American Society of Hematology

Making Sense of National Institute of Health (NIH) Funding Opportunities

Published on: July 30, 2012

Navigating the alphabet soup of NIH funding resources is a challenge for the uninitiated. Recognizing this, the NIH has launched a new website with links to resources especially for new investigators. This is a good introduction to the NIH, but you will need to dedicate some time to following the links in order to get a feel for the different grants.

While you are in medical school, graduate school, or during residency, you may decide that you are interested in pursuing a research career. It is very helpful to find a mentor during this stage. Find someone who is actively involved in research and is leading research projects that interest you and establish a relationship with this individual. The first phase in your career development may be mentored. The K series grant mechanisms are available as mentored career development awards.

Later, if you have an idea that you think can lead to funding, you can construct an 'unsolicited grant.' For help writing a grant, see the Career Development Timeline for Second Year MD Trainees on the ASH website. Contact an NIH program official to discuss your plans. Once you have identified your area of interest and your strategy for securing funding you can then send your grant application to the appropriate NIH institute. The institutes that are generally most relevant to hematologists are the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), but you can search the NIH website to see which of the institutes may be most appropriate for your particular idea.

Another way to apply for grants is to respond to a "Request for Application" or "Program Announcement." Request for application (RFA) is an official statement that invites grant or cooperative agreement applications to accomplish a specific program purpose. RFAs indicate the amount of funds set aside for the competition and generally identify a single application receipt date. A program announcement (PA) is an announcement by an NIH institute or center requesting applications in the stated scientific areas. Generally, money is not set aside to pay for them. Some institutes at the NIH have a policy of funding some applications beyond the payline, if the application is in response to a program announcement. PAs are published in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts.

The three main categories of NIH grants are:

1) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) 'T' (training) grants - Institutional grants
These are awarded to institutions that train fellows and residents, and are used to promote the education of future researchers. Although fellows can theoretically compete for K awards, these are designed to support individuals who have completed their training and are ready for faculty positions. Therefore, T grants are the only NIH funds that have traditionally been available to fellows and residents.

2) 'F' (Fellowship) grants - Individual grants
These are awarded to individuals to ensure that diverse pools of well trained researchers are available in the US. The purpose of the F31 award is to promote diversity in health-related research and is for predoctoral individuals. The F32 award, the most popular fellowship, goes to promising postdoctoral fellows, who demonstrate the potential to become independent investigators. The Senior Fellowship Award (F33) is available to Senior Fellows, who might be requesting support during a sabbatical leave.

3) 'K' (Career Development) awards
These are available to enhance the career development and provide protected time for researchers. Most K awards are for those still in the mentored phase of their career; however, some K awards are for newly independent researchers or for those who have established careers and are now looking for protected time to mentor others.

Clinical Investigators
There are a variety of different Career Development awards that individuals with a health-professional doctorate should consider. Most of these awards support individuals after they have completed clinical training and have accepted a faculty position.

  • The Mentored Clinical Scientist Developmental Program Award (K12) is an award to specific institutions and interested candidates should ask the chair of their department if such an award exists.
  • There is a series of individual awards, including the Mentored Clinical Scientist Award (K08), which supports career development experiences for individuals interested in research that is not patient oriented.
  • If you want a career that does include work with patients, consider the Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23).
  • If you have already been trained and want to serve as a mentor to more junior clinicians, try the MidCareer Investigator in Patient-Oriented Research Award (K24).
  • There are other awards that should be examined including the Career Enhancement Award in Stem Cell Research (K18),
  • the Academic Career Award (K07),
  • the Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award (K25), and
  • the Midcareer Investigator Award in Mouse Pathobiology Research (K26).

Information on all of these awards can be found on the K Kiosk of the NIH Office of Extramural Research Web site. Some institutes utilize these mechanisms in different ways than are described here, so it is advised that you also look at the Web sites of the individual institutes to which you may apply.

Basic Scientists
There are at least eight different awards that individuals with a research doctorate should consider. Most of these awards support individuals that have accepted or are ready for a faculty position.

  • There is the Career Transition Award (K22), which provides support during the early years of a new faculty position. This award is used differently by the NIH institutes and centers that participate and interested applicants should carefully review the relevant program announcements.
  • New faculty members that need additional supervised research experience because they have had a career hiatus or they are moving to a substantially new area of research should consider the Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01).
  • Scientists who have recently received independent research support might consider the Independent Scientist Award (K02), which protects at least 75 percent of their effort so that they can focus on the development of their research program.
  • Individuals interested in stem cell research or quantitative methods or mouse pathobiology might consider the K18, K25, or K26.
  • A few of the NIH Institutes offer an award called the Senior Scientist Award (K05), which provides protected time and salary support for more senior, established scientists.
  • Finally, there is the Academic Award (K07) that is used to recruit research faculty into areas where there is a growing need for research and instructional capabilities.

Information on all of these awards can be found on the K Kiosk. As stated in the previous section, some institutes utilize these mechanisms in different ways than are described here so it is advised that you also look at the Web sites of the individual institutes to which you may apply.

K99/R00 - Pathway to Independence Awards
Beginning in the fall of 2006, the NIH will award its first Pathway to Independence Awards (K99/R00). The program features a new opportunity for promising postdoctoral scientists to receive both mentored and independent research support from the same award. NIH will issue between 150 and 200 awards for this program in its initial year, beginning in Fall 2006. The agency expects to issue the same number of awards each of the following five years. The award will work as follows: The initial one-to-two year mentored phase will allow investigators to complete their supervised research work, publish results, and search for an independent research position. A three-year independent phase will allow awardees who secure an assistant professorship, or equivalent position, to establish their own research program and successfully apply for an NIH Investigator-Initiated (R01) grant. This mechanism is offered by all NIH institutes. It is expected that the transition from the mentored phase to the independent phase will be continuous in time.

'R' (research) grants
These are awarded to researchers who have reached complete independence and have their own research program.

Useful NIH Links

back to top