In 1981 the average age of investigators receiving their first R01 grants was 36. In 2009, it was 42. Because attaining independent funding is often a requirement for securing an assistant professorship, the delay has led to a prolonged postdoctoral period.
Recognizing that an increased training period has the potential to stifle creative thinking among the most innovative minds, NIH director Francis Collins has established an Early Independence Award. These grants, roughly equivalent to an R01 award, would enable talented scientists to begin independent research directly from their doctoral program.
In explaining his rationale, Collins mentions the importance of giving motivated young investigators a lab of their own. The new award will require departments to support the winners, but in return they will receive an energetic colleague with a promising future.