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Grant Writing Workshop
Writing Successful NIH Mentored Career
Development Awards (K and F Series),
Mentorship Plan and Role of a Mentor
Lynn Snyder-Mackler
Training and Career Timetable
Stage of Research
Training / Career
Pre-Bac Institutional Training Grant (T34)
Predoctoral Institutional Training Grant (T32)
Predoctoral Individual NRSA (F31)
Predoctoral Individual MD/PhD NRSA (F30)
Postdoctoral Institutional Training Grant (T32)
Postdoctoral Individual NRSA (F32)
NIH Pathway to Independence (PI) Award (K99/R00)
Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01)
Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award (K08)
Mentored Patient-Oriented RCDA (K23)
Mentored Quantitative RCDA (K25)
Research Project
Grant (R01)
Exploratory/Development Grant (R21)
Small Grant (R03)
Independent Scientist Award (K02)
Midcareer Investigator Award in
Patient-Oriented Research (K24)
Senior Scientist Award (K05)
Mentored K Awards
Graduate School
Pathway to
Independence (PI)
Award (K99/R00)
Mentored Research
Development Award (K01)
Award (K08)
Research Career
Award (K25)
Mentored PatientOriented
Award (K23)
Award (K22)
Mentored Awards
• Support mechanisms that provide mentored research
experiences to gain additional expertise in an area that
will significantly enhance research capabilities or
expertise in a new research area.
F32 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research
Service Awards (NRSA) for Individual
Postdoctoral Fellows
Requirements: U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status, doctorate
Duration: Up to 3 years
Commitment: Full-time research fellowship
Provisions: ~$37K-$52K stipend, ~$8K institutional allowance, 60% up to
$16K tuition
Research Career Awards (K)
Mentored K Awards
• K01: Mentored Research Scientist Development Award
• K08: Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award
• K22: Research Career Award for Transition to
• K23: Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Development
• K25: Mentored Quantitative Research Development
• K99/R00: NIH Pathway to Independence (PI) Award
• K12: Institutional Mentored Research Scientist
Development Program
K01 Mentored Research Scientist
Development Award
Purpose: For individuals who wish to enhance their capacity for
independent research.
Requirements: U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status, doctorate
Duration: 3-5 years
Commitment: 75% effort
Provisions: Salary up to $75K, fringe benefits, other research expenses up
to $20K
K08 Mentored Clinical Scientist Research
Career Development Award
Purpose: To support clinicians who need an intensive period of mentored
research experience.
Requirements: U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status, clinical
doctorate awarded
Duration: 3-5 years
Commitment: 75% effort (50% effort for physician surgeons)
Provisions: Salary up to $75K/$50K, fringe benefits, other research
expenses up to $20K
Timeline for K (F) Applications
Earliest Award
 Feb 12 (April 8)
 Jun/July
 October
 December
 Jun 12 (August 8)
 Oct/Nov
 January
 April
 Oct 12 (December 8 )
 Feb/Mar
 May
 July
F and K sections and page limits
Section of Application
Page Limits *
(if different from FOA,
FOA supersedes)
Introduction to Resubmission or Revision
Application (when applicable)
Specific Aims
Research Strategy
Respective Contributions
Selection of Sponsor and Institution
Responsible Conduct of Research
Applications for Concurrent Support (when
Goals for Fellowship Training and Career
Activities Planned Under This Award
Doctoral Dissertation and Other Research
Section of Application
Introduction to Resubmission or
Revision Application (when applicable)
Specific Aims
Page Limits *
(if different from FOA,
FOA supersedes)
First three items of Candidate
Information (Candidate's Background,
Career Goals and Objectives, and Career
Development/Training Activities During
Award Period and Research Strategy
12 pages
(for all sections combined)
Training in the Responsible Conduct of
Mentoring Plan (Include only when
required by the specific FOA, e.g., K24
and K05)
Statements by Mentor, Co-Mentors,
Consultants, Contributors
Description of Institutional
Sponsor(s) and Co-Sponsor(s)
Biographical Sketch
Institutional Commitment to
Candidate’s Research Career
Biographical Sketch
Prepare the Application: read the instructions!!
