Putting Together Your Strongest Faculty K01 Application

The purpose of the NINDS Faculty Development Award to Promote Diversity in Neuroscience Research (K01) is to provide junior faculty support and protected time (up to three years) for an intensive, supervised career development experience in neuroscience research. The goal of the NINDS K01 is to diversify the pool of independent neuroscience research investigators and to enhance the probability of success in obtaining independent NIH or other research support. Individuals from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical research are eligible for support under this award if they have doctoral research degrees (Ph.D. or equivalent) and are in the first 3 years of a faculty position at the time of award.

The K01 application should present a complete, consistent, and compelling story of how the proposed research and career development plans will build on past accomplishments to allow the applicant to secure independent research support.

Before You Start Your Application

  1. Define your research interests and professional goals. Explicitly define your area of research interest and professional goals. Your research interest should be specific and you should define a potential research question for the topic of your first R01 (or equivalent). The research topic should clearly build on your previous research experiences, but represent an opportunity to advance your knowledge and skills and establish yourself as an independent scientist.
  2. Outline the techniques, skills, knowledge, and relationships necessary to succeed as a junior faculty member. Describe the scientific and professional skills you will need as an independent researcher. What techniques will your lab use to investigate your area of research interest? What are the skills that you will need to successfully run a lab? How will you integrate into the community of your field and at your institution? What funding will be applied for in the near future? What publications will be generated?
  3. Perform a skills “gap analysis.” What skills from the above description have you already mastered? What skills need to be developed? What are the research strengths you have developed so far and how do they provide a foundation for further progress? Exactly how will this K01 award meet your needs and help you achieve independent funding? Both the career plan and research plan should move you towards your goals.
  4. Define your research plan. How will this research advance the science and your career? How does it build off your existing strengths to provide you with skills, techniques, and data that will let you successfully compete for independent funding? Are your aims hypothesis-driven and independent of each other? What are your contingency plans if the research doesn’t go as planned? How will you ensure that you will be ready to apply for funding in a few years?
  5. Build a career plan that is tailored to your needs. What activities will you perform to develop your professional skills? Research specific training, seminars, and conferences to attend. What skills will you learn from each? Put together a detailed, feasible timeline.
  6. Assess guidance and mentorship needed. Take stock of your needs and goals to identify mentors and advisors who can guide you during this time, both at your institution and outside it. Do they have a history of successfully mentoring junior faculty? What will you learn from each identified mentor; are all your areas of development covered?

Put together your K01 application. Or choose a different award. After assessing your career goals and performing a skills gap analysis, you may find that the K01 is not a good fit. Instead, you may be ready to apply for an R01. Please reach out to NINDS to discuss your options.

The Application

K01 applications are reviewed on five criteria: Candidate; Career Development Plan/Career Goals & Objectives; Research Plan; Mentor(s), Co-Mentor(s), Consultant(s), Collaborator(s); and Environment & Institutional Commitment to the Candidate. Visit the FOA to make sure you address the required review criteria for each section.

Tips for each section are below:

Candidate

  • You must be in a tenure-track or equivalent position (some universities have different systems) at the time of award. If you don’t have the position title now, the reviewers must be convinced that your institution will promote you before the award is received.
  • Take pains to make sure your application presents a consistent and compelling case for your potential to develop a creative, independent research program. Your application, including your biosketch; personal statement; letters of support; mentor statement; and institutional support letter should be harmonious in their presentation of your career goals and potential.
  • Present a coherent picture of how your current skills and expertise were developed through your pre- and postdoctoral research training experience, and how each research experience shaped your current research interests.
  • Demonstrate research productivity. If your publication history is weak, explain any previous gaps and present a specific plan (topics and timeline) for building a sufficient publication record to be competitive for independent funding.
  • Choose references that have current knowledge of your abilities, activities, and goals and can write you a strong, detailed letter.

