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I am currently applying for an NIH F31 (PA 14-147). The application instructions, my university's instructions, and literally everyone I've talked to about this has advised that my sponsor needs to have a record of mentoring and graduating students, or else I need a more experienced co-sponsor. I am my advisor's first student, and none of the post-docs have finished, so effectively my sponsor has no faculty record of successful mentorship. I have gently brought this up to my advisor, but he seems to think a co-sponsor is unnecessary.

How big of a hit to my review score is it if my sponsor has no record of faculty-level mentorship? Is this a deal breaker, and is it even worth applying without a more experienced co-sponsor? I would appreciate advise from people who have personally sat on review committees for this or other mentored NIH grants (even post-doc level), but any informed opinions are appreciated.

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    Have never sat on an F31 panel, but everything I have heard says you don't stand a chance. – StrongBad Mar 26 '16 at 20:28
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I think the NIH sums it up well in their FAQs

Q20: My sponsor has little or no experience training postdocs. How should s/he address that situation when s/he writes my training plan?

A: Your sponsor should consider asking a more experienced faculty colleague to serve as a co-sponsor. S/he should provide a detailed, well-thought-out training plan, in which the roles of sponsor and co-sponsor are clearly delineated. In addition, a sponsor who has not previously trained postdocs should describe any other training experience that might be relevant, e.g., supervision of graduate students or mentoring of a collaborator's postdocs.

The NIH policy also says:

Sponsor(s), Collaborator(s), and Consultant(s). Are the sponsor(s) research qualifications (including successful competition for research support) and track record of mentoring appropriate for the proposed fellowship?

While the exact "penalty" to your score is not stated, the fellowships are competitive enough that any hit will be enough to make you unsuccessful.

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  • Thanks for finding that, Strongbad. In the end, I had to take the initiative to get a senior co-sponsor. I know it isn't ideal to have any non-scientific negatives on an application... We'll see how it turns out. – anonymousPhdStudent Apr 12 '16 at 16:09

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