start early, seek internal reviewers
A. Candidate (grades, GREs, publications, pedigree)
• US citizen or permanent resident
• Doctoral degree (many ok)
B. Sponsor and Training Environment
C. Research Proposal
g. Up to 3 yrs
D. Training Potential
E. Vertebrate Animals, Human Subjects
F. You may have to resubmit…
Kirschstein-NRSA post-doctoral fellowships (F32s)
Applications, awards, and success rates
NIH Data Book – (
Data provided by the Division of Information Services, Reporting Branch
Postdoctoral trainees are funded by many Institutes
Develop a Strategy
Assess your career situation and needs. Find out the
opportunities for collaborating with a known laboratory
and experienced mentor(s) and collaborators.
Asses the field and the competition; see which other
projects in your field are being funded by NIH. Search
the NIH database: Research Portfolio Online Reporting
Tools (RePORT).
Evaluate yourself: What are your strengths and
weaknesses? Can you capitalize on your expertise and
fill in any gaps with collaborators or consultants?
Find out what resources and support your organization
has and what additional support you will need.
Develop a Strategy
Is there an added value to your receiving a K award?
Why not pursue research training through other
Give yourself plenty of time to write the application,
probably three (to six) months.
Know your organization's key contacts and internal
procedures for electronic application.
Begin the application by writing a one-sentence
hypothesis for the proposed research project.
Call an Institute/Center (I/C) Program Officer for an
opinion of your ideas. See if your ideas match any of
the I/C's high-priority areas, reflected in I/C’s initiatives
and concepts.
Stay Informed
 Read NIH Guide notices.
 Read the NIH Institute/Center Funding Opportunity
 Sign up for NIH's Electronic Application Listserv to
Receive News and Updates.
 See NIH's Electronic Submission Website.
 As you plan your grant, watch for important policy and
process changes.
 Be wary of online information – always check when a
page was last updated.
Start Early to Apply Electronically
 The general rule of thumb for a K award is to start at
least 3 months prior to the application due date.
 Notify your referees early on and give them plenty of
time to submit letters of reference.
 At least a month before you want to apply, you'll need
to get an NIH Commons account.
 You will also need to know who is your organization's
Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR).
Your AOR is typically someone in your business
 Only the AOR can submit your application to Keep in mind that your organization is
the “applicant.” You are the K candidate.
 For info, see:
Before You Start Writing
 Coordinate the application with your mentor’s
schedule. Remember that a K application is a
collaboration between you and your mentor.
 As you write the research project, always keep in mind
the impact on your career development plans and
 Make sure your planning and feedback are adequate
by putting together your own review committee.
 After you've settled on a project, draft a short
description of your specific aims and discuss these with
the committee.
 Be sure to have the committee review the application
after you're finished writing.
Develop a Solid Hypothesis
 The research component of a K application should
be driven by strong hypotheses rather than
advances in technology.
 The hypothesis is the foundation, or the conceptual
underpinning on which the entire project rests.
 Generally applications should ask questions that
prove or disprove a hypothesis rather than use a
method to search for a problem or simply collect
 However, sometimes applied research is also
important to discover basic biology or develop or use
a new technology.
 You should develop a focused hypothesis that
increases understanding of an important biologic
process and is based on previous research.
Develop a Solid Hypothesis
A few Tips:
 Make sure your idea is not too broad. Your
hypothesis must be provable during your 3 to 5 year
award with the level of resources you are
 Your topic should fit NIH's public health mission. Tie
your science to curing, treating, or preventing
 Show reviewers how your project fits in your field.
Make this explicit.
 Remember, methods are the means for performing
your experiments. Your experimental results will
prove or disprove your hypothesis.
 If you have more than one hypothesis, choose the
better one.
Plan Your Application
Make sure your hypothesis will generate aims and
methods you can accomplish within the 3-5 years
time and with the resources available.
After you have chosen your hypothesis, outline your
specific aims:
List your aims and then all the experiments you
will do to support each aim.
Keep in mind that your experiments support
your aims, and your aims support your
Use graphics to plan experiments.
