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NCCIH Research Blog

Which Mentored K Award Mechanism Is Right For Me?

April 24, 2019

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

Understanding the different Career Development Mechanisms, or K awards, and selecting the right funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to fit your science can be a confusing process. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) participates in four types of mentored K awards for early-stage investigators, and there are three versions of each type to choose from, depending on the study design you propose to use. The NCCIH training webpage describes the K awards we support and provides links to each FOA. This blog post provides an overview of the mentored K award types and describes the differences among the three versions.

Step One: Choosing Which Type of K Award To Use

Your career stage, your degree background, and the type of science proposed are factors to consider as you choose a K award type to use. The K99/R00 is specifically for individuals remaining in their postdoctoral positions, while the K01, K08, and K23 require you to have a full-time position (most of the time, assistant professor) by the time of award.

The K99/R00 “Pathway to Independence Award” is a transition award to support individuals for 1-2 years in a mentored postdoctoral position in the K99 phase and then 3-4 years of independent research in the R00 phase (5 years total support). Applicants must have no more than 4 years of postdoctoral experience at the time of award and cannot have held an independent research position or significant National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding as the principal investigator. There are no citizenship requirements. Applicants must commit 75 percent effort in both phases. NCCIH will provide salary commensurate with the institution’s salary structure and up to $20,000 per year for research in the K99 phase. The total cost for the R00 phase cannot exceed $249,000 per year. Transition from the K99 to the R00 phase is dependent upon completing the K99 phase aims and obtaining an independent research position with strong institutional support (e.g., tenure-track position).

The K01, K08, and K23 are all structured very similarly. They provide up to 5 years of mentored support for research and career development at 75 percent effort and require that applicants meet U.S. citizenship requirements. Applicants cannot have had significant NIH funding as the principal investigator. The main differences are degree eligibility and types of research supported:

Degree EligibilityTerminal degree
(e.g., Ph.D.)
Clinical degree
Clinical degree
(e.g., M.D., N.D., D.C.)
Salary for 75 Percent EffortUp to $75,000/yrUp to $100,000/yrUp to $100,000/yr
Research Support$25,000/yr$25,000/yr$25,000/yr
Research TypeBasic or clinicalBasic or translationalClinical (patient-oriented)

Step Two: Choosing the Right FOA Version for Your K Award Application

Once you have decided which type of K award you want to apply for, you still have three different FOAs to choose from:

  • Independent Clinical Trial Not Allowed: Supports research that does not involve leading an independent clinical trial, a clinical trial feasibility study, or an ancillary study to a clinical trial. Examples of research that could be proposed include basic animal studies, observational studies, secondary data analyses, or gaining research experience in a clinical trial led by a mentor.
  • Independent Clinical Trial Required: Supports applicants proposing to serve as the lead investigator of an independent clinical trial, a clinical trial feasibility study, or a separate ancillary study to an existing trial.
  • Independent Basic Experimental Study with Humans Required: Supports applicants proposing to serve as lead investigator of a new, freestanding study that meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial and meets the definition of basic research. This includes studies that prospectively assign human participants to experimental conditions and assess biomedical or behavioral outcomes for understanding the fundamental aspects of phenomena without specific application towards processes or products in mind.

The word “independent” in these titles can be confusing because the research proposed in K awards is always supervised by a mentor. In this case, “independent” denotes that the proposed research involves a new, freestanding study that meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial. See this comparison guide for more details on types of studies that can be proposed in each FOA version.

Many NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) participate in these funding opportunities. Once you have selected the K award FOA to which you want to apply, I encourage you to read the “Table of IC-Specific Information, Requirements, and Staff Contacts” available in the FOA to get more information about NCCIH’s priorities. 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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