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K Award FAQs

Q.What are the biggest challenges to a successful K award?

A. Recurring challenges we see in K applications:

  • Insufficient time/detail on the Career Development Plan. Remember, these are career development awards, not scientific awards.
  • Lack of integration between the career development and research components.
  • Overly ambitious proposals: too much science squeezed in, or a project that requires greater expertise/experience than the applicant has yet achieved.
  • Insufficient evidence that the mentors and the institution support the candidate.
  • Needed expertise not reflected in the mentor group.
  • No timetable that shows the allocation of training activities over time, the progression of the scientific aims, and the relationship between them.
  • Poor grantsmanship: lack of specifics, lapses in logic, preliminary data that don’t support the hypotheses, poor writing.
  • Hurriedly prepared application, which is much more likely to show some or all the issues noted above.

Q. What’s the difference in focus between the early-career and mid-career K types?

A. Most of the K types are for early-career investigators, and these emphasize career development. The types aimed at mid-career investigators focus either on a change in research focus, or the applicant’s activities as a mentor or developer of new curriculum.

Q. Do mentors in a K application get salary support?

A. No. Mentors in individual K awards do not receive a stipend through the award for their mentoring activities. These are considered part of their professional academic activities. This means applicants need to select mentors who believe in the intrinsic value of sharing their insights and expertise so that more junior colleagues can grow and mature as academic researchers.

Q. Most K awards support 75% of the candidate’s effort. How do I support the rest of my salary?

A. This issue should be discussed, and agreement reached, with your section head or department chair well before preparing the K application. Most departments either agree to support the remaining salary or arrange clinical activities accordingly. You can derive some support on other grants, but be sure that those activities do not detract from making the K project successful. 

Q. How can I find potential mentors/collaborators here at WFSM or elsewhere?

A. A mentor for a K award needs to have his or her own NIH funding. To find such people, you can use the NIH RePORTER database. This contains detailed information on all funded NIH research grants, and can be searched by PI name, geographic location, year, and other details. So it is a resource to locate local, regional, or national collaborators. 

An internal tool you can use is Profiles. Profiles is a research networking and expertise mining software tool that shows both traditional directory information, and also how an individual faculty member is connected with others in a broad research community. 

Q. What should biosketches in K applications emphasize?

A. All the usual rules about biosketches also apply to K applications. Some specific points:

  • The “Personal Statement” should include a specific statement about the person’s specific role in this K award. The applicant’s “Personal Statement” can reiterate some of the text used in the “The Candidate” section of the proposal (or augment that section if needed, due to space considerations).
  • Many K applicants will have fewer than 15 publications (the recommended limit on biosketches). Make sure that work most relevant to the scientific project is shown, even if it is only in abstract form. Steady progress, and evidence of future productivity, are what the reviewers look for. Do not list manuscripts “in preparation” or “in review”, however – these should be noted in the text. You could include a manuscript in review as an Appendix, but only if it is critical to appreciating the preliminary data.
  • For tips on preparing a biosketch, see our presentation, Anatomy of a Biosketch.

Q. What’s the difference between the Institutional Environment and the Facilities and Resources sections? 

A. The former is an overview, whereas the latter is specific to your project. For the Institutional Environment section, reviewers are asked to assess the following components (so be sure to answer these questions):

  • Is the institutional commitment to the proposed program appropriate?
  • If multiple sites are participating, is this adequately justified in terms of the career development and research experiences provided?
  • Is there sufficient assurance that the required effort of the mentors and scholar will be devoted directly to the research training, career development, and related activities?
  • Is there adequate documentation describing the responsibilities of the advisory committee with regard to the provision of input, guidance and oversight?

The Facilities and Other Resources section requires a description of how the scientific environment will contribute to the probability of success of the project, unique features of the environment, and for Early Stage Investigators, the institutional investment in the success of the investigator (e.g. resources, classes, etc.). The Facilities and Other Resources section is part of the R&R Other Project Information in the SF 424 (R&R) application, and part of the Resources Format Page in the paper PHS 398 application.

Q. What should be covered in the Responsible Conduct of Research section?  

A. This section now receives increased scrutiny by reviewers and the NIH, so careful preparation is important. Unresponsive RCR plans will preclude a grant award. The NIH has specific criteria, described in NOT-OD-10-019, that are required for your application to be responsive. The key elements are: 8 contact hours/year are required, it must be in different forms (e.g. not just online), and face-to-face interactions with the mentors are a valued component. Specific tips:

  • If you have already had formal coursework in RCR, you don't need to audit another course. Instead, offer to be a small group facilitator in the WFU graduate school courses (contact Susan Pierce at spierce@wakehealth.edu) or the Clinical and Population Translational Science course (contact Dr. Bob Byington at bbyingto@wakehealth.edu).
  • Many of our K awardees serve a term on either the IACUC or the IRB, depending on their project. This hands-on learning is very popular with NIH reviewers. The protocol load can be adjusted to meet the needs of the other K activities. Contact David Lyons at dlyons@wakehealth.edu for more information about serving on the IACUC. Contact Brian Moore at jbmoore@wakehealth.edu for more information about serving on the IRB.

For some template language you can use, Responsible Conduct of Research Boilerplate Language for Grant Applications. In addition, Karen Klein (kklein@wakehealth.edu) can provide drafting and editing of this section.

Q. What makes an effective mentor support letter?  

A. The mentors know you, the reviewers don’t. So make sure the mentors’ opinions of you as a scientist, as a student, and as a potential future colleague come through. Now that these letters are limited to a total of 6 pages, you must work carefully with your mentors – especially the primary one – to be sure essential elements (like each mentor’s specific contribution to your research project and career development plan) are spelled out. Karen Klein (kklein@wakehealth.edu) can provide drafting and editing of mentor letters.

Q. I submitted a K application that was not awarded and I need to resubmit. What resources can I tap into to help improve my chances?

A. We always recommend discussing ways to improve the application with the NIH Program Officer, preferably on a conference call with your mentors. Other suggestions:

  • BRSA arranges mentor groups and can help applications find the right mentors for their project. Focused education is also offered on K applications.
  • BRSA offers workshops on strategic elements of preparing applications. 
  • Karen Klein (kklein@wakehealth.edu) can offer interpretation of the reviewer critiques, work on responses to those critiques, and edit the overall revised application.
  • See the examples of a funded K23 application we have posted on this site, for ideas on how to improve your application.