Chart experiments with decision trees showing
alternative pathways should you get negative
Request an Appropriate Budget
 The Career (K) line budget is driven by NIH Institute
and Center policies. As an applicant, you are
restricted to what you can ask for.
 Be aware that the NIH Institutes and Centers have
varying salary and research cost scales!
 A typical mentored K award to a new investigator
provides partial salary and only modest research
 Ideally, your mentor(s) should be well-funded (NIH
funding is preferred), and funding from the K is
supplemental to his/her research funds.
 Most independent K awards do not provide research
costs. It is expected that you will have peer-reviewed
research funding.
Request an Appropriate Budget
Kirschstein-NRSA awards provide stipends No departure from
the published Kirschstein-NRSA stipend schedule may be
negotiated between the institution and the fellow.
 For fellows sponsored by domestic non-federal
institutions, the stipend will be paid through the
sponsoring institution.
Tuition and Fees:
NIH will contribute to the combined cost of tuition and fees
at the rate in place at the time of award. For the most
recent tuition/fees levels, see the following website:
Institutional Allowance:
Fellows sponsored by nonfederal or nonprofit institutions
(domestic or foreign) will receive an institutional allowance
to help defray fellowship expenses such as health
insurance, research supplies, equipment, books, and travel
to scientific meetings.
Don't Propose Too Much
 Sharpen the focus of your application. Beginning
applicants, particularly at an early career stage, often
overshoot their mark by proposing too much. Avoid an
“over-ambitious” project or one that looks a lot like an
R01 grant!
 Your hypothesis should be provable and aims doable
with the resources you are requesting.
 Make sure the scale of your hypothesis and aims fits
your request of time and resources.
 Reviewers will quickly pick up on how well matched
your research and career development objectives are.
A Few Tips as You Write
Write to Your Audience:
 Organize your application so the reviewers can
readily grasp and explain what you are proposing,
and most importantly, why you should get a K award.
Be Persuasive:
 Tell reviewers why testing your hypothesis is worth
NIH's money, why you are the person to do it, and
how your mentor(s) and institution can give you the
support you'll need to get it done.
Balance the Technical and Non-technical:
 Keep the abstract, significance, and specific aims
non-technical, and get technical and detailed only in
the methods section.
A Few Tips as You Write
Make Life Easy for Reviewers:
 Write clearly and concisely
 Guide the reviewers with graphics as much as
 Label all materials clearly
 Edit and proof
Know These Review Problems and Solutions:
 Write a compelling argument for why your
career will be enhanced by receiving a K
 Write to the non-expert in the field
Write a Compelling Application
 Candidate Qualifications, Career Goals, Training
 Statements by the Mentor, co-Mentors,
Collaborators, and Consultants
 Institution Environment and Commitment to the
 Specific Aims
 Research Strategy
Writing a competitive
mentored K award grant
• Main sections of the grant application
– Candidate (Sections 2 – 4)*
– Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research (Section
5: limited to 1 page)
– Statements by Mentors, Co-Mentors, and Collaborators
(Section 7; limited to 6 pages)
– Description of Institutional Environment (Section 8; limited to 1
– Institutional Commitment to Candidate’s Research Career
Development (Section 9: limited to 1 page)
– Specific Aims (Section 10: limited to 1 page)
– Research Strategy (Section 11)*
*Sections 2 – 4 plus Section 11 are limited to 12 pages
Candidate’s Qualifications
Biographical Sketch:
 Personal Statement: Your research
experience and other qualifications for this K
 Research Support: Your/colleagues
accomplishments attesting to qualifications
of the research team. Don’t confuse this with
“Other Support.”
Candidate’s Background:
 Coordinate with information in the
Biographical Sketch, e.g., research and/or
clinical training experience that has prepared
Candidate’s Career Goals
Career Goals and Objectives:
 Tell the reviewers about your scientific
history, and how the K award fits into you
research career development plans.
 If you have changed research direction,
discuss reasons for the change, and be sure
to justify how it will help you to develop your
research career.
 You should always provide a career
development timeline, including plans to
apply for subsequent grant support.
Candidate’s Career Plans
Career Development/Training During Award:
 Make sure to fully explain any new or
enhanced research skills you will gain as a
result of the K.
