NIH Career Development Awards, commonly referred to as K-awards, are intended to provide support and protected time for faculty to develop research skills and to ultimately ensure a pool of highly trained research scientists. There are three main types of awards:
- Mentored Awards to individuals - Primarily for researchers at the beginning of their careers and provide a transition to full independent research awards.
- Independent or Non-Mentored K Awards - Designed to provide protected research time for mid-career or even senior faculty to enhance their research potential.
- Institutional Awards - Intended to provide mentored experiences for multiple individuals.
The specific terms of a K-award vary among institutes and careful attention should be given to the requirements of each award.
Types of Career Development Awards
Individual mentored CDA applications require the candidate to identify a mentor (sometimes referred to as a sponsor) with extensive and appropriate research experience. The candidate must name a primary mentor/sponsor, who, together with the candidate is responsible for the planning, direction, and execution of the program. The mentor should be recognized as an accomplished investigator in the proposed research area; have a track record of success in training independent investigators; and should have sufficient independent research support to cover any costs of the proposed research project in excess of the allowable costs of the CDA award. Candidates may have co-mentors/sponsors as appropriate to the goals of the program. Whenever possible and appropriate, women, individuals from diverse racial and ethnic groups, and individuals with disabilities are encouraged to be involved as mentors to serve as role models.
Independent (non-mentored) CDAs (e.g. K02, K05, K07 leadership, K24) provide protected time for scientists who can demonstrate the need for a period of intensive research focus as a means of enhancing their research careers. Independent CDAs are intended to foster the development of outstanding scientists and to enable them to expand their potential to make significant contributions to their field of research. Some Independent CDAs also require the candidates to serve as research mentors for junior researchers. Candidates for independent CDAs must have a doctoral degree and independent, peer-reviewed support at the time the award is made. Some of the participating NIH ICs require candidates to have an NIH research grant from their IC at the time of application. Other NIH ICs will accept candidates with peer reviewed, independent research support from other sources. Planning, direction, and execution of the proposed career development program and research project are the responsibility of the applicant and sponsoring institution. Independent CDAs are not transferable from one PD/PI to another. Non-mentored awards are sometimes renewable.
Institutional Scientist Development Programs
The institutional mentored research scientist development program (K12 and KL2) provides support to an institution for the development of independent basic or clinical scientists. The goal is to enhance research career development for individuals (known as ‘scholars’) selected by the institution who are training for careers in specified research areas. A specified number of scholar positions are awarded in a K12. The K12 is solicited only by IC-specific funding opportunity announcements (FOAs). Although the K12 is subject to NIH Standard Terms of Award, the carryover of unobligated balances from one budget period to the next generally requires prior written approval. K12 awards are generally not transferable to another institution. When institutional mentored research development programs are incorporated as part of a Clinical and Translational Science Award Consortium the KL2 activity code is used. The Clinical Research Curriculum Award (K30) is awarded to an institution to stimulate the inclusion of high-quality, multidisciplinary, didactic training as part of the career development of clinical investigators. It supports the development and/or improvement of core courses designed as in-depth instruction in the fundamental skills, methodologies, and theories necessary for the well-trained, independent, clinical researcher.
Level of Effort
In addition to the full-time appointment requirement described above, mentored and non-mentored CDA candidates are required to devote and maintain a minimum level of effort to the award. During a no-cost extension, the recipient is required to maintain any effort minimum and can only reduce his/her effort with prior approval of the awarding IC.
Candidates who hold additional appointments with an independent clinical practice plan, the VA or other organizations may not use these additional appointments to meet the minimum effort requirement. Responsibilities outside of the applicant organization appointment are not restricted; however, they also cannot be used to meet any minimum effort requirement. If a candidate has a dual appointment, they must also have a full-time appointment at the applicant institution and be able to meet the minimum effort requirement as part of that full-time appointment in order to qualify for a CDA. Candidates should contact the scientific/research and/or grants management contact in the relevant IC prior to preparing an application to discuss their eligibility.
Mentored CDAs and Level of Effort
Mentored CDA candidates are required to devote a minimum commitment equivalent of 9 calendar person months (75% or their full-time appointment at the applicant institution) to the career development and research objectives of the program specified in each FOA. The remaining 3 person months (25% effort), if applicable, can be divided among other research, clinical, and teaching activities only if these activities are consistent with the goals of the mentored CDA, i.e., the candidate’s development into an independent investigator.
