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January 4, 2012

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Other News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Feature Articles.

Step Four to a Winning Application: Identify a Study Section

We moved the contents of this article into Ten Steps to a Winning R01 Application. As part of the Strategy for NIH Funding, the ten steps give you a path to funding success if you're applying for an R01.

Header: Opportunities and Resources.

Worth a Shot: Applying for Vaccine Safety Opportunities

Kick off the new year by applying for funding opportunities on advancing vaccine safety.

NIH reissued two program announcements (PA)—an R01 and an R21—seeking research that addresses key scientific questions related to vaccine safety. Topics include the following:

  • Evaluating various host immune and other physiological responses to licensed vaccine antigens and adjuvant combinations.  
  • Comparing immunologic and physiologic effects of different vaccine combinations and schedules.
  • Defining the capacity and quality of the immune response throughout infancy and childhood.
  • Determining whether there are associations between genetic variations and susceptibility to serious adverse events in response to vaccination.
  • Creating or evaluating statistical methodologies for analyzing data on vaccine safety.

You may have first heard about the PAs through our Email Alerts or the NIAID News twitter feed in November when the announcements came out.

If you did and are ready to submit your application, you can do so starting tomorrow for the R01 and January 16 for the R21.

For those who didn't, don't worry about hitting the first deadline in February (or January for AIDS-related R01 applications). Since standard due dates apply, you'll have another shot at getting your application in.

Get full details in the November 28, 2011, R01 program announcement and R21 program announcement.

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SBIR Applicants: Go "Nuclear" With New Opportunity

"Be prepared" isn't just for the Boy Scouts. The motto also applies to NIAID and its efforts to counter injuries resulting from a radiological or nuclear accident or attack.

As part of these efforts, the Institute reissued a funding opportunity announcement for the Radiological/Nuclear Medical Countermeasure Product Development Program.

The FOA seeks new or renewal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) applications focused on product development activities that will ultimately lead to submitting an investigational new drug or investigational device exemption for FDA licensure.

The Institute's priority areas for product development include:

  • Medical products and regimens that mitigate or treat radiation injury after a radiologic or nuclear emergency.
  • Minimally invasive biodosimetry devices that measure internal and external radiation exposure to quickly and accurately identify people who need treatment.
  • New medical product formulations that can be easily administered in mass-casualty or emergency situations.

For complete FOA details, read the December 6, 2011, Guide notice, and find more background at NIAID's Medical Countermeasures Against Radiological and Nuclear Threats portal.

Header: Other News.

Chimpanzee Research: New Restriction and an Evolving Policy

If you're planning research on chimpanzees, think twice: NIH will not fund any new chimp projects while it develops new policies based on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity.

Ongoing projects and applications submitted before NIH's announcement may proceed for now. An NIH working group will reassess the research on a project-by-project basis to determine if it meets the IOM's criteria. If not, the research will be phased out.

For NIH's full announcement and details, see the December 21, 2011, Guide notice.

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Changing of the Guard for DEA

On December 22, Dr. Marvin Kalt retired as director of NIAID’s Division of Extramural Activities (DEA).  Please join NIAID in thanking him for five years of exemplary service in DEA.

During his tenure, Dr. Kalt guided DEA through NIH's transition to electronic application and enhanced peer review. He also led key elements of NIAID's response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Dr. Kalt’s expertise as director was born from 25 years in leadership positions with NIH extramural programs, including service as a senior advisor to the NIH director and as director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Extramural Activities. He came to NIAID's DEA in 2006 from the Global Health Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

We are all indebted to Dr. Kalt for his service and wish him the best in all his endeavors.

NIAID will announce a successor imminently. During the transition, extramural operations will continue without changes. 

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News Briefs

Here's news from the NIH Guide.

Fellowship Applicants May Send Updates on Sponsor's Funding After Submission. NIH now allows fellowship applicants to send a one-page summary to update their sponsor's funding information after applying. Get details from the December 14, 2011, Guide notice.

Limit on Recovery Act No-Cost Extensions. For American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) awards, you will need approval if you want to extend your project period past September 30, 2013. See the December 13, 2011, Guide notice.

