Announcer: From the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this is All About Grants.
Megan Columbus: Here we are for another addition of All About Grants. I'm your host Megan Columbus. I'm the acting director of communications and outreach for the NIH Office of Extramural Research. Today we'll be discussing non-mentored career development awards. I have with me Dr. Henry Khachaturian who I'd like to welcome to the show. Henry is a program policy officer for training programs within NIH's Office of Extramural Research and he has had substantial experience working with training grants. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about your background Henry?
Henry: Sure. I'm a neuroscientist by training. I got my PhD at University of Rochester. I have served on the faculty at the University of Michigan and the University of Tennessee. And for the past twenty years, I have been at NIH working in several institutes, NIMH, NINDS, both in the capacity of a program officer and also in the capacity of training officer taking care of training grants. I've served on the training advisory committee for the past fifteen years or so.
Megan: So, you've joined us before to talk about mentored career development awards and today we're going to talk about non-mentored career development awards. Do you want to talk a little bit about the difference between the two?
Henry: Sure. So, very simply as the name implies, mentored career development awards require a supervisor or a mentor to oversee your research in career development activities and non-mentored awards, as the name implies, they do not require a supervisor to oversee your activities. In other words, you are already independent. Most of the time, independent investigators have their own research grant. Sometimes they don't. So, the independent career development awards are designed to help an individual who is obviously independent, does not require mentoring, to essentially focus their career on their research and protect their time so they don't have to, for example, do additional teaching or administrative duties, in particular for clinicians to take time off from clinical duties, which can be substantial. So, in particular for clinicians who want to devote more time to research activities in particular, patient-oriented research activities, these are wonderful mechanisms for them to essentially buy their time from their institution, from their department, but to devote to research.
Megan: What about supporting people who are interested in moving into something a little bit different?
Henry: In terms of moving into a new research area, generally speaking, those are mentored career development awards. So, if a relatively senior investigator wants to move into a totally new area, what they would do is apply for one of the mentored K awards, like the K01, and have what's called a supervisor or a nominal mentor that is going to help them in that particular research area, because understandably, they don't have as much experience in that particular area. On the other hand, if they do have some experience, and they want to pursue a particular area that they are not particularly well versed in, they might choose a non-mentored or independent career development award and ask a colleague be a collaborator or a co-investigator. So again, there are a variety of situations where a particular career development award might be suited to a particular individual. One of the things that I would like to emphasize is not to select a particular K award because they have seen it or because they might have a better success rate or a particular institute supports it.
Megan: So what's the best way to go find what they should be looking for?
Henry: So, there are several ways to do this. We have a couple of tools on the training website. One of them is the K kiosk or career development kiosk. It's a simple listing of all the different K awards, and it'll link to the funding opportunity announcement where they can read about the purpose of each K award and then look at the list of institute and center contacts and contact them. The other one is what we call the career development wizard or K wizard, where it asks a series of questions and depending on how you answer those questions hopefully narrows the choice down to ideally one K award that you should be looking at. Or narrow it down to two or three where you can pursue with an institute which one is best for you.
Megan: Okay, so we'll be providing URLs for those tools and websites at the end of the program. What kinds of questions might that wizard be asking?
Henry: So, at the very beginning it asks whether you are a basic researcher or a clinical researcher. Whether you have a PhD-like degree or a health professional degree like an MD.
Megan: Because that steers them to different types of awards?
Henry: That steers them to two different places, right. So, there are K awards that are specifically designed for research doctoral degrees, and K awards that are designed specifically for health professional degrees. And getting to know which ones are suited to your particular career development is important. So that's the first step. The second step is ask questions in terms of whether you need additional mentoring or supervised research or you are independent, perhaps you have your own R01 grant and what you need a career development award for. So that steers you toward an independent career development award or a mentored career development award. Then it asks you questions about whether you're pursuing a basic science research or a clinical science research, for example patient-oriented research, and then narrows the choices further down to which particular K award that might be suited to you. As I've mentioned before, it does narrow your choices down. Ideally, you'll select one, but hopefully, it'll be one or two, and you can call the institute and talk to a program officer about which one might be best for you.
Megan: And so what's particularly important is to look and see which institutes sponsor that particular funding opportunity announcement, because not all institutes use the career development awards the same way.
Henry: Right. In particular, when it comes to independent or non-mentored career development awards, not every institute supports them. Not every institute supports all the mechanisms, and the ones that do support them for different purposes. So, for example, some institutes might require that you have an R01 grant from that institute before you're eligible for an independent K award from them. Others do not have that requirement. For example, if you have an independent research support from the foundation, that's good enough for them, or if you have an independent research support from another institute that's also acceptable to them. So, it important for an applicant to contact us to see whether this particular K award is suited to them, in terms of what kinds of support they have. To complicate things further, there are some institutes that actually use the independent career development award to support individuals who do not yet have independent research support.
Megan: So that all gets back to the importance of calling NIH, the importance of calling NIH, the importance of calling NIH.
Henry: Yes, absolutely
Megan: So, they call NIH, and they find out that an institute doesn't support career development awards at all, then what?
Henry: So, one of the things you want to do when you have that conversation with a project officer is engage in terms of what else is available, whether another institute potentially can support this research, because there's a lot of cross fertilization across NIH in terms of research areas that we support. Also, whether they have additional mechanisms that are suited for them, for example, an R03 grant, or an R21 grant, or even an R01 grant for a new investigator.
Megan: So, an R03 being a small research grant, an R21 being exploratory developmental, or an R01 which would be our regular, standard research grant.
Megan: So, what about advice for independent folks trying to put together their grant application?
Henry: It is very much like the mentored career development award in terms of the kinds of steps that you need to think about. Obviously, except that you don't need a mentor, and you don't need a sponsor, and you don't need to have that statement. Often times you also do not need to have letters of reference because you obviously are independent. In this situation you have to remember that we're not asking the reviewers to review your already funded research. What the reviewers are looking for essentially is your commitment to research, the need for you to have this time off from other duties to focus your efforts more intensely on your research career. If you are already are devoting substantial time to research, it's much more difficult justify the need for a career development award in that situation. As opposed to if you were an institution that has substantial teaching or substantial clinical duties. Those are situations where we look for in terms of how can we help an independent investigator advance their career. One of things you also have to remember applying for an independent career development award is that many of these awards, as an expectation NIH wants you to mentor to other investigators. So, for example, the K24 award, which is a mid-career, patient-oriented career development award, requires that you actually have a mentoring plan, not for yourself, but a plan to provide mentoring to others. So, that's a critical element as well.
Megan: So, what about in different types of K awards should you be trying to insert your mentoring experience into those applications?
Henry: Yes, if it calls for it, yes. There are some independent K awards that do not require mentoring like the K02, but most of the others do, like I mentioned the K24. So it is important to figure out what exactly this particular career development award is designed for, whether the particular institute that you're targeting to is supportive of this, and also to make sure that not only you address the issue of mentoring but also the issue of institutional environment and commitment. So those elements become important review criteria in terms of where is your research career now, how much release time do you need, and what is your plan beyond this particular award in terms of being a more well established research investigator at that institution, that otherwise perhaps might be more difficult for you to do.
Megan: How important for non-mentored career development awards is establishing institutional commitment in your application?
Henry: Critically important, so in terms of institutional commitment, obviously you have to have a faculty position at that institution. As you know, faculty positions come in all different shapes and sizes. One formula doesn't fit all. But it depends on whether you're an integral part of that department, or that institution, or that unit, or you are just an adjunct member. In other words, the institution needs to tell us or tell the reviewers that are looking at the application whether you are welcome at that institution only if you get the career development award, or you are an integral part of their overall research program and you're long-term researcher there. So, those are critical components for independent K awards, as well as mentored K awards-how well the institution supports your overall research activities.
Megan: Do you have other advice for somebody who is working on submitting an application?
Henry: You obviously need to propose a strong research program, which is very much in line with what you are already funded to do. Or perhaps, if you're not funded to do that research, how will this research be done, in what phases, what are your specific aims, etc. The second critical element is to understand that you may need collaborators, colleagues-whether they're in the same institution or another institution-that they're going to collaborate with you on that particular project. That can add strength to it. The third element is the institutional environment and commitment, and we already discussed how important that is to have you as an integral component. And perhaps, the fourth element if it calls for, is how are you going to now serve as a scientific citizen and that is provide mentoring to more junior investigators, utilizing this particular award and the release time that it gives you to devote to your research career.
Megan: One of the other things I know that you've mentioned in conversations with me in the past is that people shouldn't overlook institutional K awards and how they might fit into those.
Henry: Yes, so institutional K awards are the kinds of awards, obviously as the name implies, are given to institutions rather than individuals. Independent investigators often times can think of putting together an institutional career developmental award with their colleagues. So a number of faculty members, either in a particular area or a crosscutting area, can get together and put one of these things together. Obviously, one of them will have to be the career development or program director, but others can serve as faculty. It's also a wonderful way to get additional funding to provide mentoring to more junior investigators. Unlike individual career developmental awards, what happens with an institutional K award is that once the award is established, much like a training program with the National Research Service Awards is that the faculty then selects the individuals that are going to be trained on this K award. It's a great way to be involved in a mentoring process-to join one of these as a faculty of an institutional K award.
Megan: Well that wraps up today's edition of All About Grants. I'd like to thank Dr. Henry Khachaturian for joining us today.
Henry: My pleasure
Megan: For NIH and OER, this is Megan Columbus. Tune in next time.
Announcer: You can find the K Kiosk and the K award wizard by going to grants.nih.gov/training and clicking on "Extramural." Again that is G-R-A-N-T-S dot N-I-H dot G-O-V forward slash T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G.