K awards (and how to get one)

K awards (and how to get one)
David Stachura, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow, UCSD
[email protected]
K awards: many flavors
• Decide which K award is right for you!
K01- mentored career development award
3-5 years of mentored salary and research funding (can break this up into
“phases,” i.e. in your mentor’s lab, and then at a new institution)
US citizens and permanent residents
K08- mentored clinical scientist research career development award
3-5 year award for clinicians- salary and research related costs
US citizens and permanent residents
K99/R00- pathway to independence award
5 year award to assist postdoctoral investigators in transitioning to a stable
independent research position (up to 2 years mentored, followed by 3 years
independent research)
Do not need to be a US citizen!
Also K02, K05, K07, K12, K18, K22, K23, K24, K25, K26, K30
See http://grants.nih.gov/training/careerdevelopmentawards.htm
K awards: early tips and strategies
• Start early!
– Certain programs have restrictions (example: for K99 you can not have
more than 5 years postdoctoral experience at the time of submission)
– Assume you will not get the award the first time out- plan to resubmit!
This takes time!
• Download instructions from NIH website
• Know your deadlines! You need everything ready at least 1 week
• Choose your institution wisely!
– What are your institutions’ funding rates?
– What do they like to fund? Example: NIDDK funds blood research, but
not leukemia- that falls under the goals of the NHLBI
– Do you (or your current PI) know the program officer? Get to know
them- they are incredibly helpful!
– Can you submit more than one application (at the same time)?
K awards: early tips and strategies
• Think of Aims
• Think of preliminary results that show feasibility
– Plan these experiments into your current work
– Get preliminary data for every Aim of your proposal!
• Select faculty who do work relevant to you
– Talk to them about your project
– Cultivate a good relationship with them
– Do this immediately!
• Get successful K award applications from colleagues
• Find your administrative contacts
– Get in touch with them months before the grants are due
• Request letters of reference
K awards: the application itself
• Candidate development section- just as important as research!
• Make it easy to understand- not too much detail!
• Make it sound like the project is going to work!
– Talk about the animal model/technique/tools/ideas you have that no
one else does
– Talk about the strengths of your approach
• Defeat obvious objections to your research
– Some examples in my application:
• Zebrafish
• Inexperienced PI
• Don’t base later Aims on previous Aims that may not work!
– Aim 1 is descriptive? Make Aim 2 follow up on possible outcomes!
– Aim 3 could be a different way to follow up. Or a screen. Or more
open ended… Think about it!
K01: the actual application sections
• Career goals and objectives- spend as much time on this as you do
on the research plan- it is critical!
– Clearly state your career goal (example: “to become an independent
investigator at a major research institution to continue studying
• Short- and long-term scientific goals
• What’s the big picture?
– Clearly state that this award is essential for your success, and lay out a
good foundation of why the NIH should give you money for it.
– Clearly explain what you have done before (grad school, postdoc, etc.)
that make you a good candidate to perform this research.
• Transition this into your future plans. Why are you special? What sets you
– Clearly explain why UCSD (or wherever) is the best place for you to
continue doing this work
• Experts in the field, supplies, reagents, technical know-how, etc.
– Project portability/statement of non-competition
• Clearly state that your mentor will not compete with you on this project
• Your mentor should also include this in their Mentor Statement! It is critical!
K01: the actual application
• Development activities during award period- another very
important section!
– What will you do during the award to ensure that you are
successful (i.e. what do you need “mentorship” in)?
• Presentations, speaking, networking, writing, and project
– Meeting with your PI
– Meeting with other colleagues
– Attending national/international conferences
• Experimental training
– Be specific- what techniques do you need to master?
• Pedagogical/managerial training during mentored period
– Be specific- what classes will you take?
– Propose (and attend) the San Diego Lab Management Symposia!
– Propose creating a mentorship committee to help you succeed
• Be specific! When will you meet? How will they provide feedback?
• Get letters from people to attest to this!
K01: the research proposal
• Research section format: a general approach
– Specific Aims (1-2 paragraph exposition)
• Aim 1
• Aim 2
• Aim 3
– Significance (medical relevance in 1-2 paragraphs)
– Innovation (why is your research new and
– Background and Preliminary Studies (alternatively
you could work this into your Aims)
K01: the research proposal (continued)
• Research section format:
– Approach- 1 paragraph introduction
– Aim 1:
• Rationale- 1 paragraph
• Sub Aims
– Exposition- don’t make it too complicated!
– Pitfalls and alternative approaches
» No “problems” are terminal! Be positive; propose how you
will deal with “setbacks.”
– Aim 2 and 3
– Conclusion
• Why your research proposal is the best thing ever
K01: “secret” requirements
• Mentorship committee
– Have good, specific letters in the application from
successful experts that have volunteered to help you
• Specific coursework
• Letters of collaboration from colleagues
– Especially important if you are not in a well
established laboratory
• Mentor must say you can have your ideas and
reagents and that they will not compete with you
K01: after you submit
• Always submit supplementary information
when asked
– This is your chance to put three more pages of
successes (just got a paper published, that great
talk that you just gave, some award you just
received) and research! Take advantage of it.
K01: when it comes back!
• Talk to your PI about criticisms
• Talk to your program officer- they will
“decode” sometimes seemingly cryptic
• Resubmit!
– Address all issues that reviewers had with your
previous submission in the Introduction
K01: when it comes back!
• Criticisms of my application (and how I dealt with them)
• Research
– “Too ambitious.” Easy! I cut it down!
– “Technically difficult, significant experimental obstacles” I tried to
explain better, and lay off the technical jargon. I also tried to explain
why these studies were feasible by putting in more preliminary
– “Technique-driven.” I tried to frame everything as a hypothesisdriven experiment, versus making it descriptive
• Candidate
– “Limited publications.” Easy- I published more papers!
• Mentor
– “Junior investigator, not well established.” I dealt with this a few
ways. I stressed recent achievements of my mentor. I mentioned his
tenure award, getting another postdoc a faculty interview, and
recent successes in the lab. I also enlisted the help of more senior
mentors (mentorship committee!) to help make sure that I would
K01: when it comes back!
• Criticisms (and how I dealt with them)
• Institutional
– “Institutional commitment limited to funding from mentor, unclear
that candidate will be promoted to Assistant Project Scientist series,
and limited funding for salary if the award is not granted.” I dealt
with this by stating that UCSD does not guarantee salary for postdocs
(with documentation), I included a letter from UCSD assuring I would
be promoted, and I also included proof of my previous funding and
funding of the lab that would be used to support me. They want
proof of everything- give it to them!
• Training
– “Underdeveloped career plan, relevance of courses is questionable
to career plan.” I better developed my career plan, and shifted my
focus toward taking classes that had a more direct focus on my
specific goals.

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