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NCCIH Research Blog

To K or Not To K?

June 27, 2018

Lanay M. Mudd, Ph.D.

Lanay M. Mudd, Ph.D.

Deputy Branch Chief

Clinical Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch

Program Director

Division of Extramural Research

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

One of the most frequent questions I get as the training officer at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is, “Should I apply for a K award or skip straight to an R?”

There are many things to consider before applying for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Career Development Award (or K award), and I encourage potential applicants to discuss the options with their mentors, colleagues, department chairs, and university officials. Here are a few points to discuss:

Potential Advantages

  • Competition limited to similar career stage
  • Opportunity for additional training and mentorship
  • Protects 75% of your time
  • Establishes track record of funding
  • Opportunity to collect critical preliminary data to support independent research line

Potential Disadvantages

  • Research funding limited
  • Significant institutional support required (with small indirect cost %)
  • Requires 75% of your time
  • May be difficult to find qualified mentors

At NCCIH, we feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages most of the time, and we encourage early career investigators to apply for a K award.

If you decide “to K,” NCCIH currently supports five types of K awards, which are described on the NCCIH Training Web page, with links to each funding opportunity announcement (FOA). We offer the K99/R00 for postdoctoral students looking to transition to independence, three K awards (K01, K08, and K23) for early career investigators with either nonclinical or clinical/health-professional doctoral degrees pursuing basic or clinical research, and the K24 for midcareer investigators interested in mentoring new/early-stage investigators in clinical patient-oriented research. The NIH Research Training Web page also describes these K awards, along with several others supported by other NIH Institutes and Centers, in the “Career Development Kiosk,” and provides FAQs on career development awards. As described in a previous blog, all K awards are now issued as two different FOAs—one that requires a clinical trial, and one that does not allow independent clinical trials.

If you are considering applying for a K award, I encourage you to read the FOAs carefully and view the “Table of IC-Specific Information, Requirements, and Staff Contacts” available in the FOAs to get more information about NCCIH’s priorities for each mechanism. You can also contact me at for advice on which K to choose and to discuss the fit of your science with NCCIH research priorities.


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