NIH Career Development (“K”) Awards provide support for individuals who have demonstrated independent research accomplishments and need additional experience to establish or sustain an independent research program. The NIH offers two (2) types of “K” awards – mentored “K” awards and unmentored “K” awards. The following table illustrates the key differences between these funding mechanisms. Not sure where to get started? The NIH’s center for Research Training and Career Development has an interactive tool that matches you with potential career awards based on your career level. 

Mentored "K"s vs Unmentored "K"s

 Mentored "K" AwardsUnmentored "K" Awards
FocusPrepare junior faculty for independent research careers by providing a sustained period of intensive mentored research training and tailored career development activities.Provide independent investigators a period of protected time for an intensive research focus that will position them to make significant contributions to their field.
Award MechanismsK01, K07-developmental, K08, K22, K23, K25, K99/R00

K02, K05, K18, K24, K26
Level of EffortMost require 75% full-time effort
(9 person months)
Most require 25-50% full-time effort (3-6 person months)
Residual TimeBalance of time (25% full-time effort) can be teaching, admin, or clinical services. However, all activities must be relevant to the awardMust consist of responsibilities and activities that help ensure career progression
Salary Support (approx.)NIH's potential salary contribution equates to 75% of the PI's base salary, but cannot exceed the legislatively mandated salary cap. Here are some sample calculations based on the NIH salary cap of $187,000, which became effective January 8, 2017:

Scenario 1:
Institutional base salary = $300,000
$300,000 x 75% = $225,000
NIH contribution = $187,000

Scenario 2:
Institutional base salary = $100,000
$100,000 x 75% = $75,000
NIH contribution = $75,000

Verify salary support by contacting the participating IC

Info on NIH Salary Caps
Varies by Institute (up to the NIH salary cap).

Verify salary support by contacting the participating IC
Research Support
Generally ranges from $20,000 - $50,000 (up to the NIH cap)

Varies by participating IC
Generally ranges from $20,000 - $50,000 (up to the NIH cap)

Varies by participating IC
Salary SupplementationPermitted, but must be non-federal dollarsPermitted from federal sources. However, total salary derived from all federal sources cannot exceed the maximum legislated salary rate and the total percent effort cannot exceed 100%
Award Period
(general range, can vary by IC)
3 to 5 years

Special Note: Many NIH Institutes place a cap on the years of cumulative support an applicant can receive from an institutional and mentored K (e.g., KL2 plus the K08).
3 to 5 years
Renewals Allowed?NoYes (limited basis)
Special RequirementsTo be eligible for most mentored "K" awards, the candidate may not have served as a PD/PI on a research project grant (R01), program project grant (P01), or center grant (P50) or have served as a PD/PI for a sub-project of a P01, P50, or equivalent.