NIDCR Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Transition Award for a Diverse Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research Workforce

Research Training and Career Development Branch

Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

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NIDCR 2030 emphasized the need to develop a dental, oral, and craniofacial (DOC) research workforce that reflects the diversity of the nation with regard to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, and socio-economic status. In support of this priority, this initiative will provide a structured pathway for outstanding graduate students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences research enterprise (see NOT-OD-20-031) to transition to postdoctoral research positions in DOC research. The program will encourage continuous mentorship through a challenging research career transition point and provide career development opportunities relevant to becoming independent investigators.

To achieve this, a two phased program using the F99/K00 model is proposed. The first phase (F99) will support the final two years of graduate research training for individuals in PhD or dual degree clinician scientist programs. Following graduation and attainment of a postdoctoral research position, the second phase (K00) will provide support for up to three years of mentored postdoctoral research. Students who apply to the program must identify a DOC field for postdoctoral research and long-term research career goals; however, a postdoctoral research mentor is not required at the time of F99/K00 application. Postdoctoral research mentor(s) will be identified prior to activation of the second award phase (K00). Eligibility will be limited to underrepresented groups in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences research enterprise in accordance with federal and NIH guidance and policies.

A central component of this initiative will be an emphasis on mentorship before, during and after the predoctoral to postdoctoral transition. Applicants to this program will be encouraged to assemble a team of mentors, in addition to their PhD advisors, for research career development advice and insight into their chosen DOC research fields. The F99 mentorship team will provide support and guidance to the applicant during the search for a postdoctoral research position and continue to be available to advise the candidate during the postdoctoral fellowship. While it is expected that F99 mentors serve in an advisory role over the duration of the training, they are not required to serve as primary mentors for the postdoctoral training phase.

Transition to the postdoctoral phase (K00) of the program, will be contingent upon the candidate’s successful completion of the degree granting program(s) and achievement of a postdoctoral research position. Prior to activating the postdoctoral support phase, the candidate will work with the identified postdoctoral advisor(s) to provide an updated research training plan through the new postdoctoral research institution. The postdoctoral research advisor(s) will provide plans to promote the candidate’s research achievements, including publications, along with career development training in areas necessary for an independent research career, such as grant writing and laboratory management. NIDCR will provide oversight of the transition to the K00 phase to ensure that the candidate has appropriate postdoctoral mentorship, a strong research training plan, and robust institutional support that will ultimately facilitate an independent research career.

Successful implementation of this program can encourage graduate students and dual degree students conducting DOC research to remain in NIDCR research areas for postdoctoral training and independent careers. Additionally, this program may attract individuals from underrepresented groups conducting research in related research fields to enter the DOC research workforce pipeline at the postdoctoral level. NIDCR will plan to evaluate program success in terms of whether program participants earn doctoral degree(s), obtain DOC postdoctoral fellowships, produce research publications during the training period, achieve independent faculty positions and subsequent independent research grant support.

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The NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce identified key transition points at which underrepresented groups leave the research workforce pipeline. One critical juncture is the predoctoral to postdoctoral transition. It has been reported that many individuals from underrepresented minorities progressively lose interest in research intensive careers during graduate training (Gibbs et al., 2014). Strong mentorship, particularly through structured, formalized programs, can promote increased science self-efficacy and strengthen an individual’s commitment to a research career (Chemers et al, 2011; Davis et al., 2005; Pfund et al., 2016). Mentorship can be particularly crucial for enabling individuals from underrepresented groups to navigate a research career pathway (Chemers et. al. 2011; Pfund et al., 2011).

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Gaps and Opportunities

NIDCR participates in RFA-NS-19-011, NIH Blueprint D-SPAN Award (F99/K00) for predoctoral to postdoctoral transitions for individuals from underrepresented groups conducting neuroscience research. However, students working in other aspects of the NIDCR scientific mission are not eligible for this program. NIDCR also participates in the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31). The diversity F31 is open to all eligible candidates working within the NIDCR scientific focus, but the award concludes upon receipt of the PhD. An NIDCR F99/K00 program creates additional opportunities to recruit and retain underrepresented groups to NIDCR research areas. Importantly, as applicants must identify DOC research areas for postdoctoral studies, the F99/K00 might increase the likelihood that graduate students from underrepresented groups remain in the NIDCR research workforce. While numbers continue to be small, there is a pool of graduate students that can benefit from such an initiative. In 2016 the National Institutes of Health, NSF-NIH Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, reported that 5,964 Black-non Hispanic, 10,313 Hispanic and 513 American Indian/Alaska Native students are enrolled in United States PhD programs in disciplines relevant to NIH (NIH Databook). Currently, there are 6 active NIDCR diversity F31 awards, and 9 individuals receive predoctoral NIDCR diversity supplements.

This initiative will expand the continuum of NIDCR opportunities for enhancing diversity in the DOC research workforce. Predoctoral students including those supported by NIDCR diversity F31 fellowships or diversity supplements can use the F99/K00 to achieve postdoctoral positions. During early K00 postdoc, these individuals can apply for individual pathway to independence awards (K99/R00) for transition to independent faculty positions or NIDCR diversity K01 career development awards for advanced postdoctoral or junior faculty career development. It is anticipated that F99/K00 recipients will be poised for independent research careers.

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Specific Areas of Interest

This program will use federal and NIH guidance to target eligibility to graduate and dual degree students from groups underrepresented in biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences research. These groups currently include individuals from racial and ethnic groups shown to be underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis and individuals with disabilities (See NOT-OD-20-031). It is anticipated that both PhD and predoctoral dual degree clinician scientist students will be supported by this initiative. This opportunity will be open to students conducting dissertation research on DOC topics as well as in related fields. However, it is expected that the postdoctoral research phase of the award will be conducted in a field of research directly related to dental, oral, and craniofacial health.

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Last Reviewed
September 2019