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Which Mentored K Award Mechanism Is Right For Me?

April 24, 2019
Lanay M. Mudd, Ph.D.
Lanay Mudd, Ph.D.

NCCIH Training Officer, Division of Extramural Research
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
View Dr. Mudd’s biographical sketch

Understanding the different Career Development Mechanisms, or K awards, and selecting the right funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to fit your science can be a confusing process. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) participates in four types of mentored K awards for early-stage investigators, and there are three versions of each type to choose from, depending on the study design you propose to use. The NCCIH training webpage describes the K awards we support and provides links to each FOA. This blog post provides an overview of the mentored K award types and describes the differences among the three versions.

Step One: Choosing Which Type of K Award To Use 

Your career stage, your degree background, and the type of science proposed are factors to consider as you choose a K award type to use. The K99/R00 is specifically for individuals remaining in their postdoctoral positions, while the K01, K08, and K23 require you to have a full-time position (most of the time, assistant professor) by the time of award.

The K99/R00 “Pathway to Independence Award” is a transition award to support individuals for 1-2 years in a mentored postdoctoral position in the K99 phase and then 3-4 years of independent research in the R00 phase (5 years total support). Applicants must have no more than 4 years of postdoctoral experience at the time of award and cannot have held an independent research position or significant National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding as the principal investigator. There are no citizenship requirements. Applicants must commit 75 percent effort in both phases. NCCIH will provide salary commensurate with the institution’s salary structure and up to $20,000 per year for research in the K99 phase. The total cost for the R00 phase cannot exceed $249,000 per year. Transition from the K99 to the R00 phase is dependent upon completing the K99 phase aims and obtaining an independent research position with strong institutional support (e.g., tenure-track position).

The K01, K08, and K23 are all structured very similarly. They provide up to 5 years of mentored support for research and career development at 75 percent effort and require that applicants meet U.S. citizenship requirements. Applicants cannot have had significant NIH funding as the principal investigator. The main differences are degree eligibility and types of research supported:

  K01 K08 K23

Degree Eligibility

Terminal degree
(e.g., Ph.D.)

Clinical degree

Clinical degree
(e.g., M.D., N.D., D.C.)

Salary for 75 Percent Effort

Up to $75,000/yr

Up to $100,000/yr

Up to $100,000/yr

Research Support




Research Type

Basic or clinical

Basic or translational

Clinical (patient-oriented)


Step Two: Choosing the Right FOA Version for Your K Award Application 

Once you have decided which type of K award you want to apply for, you still have three different FOAs to choose from:

  • Independent Clinical Trial Not Allowed: Supports research that does not involve leading an independent clinical trial, a clinical trial feasibility study, or an ancillary study to a clinical trial. Examples of research that could be proposed include basic animal studies, observational studies, secondary data analyses, or gaining research experience in a clinical trial led by a mentor.
  • Independent Clinical Trial Required: Supports applicants proposing to serve as the lead investigator of an independent clinical trial, a clinical trial feasibility study, or a separate ancillary study to an existing trial. 
  • Independent Basic Experimental Study with Humans Required: Supports applicants proposing to serve as lead investigator of a new, freestanding study that meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial and meets the definition of basic research. This includes studies that prospectively assign human participants to experimental conditions and assess biomedical or behavioral outcomes for understanding the fundamental aspects of phenomena without specific application towards processes or products in mind.

The word “independent” in these titles can be confusing because the research proposed in K awards is always supervised by a mentor. In this case, “independent” denotes that the proposed research involves a new, freestanding study that meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial. See this comparison guide for more details on types of studies that can be proposed in each FOA version.

Many NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) participate in these funding opportunities. Once you have selected the K award FOA to which you want to apply, I encourage you to read the “Table of IC-Specific Information, Requirements, and Staff Contacts” available in the FOA to get more information about NCCIH’s priorities. You can also contact me at for advice on which K to choose and to discuss the fit of your science with NCCIH research priorities.


Comments are now closed for this post.

I’m currently practicing and living in the mid-west, Indiana.  My private clinic is just outside of West Lafayette, Indiana the home of Purdue University.  I’m having a very difficult time getting Purdue University to see the need & demand for spinal research for the benefit of the biology of manual medicine.  I would like to do some original research dealing with the Envision Center at Purdue University.  This is a holographic 3D imaging devise.  I would first need to convert the images of MRI into a usable Envision Center data source.  I need help getting this started, getting a Purdue University sponsored mentor and the development of a PhD research tract started.  Is there a mechanism to develop this type of new cutting edge spinal biomechanical research?

Thanks for the “short ‘n sweet” information, Dr. Mudd!I am curious if the K08/23 routes will consider individuals with a PhD plus a non-doctoral clinical degree (RD/RN/etc). If not, are there any alternative routes to that may be particularly advantagous for someone with a PhD plus a non-doctoral clinical degree?Thank you for any advice.Jake

@ Jacob Mey,

Both the K08 and K23 require doctoral level clinical degrees. Individuals with a PhD and non-doctoral level clinical degree are eligible to apply to the K01.

@Dr. Thomas S. Brodar,

I recommend searching to identify individuals currently funded to do research similar to your interests. This database provides information on all funded NIH awards. The default is to search only currently active awards. You can restrict your search based on geographical area.

This page last modified April 30, 2019