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The Black Hole

It can be done: Moving labs with your CIHR fellowship

BY CIHR TRAINEE | JAN 17 2012

Winning a postdoctoral fellowship is not trivial and when you land in a suboptimal research situation after bringing in your own money, things can get pretty stressful. Today’s post is a guest post from a former colleague of mine who has been through this process (and successfully moved labs) while retaining their CIHR award – but it was a very interesting process as you’ll see. It’s quite satisfying to see that the CIHR is able to support their trainees and shows that they are quite keen to invest in people rather than supervisor or specific project.

Read their story below:

It can be done: Moving labs with your CIHR fellowship

In general, my experiences with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have been very positive and for the most part, very friendly. A few months ago, I really put this to the test when I asked CIHR if I could change my lab and, if so, what documents I would be required to provide. Perhaps not surprisingly, they e-mailed me their standard list of what to do and I started the ball rolling. I also asked them if the three-months advance notice/delivery of documents was fixed or flexible and they told me that it was more of a formality rather than a necessity.

The interesting part came when I received an email from a new CIHR staff member (a supervisor unknown to me) contacted me in a very formal note saying that she had heard from my current postdoc supervisor that I was “dropping” the project and went on to ask if I would continue working on the project for at least 75% of my time until the date that I had indicated in my original application ((I should mention that I had been on first name basis with them from beginning of my award)).

Furthermore, I was told that the “three month in advance” deadline was fixed and not flexible (as I had been instructed in the previous email exchange). Of course, this came as a shock and I suspected that my passive-aggressive supervisor had something to do with this remarkable change in tone. Initially, I was quite upset, but I decided to be diplomatic about it and wrote a very polite email mentioning that I respected their policy and would do my best to get the documents to them within their deadline (three months before the start of the new position). Additionally, I sent an updated list of publications (2-3 co-authorships and one co-first author from the current lab) and mentioned that in the publication from the current lab, the funding from CIHR had been acknowledged. I also pleaded with them to reconsider the hard deadline, expressing my concerns of a gap in training.

Happily, the next emails from CIHR were much nicer. I sent them all the documents by end of August asking to start my new position beginning of November. Not only did they say ok, but they gave me the green light in less than two weeks. Needless to say, I was absolutely ecstatic and very relieved. To me, this demonstrated the great efficiency and flexibility of CIHR and I’m really grateful to them – I really got the feeling that they cared about their trainees. I was not asked to further justify why I wanted to change labs; I had simply mentioned early on that I did not see as much potential in the current lab. As I did not change location, I did not have to fill out the justification of location of tenure, but even so, I was still surprised that they allowed such a smooth change of labs outside of Canada (my list of documents to submit is located below).

In the end, I hope that this experience is helpful to other postdoctoral fellows or graduate students who are not happy in their current position and encourages them to establish a productive relationship with their funding agency as, after all, they want their trainees to be as good as they possibly can.
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Required Documents for changing a lab in the same Institute:
• a description of the new research project, including a project title (maximum one page).
• a completed and signed (original or copied) “Request to Change Location of Tenure for Training Award” form.
• A signed letter of acceptance (maximum one page);
• A Common CV (validated for CIHR), including their publication list (maximum of two pages).
• A signed letter indicating their awareness of the proposed relocation, if applicable (maximum one page).

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  1. Kathy Lam / January 17, 2012 at 16:46

    I just wanted to share my own similar experience with a CIHR doctoral award. I was in a M.Sc. program at the University of Toronto, intending to reclass to the Ph.D. program. I applied for a CIHR doctoral scholarship, but after I was awarded the scholarship, I decided that I wanted to complete my Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo. I notified CIHR, completed the paperwork (listed above), and it was a pretty smooth transfer. I don’t think that many people know such transfers are possible!

  2. […] issues that were far more effective than Jonathan or I writing them (Banting award critique, moving labs with your CIHR fellowship, choosing whether or not to do an MD/PhD or PDF) because the people writing were intimately […]