 Stress activities that will enhance your
research career, e.g., courses, techniques.
 Describe any additional, non-research
activities in which you expect to participate.
Explain how the activity is related to your
research and career development plans.
Responsible Conduct of Research
Training in Responsible Conduct of Research:
 Document any prior participation in RCR
training and/or propose plans to receive
additional instruction.
 Discuss the five components outlined in the
NIH Policy: Format, Subject Matter, Faculty
Participation, Duration, and Frequency.
 Is the plan appropriate for your career stage,
and will it enhance your understanding of
ethical issues related to research?
Mentor(s), Collaborators, Consultants
Statements by Mentor(s), Consultant(s):
 Each mentor must explain how he/she will
contribute to the development of the
candidate's research career.
 Discuss the research And Also other
activities, e.g., seminars, scientific meetings,
training in RCR, publications and
 Document the sources and amounts of
anticipated support for the candidate’s
research project.
Statements by Mentors, Co-Mentors,
and Collaborators
Assemble a complementary team
– Choose a primary mentor who is a senior investigator
with a track-record of NIH funding
• Your primary mentor should be at your home institution.
– Include co-mentors who will complement the primary
mentor’s strengths.
– Avoid including co-mentors from institutions outside
the region.
• If you do include someone from outside the region, call them
a scientific or technical advisor rather than a co-mentor.
Statements by Mentors, Co-Mentors,
and Collaborators (Cont’d)
– Each member of your “team” must play a role in your
training or research plan.
– Establish a relatively small (3-5) mentoring
– This section is limited to 6 pages.
• Each member of your team must submit a signed letter.
• The primary mentor’s letter should be at least 2 pages,
leaving only 4 pages for all other members; hence, the total
number of mentors/advisors on your team should not exceed
Statements by Mentors, Co-Mentors,
and Collaborators
Evaluation criteria for primary mentor:
– Appropriateness of mentor’s research qualifications in the area of this
– Quality and extent of mentor’s role in providing guidance and advice to
– Previous experience in fostering the development of more junior
– History of productivity and support.
– Adequacy of support for the research project.
Letters of Collaboration
• The letter from the primary mentor is key. It should cover
the following areas:
– His or her qualifications in the research area proposed by the
– Previous experience as a research supervisor.
– The nature and extent of supervision that will occur during the
award period.
• Include an evaluation component that describes how your mentors
will assess your progress (e.g., quarterly meetings).
• Include specific milestones during the K award (e.g., completion of
coursework, submission of manuscripts).
– What resources, if any, they will make available to you in support
of your training and/or research.
Letters of Collaboration
• Any of the following issues could also be
addressed, which are the criteria by which the
candidate will be evaluated:
Potential for conducting research
Evidence of originality
Adequacy of scientific background
Quality of research endeavors or publications to date
Commitment to patient-oriented research
Need for further research experience and training
Primary mentor’s letter
• The primary mentor’s letter can also “re-frame”
any potential weaknesses in the application.
– Examples:
• Productivity of candidate (e.g., few publications).
• Feasibility of conducting research plan with resources of K
• Limited mentoring experience of primary mentor.
• Limited resources of primary mentor (e.g., no current R01
• Co-mentor(s) not at UD.
• Scientific overlap with primary mentor.
Letters of Collaboration
Letters from co-mentors, scientific advisors, and others can be much
Be sure to include description of the role of the co-mentor/scientific advisor.
Make sure that letters are consistent with text in grant application (re:
frequency of meetings, etc.).
Letters of Recommendation
• 3 - 5 letters are required.
• They should be from senior investigators who
have competed successfully for NIH funding and
have been involved in the training of junior
• Can be from any period in your career (e.g.,
graduate school, medical (professional) school,
• Cannot be from your primary mentor or comentors.
Letters of Recommendation
• Letters should address the candidate’s potential
for a research career.
Potential for conducting research
Evidence of originality
Adequacy of scientific background
Quality of research endeavors or publications to date
Commitment to patient-oriented research
Need for further research experience and training
Mentor(s), Collaborators, Consultants
Statements by Mentor(s), Consultant(s):
 Provide details on the candidate's anticipated
teaching load, clinical responsibilities, etc.