Header: Advice Corner.

Rx for Physician-Scientists: Take Our Advice on Mentored Career Development Awards


  • Know which mentored K awards are tailored to physician-scientists.
  • Learn why it's important to pick the right institute for your application.
  • Discover the benefits: mentors, protected time, leg up to independence.
  • Follow our twelve tips on writing a strong application.

We're paging physician-scientists who want to focus on research and hone benchside and clinical skills.

For those answering the call, we prescribe NIH's mentored career development (K) awards. They provide an intensive, supervised research experience that puts investigators on the road to independence.

If your research career could use a shot in the arm, read on to learn more about mentored K awards, including the benefits and how-tos of getting one.

Which Mentored K Is Right for You?

Before we get to the pros of mentored Ks and how to write a strong application, let's lay the groundwork by covering which awards are suited to you.

NIAID supports two mentored K awards tailored for physician-scientists. To be eligible for either of the following awards, you must have a health professional doctoral degree, such as an M.D., D.O., D.V.M., or equivalent degree, and a professional license to practice in the U.S.

  • Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (Parent K08)—provides support for research in biomedical or behavioral research, including translational research. For more information, read the K08 funding opportunity announcement (FOA) and NIAID Eligibility Requirements for K08 Grant Applications.
  • Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (Parent K23)—provides support in the career development of investigators who have made a commitment to focus their research endeavors on patient-oriented research. For details, read the K23 FOA.

Also read Career Development Applications-NIAID Policy on Support of Clinical Trials.

Pick an Institute for Your Application

Once you choose a mentored K option, determine whether your application would belong at NIAID or another institute.

Specifying an institute in your cover letter is important since career awards are usually reviewed by institutes (not NIH's Center for Scientific Review).

Also note that institutes differ in how much salary and research support they provide. Make sure to view the “Table of IC-Specific Information, Requirements and Staff Contacts” within your FOA for details.

To see if your project fits at NIAID, read about our program divisions and their research areas of interest: Division of AIDS, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation, and Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

Why a Mentored K? Why Not?

You might be wondering whether it's worth pursuing a mentored K award. The following information may erase your doubts.

Two Big Benefits: Mentor and Time

With one of these awards, you'll benefit from having a mentor, an experienced investigator who will help guide and support your research endeavors, as well as ensure that you have the resources you need.

You'll also have protected time (three to five years) to focus on your project, sharpen your skills, and gain hands-on experience—all of which will prepare you to further your research skills and to become an independent investigator.

Promising Prognosis for Attaining Independence

Mentored K awards are effective in launching independent research careers, but don't take our word for it. If you want data, we have just the thing: an NIH evaluation that shows the efficacy of mentored Ks in fostering independence.

Read the report NIH Individual Mentored Career Development Awards Program, and go to our October 26, 2011, article "Mentored Career Development Awards Prove Their Worth" for a brief overview.

Follow Our Tips for Writing a Successful Application

One you decide a mentored K award is the way to go, you may ask yourself: how do I go about writing an application that will fare favorably with peer reviewers and garner a fundable score?

For starters, go over the following 12 tips, which are based on what our Institute staff have seen and heard. Then check out the additional resources at the end.

1. Form a strong mentoring team. Should you need or want a mentoring team, i.e., mentor and co-mentors, find people who have expertise in your area of research. For multidisciplinary research, make sure your team covers all the scientific bases. Peer reviewers will check to see that your mentors' work and experience are relevant to your project. (Note: Though you may have only one mentor, we use "mentors" in this article for simplicity's sake.)

2. Pick mentors who are accessible. If any of the people you're thinking of choosing as mentors is away a lot or too busy, move on to someone else. You want someone who will be around to answer your questions and provide guidance—and have the time to meet your needs.

Make it crystal clear in your application that your mentors have enough time to devote to you. This is especially important if several people from your research group are submitting applications.

It's fine to have members of your mentoring team who aren’t at your institution. However, you need to demonstrate their commitment to supporting you and provide a plan to communicate regularly.

