Career Development (K Award) grants: What are they, why should I apply, and how do I get funded?
Christopher Bonafide, MD, MSCE; Patrick Brady, MD, MS; Kavita Parikh, MD, MSHS; Raj Srivastava, MD, MPH, SFHM; Derek Williams, MD, MPH
Pediatric hospital medicine, in its relative infancy, is attracting a cohort of academicians dedicated to advancing the care of hospitalized children. While other pediatric subspecialties have long reserved a significant proportion of fellowship training for research, pediatric hospitalist research has instead developed from the work of scholarly pioneers in the industry.
The need for formal, grant-funded training grows as more pediatric hospitalists pursue careers based in independent research. At Pediatric Hospital Medicine 2017, PHM fellows and faculty alike soaked in the experience of established PHM investigators Dr. Bonafide, Dr. Brady, Dr. Parikh, Dr. Srivastava, and Dr. Williams. Through a series of didactic lectures and small-group interactive sessions, attendees were exposed to the “who, what, and why” of National Institutes of Health Career Development Awards.
More colloquially known as K Awards, NIH Career Development Awards exist to financially support early-career clinical, translational, and basic science investigators through a closely mentored career development and research plan. The result? A mutually beneficial initiative lasting 3-5 years aligning the interests of the early-career investigator, hosting institution, and NIH. The realm of grant funding is confusing and can be intimidating, particularly for early-career investigators in a rapidly growing field of practice. Presenters at this session addressed the stigma of applying for K awards head on.
Who should apply for an NIH Career Development Award?
Competitive applicants for a Career Development Award are ideally interested in embarking on a career dedicated to research of some type, although exactly what that entails can and certainly may change over time.
What does the NIH Career Development Award provide?
The award funds a significant portion of your salary to provide protected time dedicated to your research and career development. Removing this financial barrier allows the investigator to become fully immersed in maturation as an independent investigator. The presenters were quick to caution that applicants (along with department and division chairs) should be aware that the award does not cover your entire salary; early-career investigators truly need dedication from their department and/or division to be successful.
Why apply for an NIH Career Development Award?
Clinical, translational, and basic science research takes time to complete, and the skills needed to be a successful investigator are not intuitive. Rather, they require close mentorship and practice. A career development award organizes and prioritizes an early-career investigator’s approach to obtaining research independence. Applying for an NIH Career Development Award helps identify the applicant’s experiential and knowledge gaps and, more importantly, develops a plan for how these deficits will be addressed over the course of the research project. This formative process ideally allows the early-career investigator to be more competitive in seeking larger grant funding.
Interested in pursuing a career development award? Dr. Bonafide and Dr. Srivastava offered the valuable advice that an applicant’s proposed research is only part of the equation for funding success. Equally important is your ability to identify your weaknesses as they pertain to research (and how you will address these weaknesses) as well as to find your mentorship team. You and your fellow awardees should surround yourselves with mentors who will address specific needs, which, in some circumstances, may require creativity and collaboration to augment the experience gained from others.
Key takeaway for PHM
As we recognize the growing complexities of caring for the hospitalized child, opportunities for clinical, translational, and basic science are expanding rapidly. Embracing the benefits of formalizing your research training early can lead to a successful and satisfying academic career in the long term.
Dr. Morrison is a Pediatric Hospital Medicine Fellow at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, St. Petersburg, Fla.