 It is critical to discuss plans for transitioning
the candidate to the independent investigator
stage by the end of the K award period.
 Mentor(s) must provide details for any
previous experience as a mentor, types (e.g.,
graduate students, Postdocs), numbers, and
career outcomes.
Institution’s Research Environment
Description of Institutional Environment:
 The sponsoring institution must document a
strong, well-established research program
related to the candidate's areas of interest.
 The statement should include the names of
the mentor(s) and other relevant faculty.
 The statement should provide details of
facilities and resources available for the
 Any opportunities for intellectual interactions,
e.g., journal clubs, seminars, and
Institution’s Commitment
Institutional Commitment to the Candidate:
 The institution must document its
commitment to the candidate’s career
development independent of the K award!
 The institution must agree to provide
adequate time and support to the candidate
for the period of K.
 Provide documentation for the institution's
commitment to the development and
advancement of the candidate during the
period of the K award.
Institution’s Commitment
Institutional Commitment to the Candidate:
 The institution must provide the candidate
with appropriate office and laboratory space,
equipment, and other resources and facilities
(e.g., access to clinical and/or other research
populations) to carry out the proposed
 The institution must provide appropriate time
and support for any proposed mentor(s)
and/or other staff consistent with the career
development plan.
Institution’s Commitment
Institutional Commitment to the Candidate:
 The institution must document its
commitment to the candidate’s career
development independent of the K award!
 The institution must agree to provide
adequate time and support to the candidate
for the period of K.
 Provide documentation for the institution's
commitment to the development and
advancement of the candidate during the
period of the K award.
Description of Institutional
This section is limited to 1 page.
Evaluation criteria:
– Adequacy of research facilities and the availability of appropriate
educational opportunities.
– Quality and relevance of the environment for scientific and professional
development of the candidate.
Description of Institutional
• Describe the research facilities and educational
opportunities of the sponsoring institution that
are related to the candidate’s career
development training and research plans.
– Include relevance of each component to your career
development plan.
• Describe resources outside UD, as needed.
Institutional Commitment to Candidate’s
Research Career Development
This section is limited to 1 page.
Evaluation criteria
– Applicant institution’s commitment to the scientific development of the
candidate and assurances that the institution intends the candidate to
be “an integral part of its research program.”
– Applicant institution’s commitment to protect at least 75% of the
candidate’s effort for proposed career development activities.
Institutional Commitment to Candidate’s
Research Career Development (Cont’d)
– These assurances are stated in a letter from your department chair or
division chief (see Example 4).
• Note: For fellows, this letter must state that you will be promoted
from your current position to a “higher” position (ideally, to a full-time
faculty position) during the K award period.
Career Award Review Criteria
Overall Impact: This score reflects the reviewers
assessment of the likelihood for the candidate to
become/remain an independent investigator. An
application does not need to be strong in all
categories to have a major impact.
Scored Review Criteria: Determination of
scientific, technical, and career merit. Each gets a
separate score:
Career Development Plan/Career Goals &
Research Plan
Mentor(s), Consultants(s), Collaborator(s).
Environment and Institutional Commitment to
the Candidate
Career Award Review Criteria
 Quality of research, academic and/or clinical record
 Potential to develop as an independent and
productive researcher
 Commitment to a research career
 Quality of the letters of reference
Career Development Plan/Career Goals &
 Likelihood that plan will contribute substantially to the
scientific development of candidate – Added Value
 Content, scope, phasing, and duration of the plan in
the context of prior experience and stated career
Career Award Review Criteria
Research Plan:
 Scientific and technical merit of the research
question, design and methodology
 Relevance of the proposed research to the
candidate‘s career objectives
 Appropriateness of the research plan to the stage of
research development and as a vehicle for
developing the research skills described in the career
development plan
Career Award Review Criteria
Mentor(s), Consultants(s), Collaborator(s):
 Qualifications and statement by Mentor and
Environment and Institutional Commitment to
the Candidate:
 Commitment of institution to ensure that the
candidate's effort will be devoted to research
(Minimum 75%)
 Adequacy of research facilities and training
opportunities, including capable faculty
 Assurance that institution intends for the candidate to
be an integral part of its research program
Career Award Review Criteria
Additional Review Criteria:
 Protection of Human Subjects from Research Risk
 Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Children in
 Care and Use of Vertebrate Animals in Research
 Biohazards
 Resubmission Applications
 Renewal Applications (as applicable)
Additional Review Considerations:
 Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research
 Select Agents
 Resource Sharing Plans
 Budget and Period of Support
Expectations of a Mentor
Stephen B. Trippel et al
Greek History:
• Mentor was a close friend and
counselor for Odysseus. When
Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he
placed Mentor in charge of his son and
his palace.
