The following information is sent to study section members prior to review of NINDS K24s. It is not a replacement of any other information contained in the FOA or elsewhere. It is provided for review clarification. For any questions, please contact the Director, NINDS Office of Training, Career Development and Workforce Diversity.
The K24 has two components: a mentoring component and a research component. The mentoring component is most important, but the research component also has an important function.
- The intent for the NINDS K24 is for applicants to serve as a departmental (or somewhat wider) resource. Applicants can define their mentorship (cohort characteristics, activities, goals, etc.) however they want, but the primary intention for the K24 is to help clinician-scientists transition to the next level in research and funding (residents/fellows to Ks, Ks to Rs, etc.). The goal is NOT for K24 recipients to be merely mentoring people in their own research area, unless this constitutes an exceptionally large and diverse population. The need is for mentorship, not scientific expertise or science-specific mentoring.
- Applicants must suggest metrics by which their mentoring will be evaluated. Clearly, if they propose to mentor 2 people for 50% of their salary, that’s inappropriate, and if they propose to mentor 100, that’s unrealistic. It is up to the applicant to propose an appropriate, realistic pool of people that they will mentor and to describe what their mentorship is intended to accomplish with this pool. It is up to the reviewers to determine whether the proposal, in terms of numbers, pool characteristic(s) and accomplishments, is appropriate for the award and the effort.
- THE K24 IS NOT provided to help applicants improve their mentoring. Reviewers should NOT find it to be a negative if the applicant hasn’t proposed ways to improve his/her mentoring, or hasn’t published about mentoring. In fact, applicants should only obtain a K24 if they are already excellent mentors (and can demonstrate it). NINDS wants to support outstanding clinician researchers, with vigorous research programs, to mentor, not to learn how to mentor.
- Reviewers must be careful when thinking about effort and the value of the K24. The K24 is not there to support people for work that is supported by other means or other institutes. The value should be specifically for the NINDS, or closely related, mission. For example, a valuable justification WOULD NOT be that the applicant is heavily involved in an MSTP, T32 or CTSA program. These are all important endeavors, and are not to be discounted, but these sorts of activities are not a reason to provide an NINDS K24. In contrast, already substantial involvement with residents and fellows, for example, via the NINDS R25 for residents/fellows program, or junior faculty, should be viewed as a positive, not a detraction; the K24 could make it easier to spend more time with the residents, fellows or junior faculty. The fact that applicants already spend a lot of time mentoring outside of their own research environment should not be held against them. In most cases, they are doing this despite pressure to be involved in other activities. The K24 will provide dedicated protected time to support outstanding clinician scientists to mentor, and will relieve awardees of non-mentoring pressures. An issue reviewers may wish to consider is whether the mentoring is already considered part of the applicant’s job description, so that the expectation is that they’d be doing this large scale mentoring without the K24. In this case, the K24 would not be warranted.
- Reviewers should pay attention to what is being offered and the salary that’s being requested. 50% effort is 2.5 days per week. Will the applicant spend 2.5 full days per week on what they’re proposing for mentoring and a $50,000 per year small research project? One can do a lot of mentoring in 2.5 days! Of the salary time requested, how much of their time will they spend devoted to the research project? How much time will the mentoring they’ve proposed require? Is the support request appropriate for the scale of the proposed activities? And again, what will be the outcome of the mentoring. If there’s no concrete, beneficial outcome as it relates to the NINDS mission, then there has been no value to the K24 support. The primary value should not rest on the research project.
- The research plan is an important component of the K24, but is not connected, necessarily, to the mentoring. The mentoring is a departmental function, and cannot be limited to the applicant’s research program or, except in unusual circumstances, area. The K24 award provides $50,000 direct costs not associated with the applicant’s salary. The intent is for the applicant to propose a small, or contained, or pilot study that will extend or expand their on-going research, or to start or help them proceed in a new direction. The research proposed cannot just be more of the same of what they are already funded for. Little preliminary data is necessary, and it should not be evaluated like an R01 or even an R21. A very high premium should be placed on the significance of the proposed work and whether the applicant makes a good case for doing the work. The intent is to expand significantly or launch something new. Whether the applicant has long-term experience in the proposed research area is not the important question. Rather, reviewers should evaluate whether the research is important, and whether the applicant is likely to succeed in the research given the proposal and his/her scientific and/or clinical expertise. Again, the intent is to provide $50,000 to do something important that they wouldn’t otherwise have the financial support or time for. It must be kept in mind that it is just $50,000, so will not support a full scale research project. It’s a pilot, or expansion. So the review should focus primarily on significance and potential impact, as long as the proposed project is considered feasible.