NORDP 2017 Conference Notes: How to write a successful NIH Career Development Award (K award)

How to write a successful NIH Career Development Award (K award)

Presenters:           Mark Roltsch, University of Western Florida

Thanks to session our session note-taker, Burr Zimmerman, Urban Venture Group!

Key points from the session. We learned:

  • There are many different kinds of K awards
    • Some schools support K-awards, some don’t:  K awards require the faculty member have 75% protected time for research
    • Medical Schools – they tend to like K-awards. They are viewed as stepping stone to R01s, and five years of training  should get them there.
    • K progression: Start with T32s or institutional K awards, then ‘real K’s’, then R01
      • The R03 award may only be open to folks who have K awards in that institute
      • The R21 is for exploratory, cutting edge; not necessarily good for junior faculty
    • Types of K awards
      • K01 – basic research
      • K08 – clinical research
      • K23 – patient-oriented research
      • K25 – quantitative research
      • K01  – diversity award / minority serving institution
      • K99/R00 – post doc who is transitioning
        • Walk into job interview with 3 years of funding
        • Don’t have to be US citizen, so lots of applicants
  • Selecting a target institute – faculty should:
    • Match topical area with your mentor’s funding source
    • Email program officer, get feedback (not just topical, but also which mechanism – K01, K23, etc.)
    • Carefully read the PA/RFA to identify participating institutes and their specific topics
    • Engage with NIH staff at the conferences your mentor attends
  • Read the PA/RFA
    • Check dollar amount (for MDs, $100k for 75% of time is a paycut – usually the university or school supplements the salary)
    • The review section is what to emphasize in your application
  • What does it take to get funded?
    • Essential: well-funded primary mentor (if he or she hasn’t mentored before, form a mentoring team)
      • Need to emphasize mentoring experience, NIH funding
      • Mentor needs to be co-located. Across the hall ideal. Across town isn’t great. Across the state doesn’t work.
    • The presenter is from University of West Florida; his own institution wouldn’t ever apply for a K-award – can’t get it.
      • But! Some diversity K awards are possible for smaller institutions.
    • Keys to K award success
      • Time to write a compliant, compelling application
      • Good research idea
      • Quality candidate
      • Qualified mentor
      • Well developed training program
    • Biggest K funders are NHLBI, NIMH, NIDDK
      • NIA funding 40% of K-awards
      • NIGMS funds 85% of K08 awards!

What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you? 
K awards can have extremely high funding rates (e.g. NIGMS K08s 86% funded), and average over 30% for entire K spectrum. But the criteria mean only a very small cadre of schools have high success rates

Also, R21s may not be a good mechanism for generating data for your first R01 – they are too competitive and are pooled with experienced researchers. R21’s are highly, highly competitive, and if you’re junior faculty, it might not be a great place to compete, as you don’t get early investigator bonus points.

What resources did you discover at this presentation?
The main resource emphasized was NIH Reporter. Might not be a ‘discovery’, but the presenter emphasized how rich and useful the data are.

Also, FOIA requests are a way to get access to successful applications. Build a library by requesting funded applications. NIH does a better job than some other Federal agencies of providing useful information.

What was the most interesting question asked by an audience member, and what was the presenters’ response?

Different institutes review K awards differently. Funding rates can be very different across K mechanisms. K99 toughest (23%); K23 is 57%, K08 can be nearly 90%.

What else from this session should NORDP members know?  
If you can crack the code (meet all the requirements), K-awards are a great resource. If you can find a nearby, well-funded mentor, then you have a chance!

 

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