Mentored awardees are allowed to devote complementary effort without salary support on other research grants that include related research between the CDA and the research grant. In such cases where there is scientific overlap, the percent effort on the research grant is subsumed within the required effort of the CDA. However, there should not be significant duplication of the scope of the research supported by the CDA. Further, the related research must be consistent with the goals and objectives of the CDA.
Concurrent Support and Level of Effort
In certain circumstances, the recipient may be working on another grant while the K Award supports the employee's salary. In this case, it is expected that the goals of the second grant support the goals of the K Award. In cases where there is scientific overlap, the effort on the second grant is included in the K Award effort.
Provided they remain in a mentored status, mentored CDA recipients in the final two years of their support period are permitted to reduce the level of effort required for the CDA when they have competed successfully for peer-reviewed research awards from NIH or any Federal agency, if programmatic policy of the other Federal agency allows such an arrangement. Recipients are encouraged to obtain funding from NIH or other Federal sources either as a PD/PI on a competing research grant award or cooperative agreement or as a project leader on a competing multi-project award.
At the time the research grant is awarded the effort required on the CDA may be reduced to no less than 6 person months (50% full-time professional effort at the grantee organization) and replaced by effort and corresponding salary from the research award so that the total level of research commitment remains at 9 person months (75% full-time professional effort) or more for the duration of the mentored CDA. This policy applies to the following mentored CDA activity codes: K01, K07 (developmental), K08, K22, K23, and K25, as well as individuals mentored through institutional K12 or KL2 awards.
When a mentored CDA recipient obtains independent support, the NIH awarding IC supporting the CDA will adjust the level of effort committed to the CDA to no less than (50% effort) consistent with maintaining total research effort at 75% or more of the full-time appointment. NIH may adjust the total salary and fringe benefits amounts awarded to the CDA if consistent with the adjusted level of effort. If necessary, the K award may also be adjusted to avoid any additional budget overlap.
Established investigators on independent (non-mentored) CDAs are generally required to devote a minimum of (25-50% effort) conducting research and research career development related activities during the period of the award. Some independent CDAs allow and may require more than (50% effort). For example, K02 recipients are required to devote (75% effort) to research.
Generally, an independent or leadership awardee may receive additional salary support from other NIH/PHS grants for effort above the CDA and there are no limitations to receiving other salary support. However, K02 recipients may not receive salary from other NIH/PHS grants. Where applicable, specific NIH Grants policies are noted in the FOA. The candidate must be able to demonstrate that the requested period of salary support and protected time will foster his/her career and capacity to contribute to the specified field.
The goal of K Awards is to encourage development of the applicant into an independent researcher and it is expected that recipients apply for additional sponsored projects. It is, therefore, allowable to use K Award funds to support effort in preparing proposals.
For additional information:
- Can I commit to cost sharing on a NIH-K-Series-Career proposal? Answer: No. There is no need to commit cost sharing on K awards as the effort of sponsors, or mentors, or advisors are not paid on Federal K awards, therefore, they are listed as other significant contributors with no measurable effort ("effort as needed"). Their effort is not considered cost sharing and is not trackable. In some cases, costs detailed in the "Research Development Support" section may be cost shared, though cost sharing is not a recommended practice of the University.
- Can effort be used to support another grant application? Answer: Yes. This is assuming the award is "mentored", the K award with 100% effort, can meet a cost sharing requirement as long as the cost shared resources are "concurrent" with the aims of the K award. Approval to cost share should be obtained in all cases from the "K" award Grants Management Specialist, who will work with the Program Officer. A K award is the only exception whereby a federal award may be used to meet a cost sharing requirement. When using a K award to meet the cost sharing requirement, there is no need to include this information on the OSR approval form.