Career Development Plan

  • Present a specific plan that clearly builds on your existing strengths and weaknesses and explains how each proposed activity is in service of your career goals. You should demonstrate how, once the K01 is complete, you will be fully equipped to secure independent funding.
  • Include both formal training and research components to build scientific expertise and professional skills, e.g., grant-writing, communication, leadership, publishing, and laboratory management. Examples include: technical training, coursework, career development workshops, research seminars, teaching activities, grant opportunities, and scientific conference attendance. Include names of workshops or programs and describe percent effort or hours dedicated to each aspect of training. Provide a timeline for the planned activities.
  • Provide information on the frequency of meetings with mentors (and how frequently the mentors will meet with each other) and advisory committee. Describe how (and how often) your mentors will evaluate your progress.
  • It should be clear why the K01 is the appropriate mechanism—why aren’t you applying for an R01 now?

Research Plan

  • Your proposed research must be relevant to the NINDS mission.
  • Be clear how the research plan enhances your existing research skills and sets you up for a strong R01 (or equivalent) application. Make sure the proposed research is relevant to your stated career objectives, builds on your strengths, and provides you with new skills.
  • The strongest research plans include a clear rationale with hypothesis-driven (i.e., not descriptive) aims that are independent of each other. Clearly articulate the significance of the research in a way that is understandable to non-experts, but don’t overstate the importance.
  • Fully describe your methods and include a detailed analysis plan including power analyses.
  • Include contingency plans if the research doesn’t go as planned. What are the potential pitfalls and alternate approaches? Where will your research program (and your future R01 application) be if your hypothesis is wrong? Provide evidence of long-term viability of the research plan.
  • Describe how you will distinguish your work from that of your current and previous mentors.

Mentoring

  • Your mentor should demonstrate a strong track record in advising junior faculty. Your mentor’s research qualifications and experience should be appropriate for your specific needs. He or she should have current funding for their lab.
  • A mentoring team with complementary and relevant expertise is appropriate. Outline the role of each mentor and provide plans for regular interaction with them. Letters of support from mentor(s) should be strong and explicitly address the review criteria on which you will be evaluated, including your abilities as an independent researcher as well as your strengths and areas needing improvement in your research and career skill set. They should make suggestions about goals and strategies for improvement and discuss how the K01 program will benefit you.
  • Your mentor should include a plan to support your career development and research plans. Mentoring should be appropriate for junior faculty and should focus on enhancing tenure track activities or metrics (i.e., helping you set priorities, navigate institutional expectations, build scientific networks, increase visibility in the institution and professional communities, and other practices that are relevant to productivity and advancement).
  • Ensure your mentor(s), co-mentor(s), consultant(s), and collaborator(s) have read your application and their statements are consistent with what you have written.

Environment and Commitment

  • The institutional commitment letter from the dean or chair should describe how they strongly support your development as an independent scientist, including:
    • A statement that you are in an independent, tenure-track (or equivalent) position or guarantee that you will have one before the start of the award (including start date).
    • A statement that institutional commitment to you isn’t contingent upon receipt of this grant.
    • An explicit commitment to a minimum of 75% protected time for research, with specific detail of how this was calculated and a detailed description of your position, responsibilities, and duties during unprotected time.
    • The provisions for ensuring that you will not bear, or be asked to bear, an inappropriate load of administrative duties.
    • Details of adequate funds and space (e.g., in square feet) for the research program described.
    • The assurance that you may consult directly with the institutional official(s) responsible for committing the resources for the career development experience.
  • The certification letter should describe how you qualify as an underrepresented researcher and how your appointment will expand the pool of underrepresented individuals within science nationally by reference to NSF national data. The certification letter may also address how your appointment would further diversity in the neuroscience workforce.
  • Describe research facilities and educational opportunities, including collaborating faculty.
  • Describe any unique features of the scientific environment that benefit the proposed research; e.g., useful collaborative arrangements or subject populations. 

Other Suggestions

  • Be specific in all aspects of your application. Don’t leave anything vague and don’t assume reviewers will connect the dots on their own (e.g., if you are proposing to learn a certain technique, then you must explain how that technique is necessary to achieve your career goals).
  • Avoid typos and grammatical errors. Have a colleague read the entire application for errors.
  • Ask a third party to evaluate whether you have addressed all of the required review criteria.