Nutrition Training at NIH
Nutrition Training Opportunities
Exceptional opportunities exist for support of training in nutrition, both pre- and postdoctoral, through programs at the National Institutes of Health. However the number of actual awards is small in comparison to the needs and importance of nutrition in health. For example, of the estimated 1175 traditional training grants (T32) across all institutes at NIH, only 18 deal directly with nutrition (about 1.5%).
As a result the Nutrition Science Research Group (NSRG) of the Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has launched an effort to inform the nutrition community about education and training opportunities and to encourage applications, especially in nutrition and cancer.
Several types of awards within the National Research Service Awards (NRSA) are showcased on the NIH website (http://grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm). The traditional Institutional Training Grant (T32) providing for both pre- and postdoctoral traineeships is probably the best known. Since these awards provide only stipends for students, applicants need to show active research support for faculty involved in the proposal. While there are at least 250 nutrition programs nationwide, only 6 institutions currently have a T32 award, only one of which is funded through NCI. Last year approximately 60% of all T32 applications were funded.
The NRSA portfolio also includes Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships (F32). We need to encourage all new postdoctoral students to apply for these fellowships as a part of our "culture," as it is the "norm" in other fields. Considering the approximately 150 doctoral degrees awarded each year in nutrition, having only 4 currently funded postdoctoral fellowships indicates the scope of the problem. Over the last ten years the success rate for these fellowships has been about 40%.
K-Awards are career development awards that provide a large number of opportunities (http://grants.nih.gov/training/careerdevelopmentawards.htm). Several K-Awards provide support for postdoctoral students in a basic or clinical setting at different stages of their careers. For example the Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) is designed for postdoctoral experience and the Academic Career Award (K07) for leadership development in instruction, research and administration, often used for new faculty. There are clinical awards (e.g., K08) and awards for more senior scientists (K05) and many more opportunities. A total of 12 K07 and K08 awards for nutrition related projects are currently active at NCI. Success rates for K-Awards range from 35 to over 50%.
NCI utilizes the K01 and K07 awards in a slightly different fashion than the other NIH institutes (http://cancertraining.nci.nih.gov/). The K01 (Howard Temin Award) provides five years of support including at least one year of mentored research experience and a bridge to an independent junior faculty position in order to encourage basic scientists to focus their research on human cancer. The K07 is designed to support career development of investigators who have made a commitment to focus their research endeavors on cancer prevention, control, behavioral, and the population sciences by providing appropriate didactic and mentored research experiences. These mechanisms for providing a period of career development for postdoctoral fellows or for junior faculty (F- and K-awards) need to be encouraged among nutrition graduate students as they move on to these positions. Departments and programs in nutrition also need to utilize these awards as a means of helping new faculty, especially when they are from non-nutrition backgrounds, make a successful transition to our programs and to the field of nutrition.
The Cancer Education and Career Development Program (R25T) (http://cancertraining.nci.nih.gov/research/prevention/r25tfull.html) is unique to the NCI. The R25T program provides five years of renewable support for "curriculum-dependent, team-oriented" interdisciplinary training of both pre- and postdocs, particularly in the behavioral, prevention, control, nutrition and population sciences (but including other areas of research, e.g., imaging, pathology). Unlike T32 grants, salaries for trainees on R25T grants are not congressionally mandated, support is provided for research costs and for faculty to develop and implement a curriculum, and there is no minimum percent effort commitment required of trainees. As an indication of the general problem in increasing funding for nutrition training, there were NO applications for the R25T awards last year! Success rates for R25T grants have been about 45%.
As part of the effort to expand the number of applications for these programs the NSRG will be communicating with several groups, e.g., all current and new grant recipients in their portfolio, department and program heads, current graduate students. Expansion of the training potential in the field of nutrition will assure a larger, well trained supply of nutrition scientists for the future. If information beyond that in the above websites is needed, contact the NSRG at (301) 496-8573.
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