- Is the effort by a faculty mentor or faculty sponsor on a Federal K award considered cost sharing? Answer: No. The effort of sponsors, co-sponsors, or mentors on Federal K awards is not considered cost sharing. The PHS 398 instructions (11/07) provide clarification that sponsors, co-sponsors and mentors can be listed as “Other Significant Contributors” rather than as Key Personnel, and states that these individuals can be listed either as “as needed” or “zero percent effort.” This is the recommended practice at UCSF so that quantified amounts are not recorded on the budget or budget justification pages for these activities on Federal K awards.
- If a faculty member must commit 75% effort to a Federal K award, but the Federal K award instructions only allow payment up to $85,000 (which only covers part of the faculty member’s salary), is the amount paid over $85,000 committed cost sharing? For example, the award will only pay $85,000 for 75% effort but the faculty member has a University salary of $150,000 (75% of which would equate to $112,500). Answer: No, it is not a form of cost sharing. The amount of $27,500 not covered by the Federal K award ($112,500-$85,000 = $27,500) would be considered “unallowable cost” similar to the NIH salary cap. The department must cover this cost out of departmental discretionary funds or other resources. It cannot be charged to other federal funds.
- Is it necessary once NIH approves concurrent effort for the department to mark YES on the OSR Approval Form for non-federal cost sharing? Answer: No.
- Effort Reporting and K Awards. Under K awards, mentored and non-mentored CDA candidates are required to devote and maintain a minimum level of effort to the award. Since K awards require that a minimal amount of effort is expected and not necessarily quantifiable in terms of a percentage of the total award amount, no cost sharing needs to be reported or tracked. Effort only needs to be reported if it falls below the minimum required threshold which has to be approved by the sponsoring agency. If the effort falls below the minimum threshold, supplementation may be reported. There is no requirement that the department file cost sharing paperwork with CGA, no need for CGA to set up a cost sharing program code, and no need to specifically charge part of the salary to a designated cost sharing program code.
ERS Solutions for Effort Report Certification of K Awards
Issue 1 – Minimum Effort under a K Award Salary Cap
When the capped salary is less than the minimum effort level multiplied by the career researcher's pay rate, ERS will report less effort than required by the K Award. For example, assume the following:
- K award requires a minimum effort level of 75%.
- K award direct salary is capped at $75,000.
- The career researcher's pay rate is $115,385.
In this example, 75% of $115,385 = $86,538, which is over the K award's salary cap. However, the effort report should certify 75% effort on the K award.
ERS will generate an Effort Report similar to the one below (33445-XXXXXX represents the K Award). In this case, the Total Effort % shows as 65% due to the cap on the K Award direct salary.
The effort should be modified using the cost sharing column of the effort report, taking effort from the Non-Sponsored Activities group (in rare cases you may be able to cost share from the Other Sponsored Projects group, but it is up to your private sponsors to approve this use of their funding).
The adjusted Effort Report will look like this:
It is important to understand that this use of the cost sharing column is considered "uncommitted" cost sharing and will be reported only on the effort report. There is no requirement that the department file cost sharing paperwork with CGA, no need for CGA to set up a cost sharing program code, and no need to specifically charge part of the salary to a designated cost sharing program code. A Payroll Expense Transfer Uploader (PETU) is not needed for this situation.
In this case, before certifying the Effort Report, a comment must be added to the Effort Report explaining why Cost Sharing was used. The comment text should read: “Salary Cap on K Award (33445-XXXXXX) requires use of uncommitted cost sharing to reflect the 75% actual effort devoted to the K Award.”
Issue 2 – Concurrent Effort (scientific overlap) with Other Sponsored Projects
When a K award recipient has been approved for sharing K Award effort with another sponsored project, the department should have set up the appropriate Program Code within the K Award’s Project and charged a percentage of the recipient’s salary to that Program Code to demonstrate the shared effort between the K Award and the other sponsored project. See the Cost Sharing website for and explanation of cost sharing:
Because ERS does not track certified effort for other sponsored projects, the Reviewer (or PI) for the K Award should:
- review the payroll entries by clicking on the Original Payroll % for K Award to see that payroll is in fact shared with the other sponsored project
- enter the details of the effort sharing in the Comments section of the Effort Report using language such as:
“Concurrent Effort (scientific overlap):
K Award (33455-XXXXXX) shows 100% effort
20% of this effort is concurrent with an AHA grant (85703-XXXXXX)”
In this example, 33455-XXXXXX is the K Award: