NIH Career Development Awards, commonly referred to as K-awards, are intended to provide support and protected time for faculty to develop research skills and to ultimately ensure a pool of highly trained research scientists. There are three main types of awards:
  • Mentored Awards to individuals - Primarily for researchers at the beginning of their careers; provide a transition to full independent research awards.
  • Independent or Non-Mentored K Awards  - Designed to provide protected research time for mid career or even senior faculty to enhance their research potential.
  • Institutional Awards - Intended to provide mentored experiences for multiple individuals.
The specific terms of a K-award vary among Institutes and careful attention should be given to the requirements of each award (see K Kiosk - Information about NIH Career Development Awards).

Effort on K Awards

K Awards require the candidate to maintain a minimum level of effort. The PI, administrator and chair must discuss and agree to the level of committed effort required by the K Award. Once an award is accepted, a commitment has been made to the sponsor and the faculty member must be able to follow through on that commitment.

  • Mentored K-awards require a high level of commitment, normally 75% of the researcher’s total effort, the equivalent of 9 person months of professional activity. Salary support funding is limited to $75,000 but may be funded at a higher level depending on the NIH Institute. This level of funding should be confirmed with the Institute.
  •  Because salary funding is limited, cost share may be necessary to satisfy the 75% effort requirement.
  • The effort commitment on a K-award may not be reduced by any amount without prior sponsor approval.
  • A K-award candidate's remaining effort (typically 25%) may be devoted to other University activities; however, most K Award programs require that all supplemental pursuits (clinical, teaching or other research pursuits beyond the K Award required percentage of effort) be consistent with the objectives of the K-award  - development into an independent researcher. (Determining full time professional effort).
  • For mentored awards, salary supplementation cannot be from federal funds unless specifically authorized in advance by the awarding Institute.
  • Normally K Awards are granted for three, four or five years. There may be no-cost time extensions, however, unless negotiated with the sponsor at the time of the request, all terms and conditions of the original award apply - i.e. the negotiated level of effort is required.


The faculty member must have a fulltime appointment at the University. In addition,
  • The minimum percentage of the applicant’s commitment required for the proposed K-award experience must be covered by the appointment.
  • Responsibilities outside of the UW appointment are unrestricted, however, cannot be used to meet any minimum effort requirement.

Proposal Preparation

The goal of K Awards is to encourage development of the applicant into an independent researcher and it is expected that recipients apply for additional sponsored projects. It is, therefore, allowable to use K Award funds to support effort in preparing proposals.

Complementary Effort on Other Research Grants

In certain circumstances, the recipient may be working on another grant while the K Award supports the employee's salary. In this case, it is expected that the goals of the second grant support the goals of the K Award. In cases where there is scientific overlap, the effort on the second grant is included in the K Award effort.

Salary Cap

When the faculty member’s paid institutional base salary (IBS) exceeds the mandated NIH salary cap, "cap" cost sharing is required. Cap cost sharing should be documented separately from any other required  K Award cost sharing  and is clearly marked as (C), cap cost sharing, on the FEC. This salary cap cost share is, however,  included in the 75% effort required by the K-award.

Clinical Effort

If clinical activity is related to the goals of the K-award, the faculty member may include that portion of his/her effort toward the fulfillment of the required 75% effort. The intention to use clinical activity to satisfy part of the K-award effort should be noted in the proposal.

Concurrent Support on Mentored Awards

In support of providing a transition to full independent research, mentored K Awards encourage faculty members to apply for other grants and allow the PI to reduce effort on the K Award during the last two years of the grant under the following circumstances:
  • When named Principal Investigator on a competing NIH research project grant (R01, R03, R15, R21, R34, etc.).
  •  When the recipient becomes the sub-project director on a competing multi-component research or center grant, or a cooperative agreement.
  • Recipients are allowed to reduce their effort on the K Award to no less than 6 person months or 50% and must remain in a mentoring relationship.
  • Total research effort must remain at 75%.
  • Written prior approval is required for reduction of effort. Do NOT
    • Include the reduction in the progress report only.
    • Reduce effort independently.
    • Contact NIH directly.

 Note: The request must include a concurrence signature by the UW Office of Sponsored Programs.


Candidates for K Awards may hold dual appointments with the University and the VA. It is essential that they discuss their eligibility with their Chair beforehand to ensure sufficient time is available in the UW appointment.
  • The minimum percentage of the K-award (typically 75%) must be covered by the appointment at the University. This appointment is assumed to be, at a minimum, no less than 35 hours.
  • Faculty may not use any of their VA time to satisfy the requirements of the K-award, even with VA approval.
  • The VA appointment should be no more than, or be reduced to no more than, 2/8ths upon receipt of the K-award.
  • Up to 5/8ths may be permitted with Chair and SOM Dean’s Office approval.

When a faculty member has an appointment at the VA and is included on a UW proposal, he/she must disclose the VA appointment and salary in the narrative of the proposal's budget justification.