One of the common challenges that young investigators face is a lack of money. Without any initial funding, it is difficult to produce even the preliminary results needed to file an R01 grant application. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Charles Schroeder was lucky enough to be one of the recipients of the NIH's Pathway to Independence Award.
The grant opportunity began in 2007. "I was reading Nature that week and there was a little blurb, a little announcement that the NIH was coming up with this new award and the goal was to get researchers funded at an earlier age so that they can get their first R01 earlier in their careers rather than later," Schroeder says. At that time, he'd been kicking around an idea to use single molecule tools for genotyping and seized this grant opportunity as a chance to work on that project. "Right when I saw that announcement, I went to the website and I started writing," he says. Two months later, he submitted his application and was funded in the first round to work on that project.
The Pathway to Independence Award is a two-phase award. During the first part of the grant, the K99 or career development phase, the investigator is still usually a postdoc and is meant to use that time and money to finish his or her supervised research, look for an independent position, and prepare to apply for an R01. The second phase of the award, the R00 or a precursor to the R01, funds the newly independent scientist. "The intent that the funding provided from the R00 [gives] you the resources to gain the preliminary data so that you can actually write a successful R01," Schroeder says.