Career Development Awards (K Series): General Policies

NICHD provides the following answers to common training-related questions to help potential trainees navigate through the application process. Please note that these answers are specific to the NICHD’s procedures and activities.

For more general answers, visit the NIH Research Training and Career Development website

If, after looking through the FAQs, you still have questions about extramural training, contact Dennis A. Twombly, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the NICHD Office of Extramural Policy.

Career Development Awards (K awards) provide support and release time for senior postdoctoral fellows or faculty-level candidates.

Many institutions will not allow postdoctoral fellows or those in similar positions to apply for K awards. You can verify institutional policy with your department chair or with the Sponsored Programs Office.

K awards promote the career development of specific groups of individuals based on their past training and career stage. The objective of the K programs is to bring candidates to the point where they can conduct their research independently and are competitive for major grant support. In some cases, support is available for individuals who are making a shift to a significantly different research area.

Applicants may apply for 3 to 5 years of support under the individual K award programs. However, individual mentored K recipients who also receive support from institutional career development awards (K02, K12) are limited to 6 years of combined NICHD support through both programs. 

  • Foreign citizens are not eligible for K awards, except the K99 (see below). By the time of award, the individual must be a citizen or a non-citizen national of the United States or have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (i.e., possess a currently valid Permanent Resident Card USCIS Form I-551, or other legal verification of such status. Individuals on temporary or student visas are not eligible.
  • Foreign citizens are eligible for the K99/R00 program. For non-U.S. citizen/permanent residents, the applicant U.S. institution for each phase of the application (K99 or R00) is responsible for determining and documenting in the application that the applicant investigator's visa will allow him or her to remain in this country long enough to:
    • Transition to an independent research career in the United States during the proposed mentored (K99) phase and/or
    • Be productive on the research project in the United States for the duration of the proposed independent research (R00) phase.

The NICHD offers research career development awards in areas relevant to its mission.

There are several ways you can determine if your research is of interest to NICHD.

  • First, visit the NICHD Research Priorities page to review the institute mission and research goals.
  • Then, contact the NICHD staff member listed on the Funding Opportunity Announcement of interest.
  • You can also contact Training Officer listed at the beginning of this information.

These contacts will help you determine which NICHD scientific branch is most appropriate for the project. You may then be directed to program staff—scientists with expertise in particular fields who will be able to determine whether your research is relevant to the institute.

If the type of project you propose is suitable, you can request that the application be assigned to NICHD in the PHS Assignment Request Form of the application.

Current or former PIs or Program Directors (PDs) on NIH research project grants (R01), program project grants (P01), center grants, or sub-projects of program project or center grants are not eligible for mentored K awards.

Former PD/PIs on an NIH Small Grant (R03), Exploratory/Developmental Grant (R21), Dissertation Award (R36), or Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer awards (R41, R42, R43, R44) are eligible for mentored K awards.

A co-PI is not the same as a PD/PI or multiple PIs. For NIH purposes, a co-PI is the same as a co-investigator, collaborator, etc.

Some K award recipients or applicants may wish to spend significant time conducting research abroad on child or women's health issues. There are several options for doing this. The candidates must have their primary appointments here in the United States and must be U.S. citizens. They would collaborate with a foreign site on the project and name a foreign co-mentor.

  • Fogarty International Research Scientist Development Award: This K award allows up to 6 months per year abroad. For details, visit http://www.fic.nih.gov/Pages/Default.aspx.
  • K Award Leave Policies: Leave to another institution, including a foreign laboratory, may be permitted if the proposed experience is directly related to the purpose of the award. Only local institutional approval is required if such leave does not exceed 3 months. For longer periods, prior written approval of the NIH funding component is required. A copy of a letter or other evidence from the institution where the leave is to be taken must be submitted to assure that satisfactory arrangements have been made. Support from the career award will continue during such leave. Details on the process for submission of prior approval requests can be found in the NIH Grants Policy Statement, Requests for Prior Approval, at GPS 12.12 https://grants.nih.gov/policy/nihgps/index.htm.
  • Include Foreign Training in the K Award Application: Applicants can propose a training plan that includes work in a foreign country. The application must carefully outline and justify the foreign research, highlighting the capabilities of the foreign research group, the experience and value of the foreign mentor, and any unique aspects of the foreign site in terms of research opportunity, subject population, etc. There is no apparent rule that limits the time spent abroad. If the study section considers the research strategy and career development plan to be of high quality, they should assign an appropriate score to the application. The NICHD National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council would need to concur with the recommendation. Fogarty International Center clearance would be required before the project could begin.

Career development awards are reviewed by the NICHD Scientific Review Branch (SRB). Applications are assigned to review committees based on the scientific subject matter of the study. You can find SRB Initial Review Group (IRG) Subcommittee descriptions, meeting schedules, and membership rosters on the Branch webpage.

You may find it worthwhile to tailor some parts of the application based on the types of expertise on the committee that will be reviewing the application. Although you don't need to direct the application to a particular committee, you may request a certain committee in the Assignment Request Form if you wish.

You will need to develop a very clear story, winding these threads together:

  • Your vision of your career trajectory: what do you want to be working on 5 to 10 years down the road?
  • Your vision of how the K will get you there: this includes specific areas of expertise to be acquired in didactic training and how your mentors' strengths will match your needs;
  • Your research plan and the training plan should move you toward your career goal.

As reviewers look at it, the point of a K award is not so much to produce world-class research, although that would be nice. Your research plan certainly needs to be sound and significant. The more important goal of a K award is to produce the future version of you: well-experienced and ready for an independent research career.

Your application (and the K experience itself) will probably be more successful if your application persuades reviewers that you know where you want to go and how the K will get you there.

Reviewers will expect to see that at least one of your mentors has been closely involved in the writing and providing input. An application that looks like the product of a novice grant writer inevitably invites at least one reviewer to observe that the mentor appeared to be not very involved in preparing the application, which in turn invariably leads at least one reviewer to wonder aloud whether the mentors will be closely involved in the training plan. This conclusion, correct or not, usually downgrades the review score. Submitting a highly-polished product is the goal; there are no added points for writing it on your own. Reviewers will expect independence in about 5 years, but not so much now.

There are several policy provisions that dictate allocation of effort and whether salary can be accepted from non-K activities. These restrictions apply to mentored K awards (K01, K08, K23, K25, and K99) as well as most K12 appointees.

  • A mentored K award recipient must devote a minimum of 75% effort toward research and career development activities.
  • NOT-OD-17-094, Salary Supplementation and Compensation:  The recipient institution may supplement the NIH or AHRQ salary contribution on K awards up to a level that is consistent with the institution's salary scale. 
    • For effort directly committed to the K award, salary supplementation is allowable, but must be from non-federal sources (including institutional sources).  Non-federal or institutional supplementation of salary must not require extra duties or responsibilities that would interfere with the goals of the K award. 
    • For effort not directly committed to the K award, K award recipients may devote effort, with compensation, on federal or non-federal sources as the Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) or in another role (e.g., co-Investigator), as long the specific aims of the other supporting grant(s) differ from those of the K award.
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