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Time to Independent Awards

Launching an independent research career can be tough, especially during challenging budget times. At the Rock Talk Blog, Sally Rockey, the deputy director for extramural research at the US National Institutes of Health, notes that the average age for new investigators — researchers who haven't received a major independent research award — is 42 for PhDs and 44 for MDs or MD/PhDs.

"Reducing the time between the terminal degree or clinical training and the point at which researchers receive their first independent research award is certainly a goal that we want to measure," Rockey says.

By looking at NIH data from fiscal year 2013, she writes that some programs at NIH aimed at helping new investigators are allowing them to receive funding a little bit earlier.

For instance, Rockey notes that researchers classified as early stage investigators —meaning they finished their degree or residency within the past 10 years but haven't been awarded a competing NIH research grant — who received awards had an average age of 39.2 and median age of 39 years old.

Researchers benefitting from targeted programs are even younger, Rockey notes. For example, the average age of someone receiving an NIH Pathway to Independence Award was 36.2 while the average age of someone receiving NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards was 32.1 years old.

"While these data are not conclusive because they are based on only a single fiscal year, they do seem to indicate that programs targeting innovative and exceptional research from newer investigators can attract researchers earlier in their careers," she says.