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To Be A Young Scientist, 52 Will Do

You're not getting older, you're getting better.
You're not getting older, you're getting better.

I always suspected that the pursuit of science could keep a person young — or at least young at heart.

Now I have evidence. Sort of.

The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, a charity that helps raise money to support the NIH, today announced the Lurie Prize. A $100,000 check awaits a "promising young scientist in biomedical research" with the right stuff.

The awardee will be selected by a jury of six eminent researchers in recognition of outstanding scientific achievement. Nominations (and you can't nominate yourself) are due Aug. 15.

So what's the cutoff age?

"Nominations are to be for an outstanding young biomedical investigator, who shall not have passed his/her 52nd birthday on April 12, 2013."

Fifty-two still qualifies as being a young scientist? Really? I thought there must be a mistake.

I called the foundation, and spokeswoman Kimberly O'Sullivan confirmed that it was correct. "It was a board decision," she said. "Most awardees of this nature seem to be older."

Criteria for some other grants and awards define young a different way, pegging it to how long ago researchers completed their terminal academic degree or medical residency.

Ten years, for instance, closes the window for some NIH grants earmarked for new investigators. And it's true that the average age for researchers getting their first career-making R01 grant from NIH is now north of 42.

Back when I was young, or at least younger, I wrote my journalism master's project on the problems young biomedical researchers were having landing enough grant money to get their careers on track. That was back in the '90s, and most of the youngsters I talked to were 30-somethings. The graybeard in the group was 41 at the time.

But it apparently takes even longer for people to get traction in the world of science these days, and we're living longer, too. So maybe 50 is the new 30, if you're a promising scientist.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.