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Writing a K99 application is an involved process with lots of documentation beyond the research plan. Moreover, each document has a page limit, which if exceeded can lead to rejection of the application. Briefly, the list of documents that make up the application includes:

  1. Cover letter (1 page). The purpose of the signed cover letter is to inform the NIH of your intention to submit the application for review and consideration. Effort level: Easy
  2. Project summary (1 page). Describe the research project and the training plan in approximately 30 lines or less. Effort level: Easy
  3. Project narrative (2-3 sentences). Describe the project in couple of sentences so that the general public can understand the significance of this research. Effort level: Easy
  4. Facilities and other resources (No limit, but generally 2-4 pages). Describe the list of institutional resources available to conduct the research (e.g., computing facilities, imaging facilities etc..). If your PI already has grants, you can repurpose his/her documentation for your application. If not, this will require a little bit of work. However, you cannot skimp on this as Institutional environment is one of the 5 factors that your application will be evaluated on. Effort level: Easy.
  5. Major Equipment (1 page). Describe the list of equipment and resources available in the PI’s lab (e.g., lab & office space, lab equipment etc.,) for your use. Effort level: Easy.
  6. Candidate Biosketch (5 pages). This is similar to your CV. Even so, make sure, you are using the NIH approved template. Your candidacy evaluation will entail quality and quantity of publications, current & past funding, research awards etc. I did not have any past funding to list. On the other hand, I had won a young investigator award and my publication count was 14 at the time of submission. Effort level: Easy.
  7. Budget & Budget Justification (1-2 pages). If your university has a grants administration office, they should be able to help you with the budget, which typically includes: 100% salary, up to $25K in research funding, and 8% indirect costs. If your PI has grants you should be able to repurpose the justification document for your needs. If not, just list your likely expenses (e.g., key personnel, materials and supplies, travel costs, publication costs etc..). Effort level: Easy.
  8. Candidate Background and Training Plan (3-4 pages). Think of this as your personal statement. Briefly describe your research and education background, career goals and objectives (short term and long term), career development and training activities planned during the award period (proposed coursework, lab training, mentoring, education, 5 year timeline of milestones etc.). Needless to say, this will be a key component that your application will be evaluated on. You should plan on spending considerable time working on this document. Perhaps, as much as on your research plan. Effort level: Difficult.
  9. Specific Aims (1 page). This page summarizes your research plan and is rightly or wrongly, the determining factor on how well your research plan will be received and evaluated. The specific aims page should generally include: a paragraph on research motivation, a paragraph on your central hypothesis and findings from preliminary studies you may already have conducted, 2-3 specific aims broken up into K99 and R00 phases, and finally a short paragraph on benefits of completing this study to you and the scientific field at large. If your specific aims are not compelling enough you will be fighting an uphill battle to get funded. Effort level: Difficult.
  10. Research Plan & Bibliography (8-9 pages). Once you have your specific aims page more or less finalized you can begin work on your research plan. The key components of the research plan include: Significance, Innovation, Feasibility and Preliminary results, Research Approach, Scientific Rigor, and Long term outlook. The bibliography is not included in the page constraint and can be as long as needed. I recommend including lots of figures (8-10) to help with the narration. The reviewers are likely to appreciate it more than the text. Effort level: Difficult
  11. Training in Responsible Conduct of Research (1 page). Describe courses, boot camps, and seminars you will attend to complete requirements for responsible conduct of research. Your university should offer such courses, which you can list here. Effort level: Easy.
  12. Description of Institutional Environment (1 page). List the department faculty members who can serve as intellectual resources if needed. You can also include weekly/monthly seminars, journal clubs that you attend to help foster your education. Effort level: Easy.
  13. Letter of Institutional Commitment (1 page). A letter from the department chair supporting your application and hopefully also providing a subtle recommendation of your candidacy. Effort level: Easy.
  14. Resource Sharing Plan (1 page). Describe the data sharing plan including data collected from experiments, custom software etc. as needed. You can also include information conferences you will attend to present your data and submit to peer review. Effort level: Easy.
  15. Authentication of Key Biological and/or Chemical Resources (1 page). If you conduct wet lab experiments and are planning on using antibodies, cell lines etc., you should list the vendors and specific anti-body products you will be using. This will enable other labs to replicate your data in the future. Documentation of general reagents that is widely used is not needed. Effort level: Easy.
  16. Human Subject Research or Vertebrate Animals Research (1-2 pages). If you are planning on conducting clinical studies you will need to include details on sex, age, race as well as plan to maintain patient privacy. You will also need to provide an approved IRB protocol at a later date, if your application is approved. Alternately, if you are planning on conducting animal studies, you will need to include justification on number of animals used and also furnish information on approved IACUC protocol. Effort level: Easy to Medium, depending on whether you need to secure an IRB and/or IACUC approval.
  17. Mentor Statement (6 pages). Your PI will be describe his/her plan in support of your research and training plan. He/she will also ideally praise your skills and accomplishments and help your cause. Your mentors cannot serve as references, so this document provides an opportunity for them to put in a good word on your behalf. You can have more than 1 mentor, but the page constraints still remain. In my case, my PI served as the primary mentor and wrote a 4 page statement. I had 2 other co-mentors and they each wrote a 1 page statement. Your mentor statements will play a key role in how your application is evaluated. On a side note, all the listed mentors will need to provide a biosketch (5 page limit) similar to yours. Effort level: Easy to Medium
  18. Collaborators and Consultants (6 pages / optional). If you have collaborators or consultants, you will need a letter of support from them. In addition, each collaborator will also need to provide a biosketch. However, consultants are not required to provide one. Effort level: Easy to Medium
  19. Reference Letters (3-5 references). NIH has a template that you should send to your referees. The recommendation letter should include information such as candidate’s name, candidate era commons id, FOA number, and a 2 page description of your candidacy including potential to become an independent scientist. It goes without saying, but your reference letters will play a vital role in your candidacy evaluation. Effort level: Easy to Medium