3. Highlight mentor funding. A mentored K award provides partial salary and only modest funds for research supplies. Therefore, ideally, your mentors should be well-funded (preferably by NIH) so that money from the K supplements their research funding.

Point out that your mentors are active, funded investigators to show peer reviewers that they are conducting original research—research that complements yours.

4. Create a solid Research Plan. Don't skimp on the Research Plan thinking that because you're writing a K (not an R01) application reviewers will be lenient. They won't. Ask important research questions, and use the Research Plan as a vehicle to get preliminary data for an R01.

5. Accentuate activities. Describe how career development or training activities will lead to your independence, and state how your future research will be independent from your mentors' work. We strongly recommend that you provide a career development timeline, including plans to apply for subsequent grant support.

6. Get good reference and institutional letters. Since reviewers will scrutinize reference letters, be sure to ask people who are familiar with your qualifications, training, and interests.

You should also get a strong letter from your institution that speaks to its commitment to your development into a productive, independent investigator. It must agree to provide adequate time and support to you for the period of the K award.

7. Obtain strong mentor statements. Be sure your mentor statements convey your mentors' wholehearted support of you. If you don't think that's important, here's a real-world example for you:

A mentor whose personal style wasn’t effusive wrote a terse letter that reviewers interpreted as lack of interest in the candidate. In fact, the mentor was quite supportive of the applicant and had to change his style when writing the letter for the resubmission.

Each mentor must explain how he or she will contribute to the development of your research career and discuss the research as well as other activities, e.g., seminars and presentations at scientific meetings.

Mentor statements from those who aren't at your institution should also describe their commitment to you and how frequently you will communicate.

8. Demonstrate productivity. Reviewers look closely at your productivity, e.g., number of publications, first or last author. If you're lacking in this area, explain your role on other projects.

For example, perhaps you were part of a clinical trial project that doesn't allow papers until the trial ends. Or, maybe you were involved in activities that demonstrate your leadership but don’t lend themselves to publications (e.g., helping to set up an HIV research clinic in South Africa).

9. Justify sample size. In this case, size matters, especially if your project is a "spin off" of your mentors'. Explain why you are studying, for instance, 50 samples and why those in particular if they are a subset of a larger study. Get input from a biostatistician if this isn’t your strength.

10. Address human subjects. Avoid this common mistake: completing the human subjects research section using the description from a mentor's grant application. That description may not apply to what you'll be doing with your K award.

Example: don't give the impression that you are conducting a phase 3 clinical trial when it's actually your mentors doing so. Make sure to complete the Human Subjects section from the perspective of the specific research you are conducting under the K award, such as using samples from the trial or doing a substudy on subjects from it. Be sure to include letters of permission, e.g., for using samples or conducting a substudy.

11. Get up to date on responsible conduct of research. Do you know what your plan for instruction in responsible research conduct should cover? Don't rely on samples or information from previous K awardees that might not reflect the latest requirements. Get the latest details in our Responsible Conduct of Research: Training SOP.

12. Get mentors to review your application. We highly recommend that you have your mentors (especially your primary) give your application a once-over to check for thoroughness, consistency, and effective presentation.

Should reviewers see problems in proposed lab work or other areas, they may regard it as a lack of mentor involvement. You don't want them to think, "If the mentor didn’t bother to work with the candidate during the application process, how engaged will he or she be during the award?"

For more information on mentored K awards and writing your application, see the following links.

Related Links

Find general information

Get advice on writing your application

Learn more about peer review

NIH Scientific Review Group (SRG) Roster Index

Header: Reader Questions.

Feel free to send us a question at After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.

"Do you have a list of NIAID minority grant opportunities?"—anonymous reader

Though we do not keep an inventory of opportunities reserved for minority investigators, we support fellowships, research supplements, and other programs targeted to underrepresented students and investigators. For a complete list, go to Diversity Programs Supported by NIAID.

Keep in mind that for Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, the principal investigator applies; those who want to be hired under a supplement should talk to a PI.

Find other opportunities on the NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

If you need further guidance, contact our Office of Special Populations and Research Training at

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See these and older announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated February 27, 2012

Last Reviewed January 04, 2012