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K awards (and how to get one)

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1 K awards (and how to get one)
David Stachura, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, UCSD

2 K awards: many flavors Decide which K award is right for you!
K01- mentored career development award 3-5 years of mentored salary and research funding (can break this up into “phases,” i.e. in your mentor’s lab, and then at a new institution) US citizens and permanent residents K08- mentored clinical scientist research career development award 3-5 year award for clinicians- salary and research related costs K99/R00- pathway to independence award 5 year award to assist postdoctoral investigators in transitioning to a stable independent research position (up to 2 years mentored, followed by 3 years independent research) Do not need to be a US citizen! Also K02, K05, K07, K12, K18, K22, K23, K24, K25, K26, K30 See

3 K awards: early tips and strategies
Start early! Certain programs have restrictions (example: for K99 you can not have more than 5 years postdoctoral experience at the time of submission) Assume you will not get the award the first time out- plan to resubmit! This takes time! Download instructions from NIH website Know your deadlines! You need everything ready at least 1 week earlier! Choose your institution wisely! What are your institutions’ funding rates? What do they like to fund? Example: NIDDK funds blood research, but not leukemia- that falls under the goals of the NHLBI Do you (or your current PI) know the program officer? Get to know them- they are incredibly helpful! Can you submit more than one application (at the same time)?

4 K awards: early tips and strategies
Think of Aims Think of preliminary results that show feasibility Plan these experiments into your current work Get preliminary data for every Aim of your proposal! Select faculty who do work relevant to you Talk to them about your project Cultivate a good relationship with them Do this immediately! Get successful K award applications from colleagues Find your administrative contacts Get in touch with them months before the grants are due Request letters of reference

5 K awards: the application itself
Candidate development section- just as important as research! Make it easy to understand- not too much detail! Make it sound like the project is going to work! Talk about the animal model/technique/tools/ideas you have that no one else does Talk about the strengths of your approach Defeat obvious objections to your research Some examples in my application: Zebrafish Inexperienced PI Don’t base later Aims on previous Aims that may not work! Aim 1 is descriptive? Make Aim 2 follow up on possible outcomes! Aim 3 could be a different way to follow up. Or a screen. Or more open ended… Think about it!

6 K01: the actual application sections
Career goals and objectives- spend as much time on this as you do on the research plan- it is critical! Clearly state your career goal (example: “to become an independent investigator at a major research institution to continue studying hematopoiesis.”) Short- and long-term scientific goals What’s the big picture? Clearly state that this award is essential for your success, and lay out a good foundation of why the NIH should give you money for it. Clearly explain what you have done before (grad school, postdoc, etc.) that make you a good candidate to perform this research. Transition this into your future plans. Why are you special? What sets you apart? Clearly explain why UCSD (or wherever) is the best place for you to continue doing this work Experts in the field, supplies, reagents, technical know-how, etc. Project portability/statement of non-competition Clearly state that your mentor will not compete with you on this project Your mentor should also include this in their Mentor Statement! It is critical!

7 K01: the actual application
Development activities during award period- another very important section! What will you do during the award to ensure that you are successful (i.e. what do you need “mentorship” in)? Presentations, speaking, networking, writing, and project development Meeting with your PI Meeting with other colleagues Attending national/international conferences Experimental training Be specific- what techniques do you need to master? Pedagogical/managerial training during mentored period Be specific- what classes will you take? Propose (and attend) the San Diego Lab Management Symposia! Propose creating a mentorship committee to help you succeed Be specific! When will you meet? How will they provide feedback? Get letters from people to attest to this!

8 K01: the research proposal
Research section format: a general approach Specific Aims (1-2 paragraph exposition) Aim 1 Aim 2 Aim 3 Significance (medical relevance in 1-2 paragraphs) Innovation (why is your research new and exciting?) Background and Preliminary Studies (alternatively you could work this into your Aims)

9 K01: the research proposal (continued)
Research section format: Approach- 1 paragraph introduction Aim 1: Rationale- 1 paragraph Sub Aims Exposition- don’t make it too complicated! Pitfalls and alternative approaches No “problems” are terminal! Be positive; propose how you will deal with “setbacks.” Aim 2 and 3 Conclusion Why your research proposal is the best thing ever

10 K01: “secret” requirements
Mentorship committee Have good, specific letters in the application from successful experts that have volunteered to help you Specific coursework Letters of collaboration from colleagues Especially important if you are not in a well established laboratory Mentor must say you can have your ideas and reagents and that they will not compete with you

11 K01: after you submit Always submit supplementary information when asked This is your chance to put three more pages of successes (just got a paper published, that great talk that you just gave, some award you just received) and research! Take advantage of it.

12 K01: when it comes back! Talk to your PI about criticisms
Talk to your program officer- they will “decode” sometimes seemingly cryptic comments Resubmit! Address all issues that reviewers had with your previous submission in the Introduction

13 K01: when it comes back! Criticisms of my application (and how I dealt with them) Research “Too ambitious.” Easy! I cut it down! “Technically difficult, significant experimental obstacles” I tried to explain better, and lay off the technical jargon. I also tried to explain why these studies were feasible by putting in more preliminary experiments. “Technique-driven.” I tried to frame everything as a hypothesis-driven experiment, versus making it descriptive Candidate “Limited publications.” Easy- I published more papers! Mentor “Junior investigator, not well established.” I dealt with this a few ways. I stressed recent achievements of my mentor. I mentioned his tenure award, getting another postdoc a faculty interview, and recent successes in the lab. I also enlisted the help of more senior mentors (mentorship committee!) to help make sure that I would succeed.

14 K01: when it comes back! Criticisms (and how I dealt with them)
Institutional “Institutional commitment limited to funding from mentor, unclear that candidate will be promoted to Assistant Project Scientist series, and limited funding for salary if the award is not granted.” I dealt with this by stating that UCSD does not guarantee salary for postdocs (with documentation), I included a letter from UCSD assuring I would be promoted, and I also included proof of my previous funding and funding of the lab that would be used to support me. They want proof of everything- give it to them! Training “Underdeveloped career plan, relevance of courses is questionable to career plan.” I better developed my career plan, and shifted my focus toward taking classes that had a more direct focus on my specific goals.

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