“A mentor is a person who has
achieved career success and counsels
and guides another for the purpose of
helping him or her achieve like
success. Research supervisors should
always be mentors; they have the
responsibility to discuss with and
advise a trainee on aspects of his or
her work and professional
Picking a Mentor
 Selection is based on a variety of
Record of mentorship
Personal rapport
Commitment to your development
 Picking a mentor requires you to
know yourself and your research
 May have more than one mentor for
different facets of your career
 No “one size fits all” mentality
Roles of Mentor
 Finding a good mentor may be as
important as skillful grantsmanship
Lab management advice
Honest evaluation
 University
 Scientific Community
What About Infrastructure
Basic research is a complicated enterprise
Core facilities/equipment
Administrative support
Start-up Funds
The Transition to Lab
 Lots of training, but … you need help!
 How to become a leader
 Managing technicians
 Mentoring students/fellows
 Navigating human resources
 Evaluations
 Conflicts
Your Best/Worst
 The best mentor is in your field - Better yet if
specific interests overlap
Access to reagents/data/expertise
Familiarity with allies/competition
Pulse of the study section
Co-investigator status
 More grant writing!!
 1 Risk: Exploitation
The Person that Embodies
These Characteristics:
 Has a relationship with you that is both
personal and professional
 Views his/her success as linked to your
 Is empathetic yet pragmatic
Honest Evaluation:
Friend, Critic or Both?
 Regular evaluations
 Individual programs
 Papers
 Grants
 Unfunded research
 Mentoring activity
 Promotions/tenure
 Your mentor should be your advocate
 At Home
Academic departments/students
Departmental and university committees
Protected research time
 On The Road
 Meet and Greet
 Access to the “Inner Circle”
 Journal reviewer
 Grant reviewer
The Impact of Outstanding
 Immediate productivity
 Access to lab personnel
 Involvement in mature programs
 Co-investigatorship
 A window into the world of grant writing
 Open dialog about your own developing
 Use of funds
 People management
 Overall research direction
Immediate Productivity
 Main objective: get your own program
 During the start-up phase
 Getting early publications
 Learn the bureaucratic ropes early
 Research Affairs office
 Pursuit of intramural pilot money
 Main objective: get your own grant
 Becoming a Co-I has perks
 Early evidence of support
 Forging effective collaborations
 Involvement in areas outside your focus
 Critical to have multiple directions
 Bring new perspective to your own program
 Learn grant writing first hand
Open Dialog About Your
 Advice on the use of start-up funds
Preserve for the future
Equipment vs. supplies vs. personnel
Small grants make a big difference
Getting the best bang for the $
 Who can help the most right away?
 How to manage staff successfully
 Research direction
 Morphing hypotheses into proposals
 Roadmap to promotion
Despite All The Mentoring …
 There are still no guarantees
 Set limits on time spent away from your main goal
 Always be in the process of paper and proposal
 Never fear critiques
 Friends
 Study section
 Always be responsive, not argumentative
 Don’t focus solely on the NIH for funding
 Marshall your ‘big idea’ with smaller, sure-fire
Develop a Plan for Long Term
Productivity & Funding
 Create a strategic vision for research that
 Creation of a research focus
 Stepwise plan to publish results and obtain
commensurate funding
 Overall career development
 Effectively manage research time vis-àvis other activities: clinical, educational
and administrative
Mentor’s Role
Nurture confidence and competence
Teach by example
Offer sound counsel
Raise the performance bar
Shine in reflected light