Saturday, November 17, 2012

Applying for a K99/R00 Award from the NIH

The K99/R00 award from the NIH can be elusive, but if you get one it can help enormously in getting you a job. It certainly helped me! I've been officially and unofficially mentoring other postdocs on how to apply. These are some of points that I wish I had known before applying and that will add to the instructions found in the Funding Opportunity Announcement.

  • Go to the latest Funding Opportunity Announcement Number PA-14-042 as of January 2014. This is the official document with instructions and links to application forms and additional information
  • READ IT in detail and bookmark it in your web browser because you’ll go back to it a million times. Also familiarize yourself with the NIH and the grant proposal structure by reading the great books suggested here.
  • BUDGET TIME carefully. Applying for a K99/R00 is a long process: I made initial inquiries at the NIH in October-November 2009, applied February 2010, resubmitted November 2010 and had final confirmation my grant was awarded in June 2011. One try takes almost 1 year, resubmission almost 2 years.
  • There is a LIMIT on when you can apply: it used to be 5 years of postdoc, but it will be reduced to 4 years starting February 2014 (here). You need to start thinking about it in the 2nd-3rd year after receiving your PhD.
  • CONTACT THE NIH. Write out a possible Specific Aims page and 2-4 months before the deadline and write to the NIH institutes you think may be interested in your work. NIH RePORTER  is a great resource to find out which grants get funded. Be nice and listen to the advice of the program officers at the NIH: they know what gets funded and which institute and study section may be appropriate for you.

  • IT’S A LOT OF WORK. You’re asking for almost $1 million from the federal government, and unless you have been involved in writing your PI’s R01, it will be the biggest grant you have ever written. Excellent detailed how-to guides from ChemicalBiLOLogy and K99Advice.
  • Again, BUDGET TIME. The science is only a part of it: only 1/5 of your score and 9 out of 80 pages of the application. Get a few examples of (successful) grants from friends and colleagues. Most of the equipment/facilities parts will be the same as your PI’s R01s, so get one of those too.
  • Remember to justify MENTORING. The K99 portion is mentored and the mentoring plan and job search plan are very important. In the candidate statement you will need to discuss the short and long-term goals as an independent investigator, but you still need to justify the need for mentoring (i.e. training in something new). The mentoring plan has to be very specific: how much are you going to meet with your mentors? What are they going to help with? What other mentoring opportunities and career development sources do you have?
  • Remember the LETTERS. You will need letters from collaborators, consultants and a job search advisory committee (a group of 3-4 PIs who will help you and guide you during your job search). Getting all the letters take time, so plan accordingly.

  • You make your visit to eRACommons part of your daily routine, to find out where and when your grant will be reviewed. For an overview of the peer-review process watch this helpful NIH video:
  • SCORES are out on eRACommons a couple of days after the study section meets. K99s do not have a percentile and paylines vary from year to year and from institute to institute. Now you can contact your Program Officer (listed on the grant eRACommons page) and see how you did. They can be cautiously positive (rejoice!), uncertain or negative. As government employees they may not be able to give a final answer until the grant actually appears in the payroll a few months later, since it may happen that a grant with an excellent score will not get funded.
  • SUMMARY STATEMENTS are out after 1-2 weeks. If you are close to the payline, your Program Officer can really help here to plan changes for a resubmission to make your grant more competitive.
It’s a long and very painful process, but it really forces you to grow up scientifically. After doing this you are ready to apply for a job and know how to write a big NIH grant. If you then need info on submitting your R00 application see my follow-up post and take a look at the Writing Grants page on the blog for links.

Good luck!!


  1. You didn't say anything about using the expertise of your Grant Development Officer in the Research Administration Office who likely helped submit your grant. Get to know these people because, for the most part, these are exceptional people who work as hard as you do. They can pull your tush out of many a fire in both pre- and post-award situations.

    1. Absolutely! That has been very variable for me. A lot of attrition in that department and varying levels of competence. I tend to know how to do everything myself and control the process closely to catch errors. Post-award is also very tricky.
      People do not realize how critical it is to have competent people in pre- and post-award. They can literally make or break their career. I have made sure through the years to let the good ones know, as they are usually not appreciated by busy, harried PIs.

  2. This post should be helps the candidate to apply for K99/R00 Award properly. They found details how they can apply in here. I think if they follow the post properly they can get success in here.

  3. Thank you very much for such a wonderful blog. I have a quick question about the JIT information. I received a score of 20 for my K99 and now I have to submit the JIT report. I notice that my mentor used some of my results in his R01 grant and there is very slight overlap between the two grants. Do you think that will be a problem and how to resolve that?

    1. You can specify the scientific and overlap potential overlap in your Other Support document for the JIT. This is really only an issue if both mechanisms get funded, since your lab would be double dipping. That is why in part they ask for this, so they won't fund something that is already funded. The way I handled any conflicts was to list the current and pending (submitted grants) support, specify the experimental/time commitment overlap with the K, and explain how it would be resolved if both the K and the other grants were funded. In this case, it might mean your PI would need to modestly modify some aspects of a specific aim that have experimental series in common. I used language to clearly state that if both projects were funded, the non K mechanism would be modified to exclude that small amount of overlapping content. The JIT for your K should support and protect your K. Your PO can advise as well, and there are sample Other Support documents floating about on the internet.