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 earlier! • 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 hematopoiesis.”) • 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 apart? – 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 development – 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 exciting?) – 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 comments • 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 experiments. – “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 succeed. 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.