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I have seen a number of postings along the lines of "Am I too old for tenure track?". While the consensus was "no," I am suspicious of the meritocracy holding for F grants. These are training grants designed to develop the next generation not scientists. Someone who is applying for an F31 at 40 has less runway than a person who is 22 or 23. Does this aspect get baked onto your scores on some fashion?

Is there an unwritten rule? What's the oldest F31 recipient you are aware of?

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  • Nobody knows how much "runway" they have, let alone what they end up doing with it. Nov 18, 2019 at 18:22

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The NIH offers a bunch of comparison data of NRSA recipients. I think you should pay considerable attention to figure 2.9enter image description here

Only about 55% of fellows receive Ph.D.'s by 30.

There is more data to be mined from the entire report -- and it shows that about 10% of NRSA recipients received their degrees at 36 or older. Given what I think the applicant pool must be, I suggest that age is likely not a bias.

Also, the mission statement for Kirchstein states that:

The overall goal of the NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) program is to help ensure that a diverse pool of highly trained scientists is available in appropriate scientific disciplines to address the Nation's biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research needs. NRSA fellowships support the training of pre-and postdoctoral scientists, dual-degree investigators, and senior researchers. More information about NRSA programs may be found at the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) website.

The purpose of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (Parent F31) is to enable promising predoctoral students to obtain individualized, mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors while conducting dissertation research. Applicants for this F31 program are expected to propose a dissertation research project and training plan in scientific health-related fields relevant to the mission of the participating Institutes and Centers. This training plan should reflect the applicant’s dissertation research project, and facilitate and clearly enhance the individual’s potential to develop into a productive, independent research scientist. The training plan should document the need for, and the anticipated value of, the proposed mentored research and training in relationship to the individual’s research career goals. The training plan should also facilitate the fellow’s transition to the next stage of his/her research career.

As with any grant, you should ask yourself whether your situation matches the institutional aims. I would think the more "atypical" your application package is, the more you need to consider this.

Age is a balancing act. The older you are, the more mature you are, and the better you should be able to describe your aspirations and career goals. If you look like you're putting off hard decisions, your application will suffer. This is true regardless of age, but probably especially true for older applicants.

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I am not aware of any section of the F31 application that explicitly asks for your age. Your date of birth may be required to obtain an eRA Commons account, but if it does, it is not made available to reviewers or program officers for funding decisions. The only two places that I think your age might become know to reviewers is if it is mentioned in the letters of support or from your bio sketch. If you are worried about it, you can mention it to the letter writers to not give away that detail.

As for the bio-sketch, it does ask for dates of degrees and positions and years when courses where taken. Depending on your trajectory (i.e., if the gap was between high school and undergrad or undergrad and PhD), they may actually think you are younger than you are. If the dates denote gaps, you can always ask a program officer if you can leave the dates out and just list duration. For the courses, you might want to say what academic year (freshman, sophomore, etc) the class was taken.

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