for citizens of countries other than Sweden. First is the council's Grant for Postdoctoral Positions in Sweden, Natural and Engineering Sciences, which funds a postdoc salary for up to 2 years. No research costs are covered, and this award will support you only until the end of your second postdoctoral year, regardless of your source of support--so even f you were supported as a postdoc for 6 months from another source, your remaining eligibility would still only be 18 months.

The second Swedish possibility is the Project Research Grant, Natural and Engineering Sciences, which funds salaries, research, and travel costs, usually for a maximum of 3 years (although in some cases funding can be extended to 5 years). Most research project grants go to (Swedish) principal investigators, but a minority, Johansson says, are awarded to postdocs. There's a caveat for this grant, though: You need to be employed already in Sweden. It could possibly work as a continuation to a short-term postdoc.

Hurry--the annual deadline for both of these grants is very soon: 25 April 2006.

SRC, by the way, is directed by the Swedish government to support young researchers in particular, and--refreshingly--they don't exclude foreigners from consideration.

Finally, as a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to apply for a Kirschstein NRSA fellowship, even though you'll be working overseas. Your application must demonstrate that "the foreign institution and sponsor offer unique opportunities and clear scientific advantages over positions currently available in the United States."

For practical information on living and working in Sweden, take a look at the Researcher's Mobility Portal Sweden.

Best of Luck,

The GrantDoctor

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