Mention the National Institutes of Health to any science graduate student and the name conjures up images of top-notch researchers in white lab coats, doing cutting-edge science with lots of money to spend but very little space. Moreover, the NIH always seemed to me to be "Science Central" for the United States, because NIH grants support research nationwide, and because every prominent faculty member of my graduate school program ran off to attend study sections. The rhetorical question that shone in my starry eyes was: What newly graduated Ph.D. would not like to have a postdoctoral experience at the NIH?

As I got closer to my own elusive Ph.D. degree and probed more deeply into future options, I heard some other reports. "The NIH is a postdoc mill"; "it's dark, messy, and crowded"; the postdocs work 18-hour days"; "the principal investigators have personality disorders, probably due to enlargement of the...

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