Given the amount of documentation required to submit and K99/R00 application, it is highly recommended that you start the process at least 6 months before the deadline. If you already have the specific aims page written up and preliminary data to go with it, then obviously you are ahead of the game. Even then, I’d set aside 2-3 months to get everything lined up and ready to go.

My story: winning a K99/r00 award – Part i (May 17,2020)

When I started the process of writing a K99/R00 grant application back in July 2018, I believed that I had enough grant writing experience. I had applied for an AHA postdoctoral fellowship three different times but was not funded. I had written an R21 under the guidance of my postdoctoral PI which went through a resubmission but still missed the threshold for funding. The remnants of that R21 was eventually packaged into a more expansive R01 grant, which again went through a resubmission. But this time around it received a fundable score and my PI secured a $3 million dollar grant for the lab. All of that experience taught me three things: 1) Grant writing is a skill just like everything else. The more you work on it, the better your writing skills get. 2) Getting a grant funded is not easy. The typical batting average is .100, which means you will likely end up writing 10 grants before one is funded. 3) Getting a grant is a big deal. You should celebrate when you get one :).

The requirements for a K99/R00 are different than for an R grant, where the focus is primarily on the merits of the research plan. However, a K99/R00 grant, also called the “Kangaroo”, is a training award to help facilitate a timely transition of postdoctoral trainees to independent, tenure track faculty positions and provide NIH research support during the transition. In other words, the K99/R00 gives you 1-2 years of funding as a postdoc (K99 phase) and 3 years of funding as a PI (R00 phase), assuming you get a tenure track faculty job. In effect, you are getting $1 million dollars over 5 years to setup your own independent lab. Getting this grant is a big deal and can be a great launching point for your research career, which also makes this a highly competitive grant to get.

The eligibility criteria for a K99/R00 is a little tricky. You cannot apply, if you are more than 4 years past your terminal (Ph.D) degree. I graduated with my Ph.D. in August 2015, so my eligibility window to apply was until August 2019. The Grant application submission has only 3 cycles through the year: Feb/March; June/July, Oct/Nov. So in effect, my eligibility window would expire in June/July of 2019. The other thing to note is that they only allow for one resubmission. Moreover, if you are planning to resubmit, the 4 year window still applies. I applied in Oct 2018 but did not get funded. I submitted a revised application in July 2019, which got funded. If I had applied in Feb 2019, I would not have the opportunity to reapply until Oct 2019, but by then, my window of eligibility would have expired. Given my grant writing success rate, I knew I would have to submit a revised application and so I planned accordingly. There are obviously candidates who apply once and get funded. Alternately, there are others who are unable to get funded even after a resubmission. Even so, I would strongly recommend that you plan for a resubmission, if your timeline and eligibility window makes that option available to you.