The NINDS F32 mechanism is designed to:
In accordance with these goals, candidates who wish to receive NINDS F32 support must develop a strong research and training plan prior to, or shortly after, starting in a postdoctoral lab. Applications for the NINDS F32 will only be accepted from candidates who have not yet joined the postdoc lab, or who are within the first 12 months after starting in the lab. To facilitate early submission of applications, the inclusion of preliminary data in NINDS F32 applications is not needed, and is, in fact, discouraged.
The F32 is designed for new training. Training involves not only learning new techniques but also approaches to doing science and exposure to different ways of thinking. Consequently, F32 applications will not be supported if the F32 applicant is remaining in the same research environment as the predoctoral or a prior postdoctoral experience.
Eliminating the requirement for preliminary data will enable applicants to apply for an F32 prior to, or shortly after entering the lab. In addition, however, NINDS is hoping that candidates, via early discussions with their mentors, will generate bold, original, creative, impactful research projects. Eliminating the need for preliminary data will eliminate the need for candidates to simply jump onto previously designed, ongoing projects in order to generate preliminary data quickly for a fellowship application.
Generally, preliminary data are included to demonstrate the feasibility of the experimental approach and to support the stated hypotheses. For this NINDS F32, reviewers will not rely on preliminary data to evaluate feasibility. Rather, reviewers will judge whether they believe the proposed project is feasible based on the clarity of the research description and the mentor’s expertise and prior accomplishments. The following lists several examples for guidance.
For the NINDS F32, preliminary data may be useful when experiments are proposed that reviewers could reasonably believe cannot be done in the proposed research environment. For example, if a candidate proposes to do intracellular recording from cells in four different brain regions simultaneously in an awake, behaving animal, it would be wise to demonstrate that it can be done.
It is the intent of NINDS that F32s be evaluated without consideration of preliminary data. Reviewers will be instructed that preliminary data should neither help nor hurt applications. Note: In addition to the considerations in the paragraph just above, there is one exception to this. If preliminary data demonstrate poor quality research, a lack of rigorous explanation, a poor understanding of statistics, or are presented poorly, reviewers are likely to view the data presented as reflecting a lack of appreciation for scientific quality and/or a serious inadequacy in mentorship.
In the application, the mentor must explicitly describe his or her contribution to the research plan, the portion of the research ideas and plan originated with the candidate, and the relationship of the proposed F32 research to existing projects in the mentor’s lab. Critically, the best way for an applicant to demonstrate his or her contribution to the proposed project is to distinguish his or her work from that of others by using the first person singular narrative when describing hypotheses and the work that will be done, and to attribute hypotheses and work done by others appropriately.
The intent is for there to be no preference in review or by NINDS based on when an applicant applies. The determination of which F32 applications receive support will be based on the reviewers’ evaluation of the merit of the application as defined by the review criteria in the funding opportunity announcement.
The research environment is not just the immediate lab but the cohort of scientists that form the applicant’s local scientific community. A change of institution constitutes a change in research environment, unless the move involves working with prior mentors. If an applicant stays at an institution where he or she previously trained, the application must convincingly explain in their application how this represents a complete change in environment. If the research environment includes many of the same scientists as a previous experience, it is not different enough to warrant consideration of F32 support. If, however, an applicant is conducting research at the same institution but interacting with a different group of scientists in a different research area, then reviewers might consider the environment to be sufficiently different to have enthusiasm for the F32.
The key differences are outlined below.
Application Receipt Dates:
2021: February 11, June 9, and October 14th
2022: February 9, June 8, and October 11th
2023: February 9, June 8, and October 10th