Pathway to Independence Awards (K99/R00)

The NIH Pathway to Independence Award is an innovative program that provides an opportunity for promising postdoctoral scientists to receive both mentored and independent research support from the same award. The award provides up to 5 years of support consisting of two phases. The initial, or mentored phase (K99) provides 1-2 years of mentored support to highly promising, postdoctoral research scientists. The K99 phase is followed by up to 3 years of independent support (R00) contingent on the scientist securing an independent research position. Award recipients are expected to compete successfully for independent NIH R01 support during the career transition award (R00) period. The Pathway to Independence Award is limited to postdoctoral trainees who propose research relevant to the mission of one or more of the participating NIH institutes and centers.

NIGMS uses the Pathway to Independence Award for individuals seeking to complete needed, mentored career development and transition in a timely manner to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions. The K99/R00 award is designed for individuals with significant research experience, but who require at least 12 months of mentored research training and career development (K99 phase) to become a competitive candidate for an independent faculty position. This typically means acquiring and gaining skills with new research tools or approaches.

The program announcement makes very clear in the Funding Opportunity Description that:
“Individuals must be in mentored, postdoctoral training positions to be eligible to apply to the K99/R00 program. If an applicant achieves independence (any faculty or non-mentored research position) before a K99 award is made, neither the K99, nor the R00 award, will be made.”

This is restated under the eligibility section of the FOA.
“If an applicant achieves independence (i.e., any faculty or non-mentored research position) before a K99 award is issued, neither the K99 award, nor the R00 award, will be considered for funding.”

The K99 is not intended to extend time in the postdoctoral lab while an individual is on the job market. Indeed, individuals who are testing the academic job market are not the intended candidates for the grant mechanism. A decision to apply for independent, tenure track faculty positions implies that the applicant (and her/his mentor) feels prepared to launch an independent career. An invitation to interview for a faculty position also indicates that a search committees considers an individual as a competitive candidate who is prepared for independence. Therefore, applicants who have submitted applications and/or received invitations to interview for tenure track (or equivalent) faculty positions will not be considered further for this grant by NIGMS.

For more information on the Pathway to Independence Award, go to the NIH Pathway to Independence Award Web page, or see the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts​ (PA-1​9-130​​). This Frequently Asked Questions page may also be useful.

NIGMS encourages postdoctoral trainees to apply for this award by their third year of postdoctoral training. Awardees must complete at least 1 full year of mentored training under the K99 phase before transitioning to the R00 phase. In making funding decisions, NIGMS will give high priority to applications directly related to the missions of the NIGMS divisions and with high training potential. New K99 awards are generally made from April through September. Before preparing an application, each investigator is encouraged to contact NIGMS staff to discuss the potential application. In some cases, the applicant may discover that there are better options for his/her specific situation.

Applicant Eligibility
Eligible principal investigators include outstanding postdoctoral candidates who have terminal clinical or research doctorates including the Ph.D., M.D., D.O., Pharm.D., D.C., N.D., D.D.S., D.V.M., Sc.D., D.N.S. or equivalent and no more than 4 years of postdoctoral research training at the time of initial application or resubmission(s). NIGMS will not  use this award to support individuals who already have faculty appointments--including assistant professor, clinical assistant professor, research assistant professor and instructor--or their equivalent in academia, industry or elsewhere. A candidate for this award may not simultaneously submit or have an application pending for any other NIH career award (e.g., K01, K07, K08, K22, K23, K25) or any PHS award that duplicates any of the provisions of the Pathway to Independence Award. Ineligible individuals include current and former principal investigators on NIH research project grants, comparable individual career development awards (e.g., K01, K07, K08, K23, K25) or equivalent non-PHS peer-reviewed research grants over $100,000 direct costs per year, or project leaders on subprojects of program project (P01) or center (P50) grants.

Exceptions to the Four-Year Limit
In unusual circumstances, exceptions to the 4-year limit may be approved. An exception may be considered when a significant change in fields of study has occurred, such as moving from physical science to life science research, or when a significant break in training has occurred as a result of family responsibilities. Such unique exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Investigators are encouraged to contact NIGMS staff to discuss issues regarding eligibility prior to applying. In a cover letter with the application, the investigator should include an explanation of the special circumstances of his/her career training that warrants consideration for an exception. The applicant should provide similar information in the "career development" section of the application.

Mentored Phase (K99) Costs
The total cost per year for the initial mentored phase may not exceed $100,000 at either an NIH intramural or an extramural sponsoring institution site. Salary is limited to $60,000 plus applicable fringe benefits and up to $20,000 for research support costs for a 12-month budget period. Candidates (intramural or extramural) are required to commit a minimum of 75 percent of full-time professional effort to pursue their career development and research experience during the mentored phase.

Independent Phase (R00) Costs
The total cost for the independent investigator phase may not exceed $249,000 per year. This amount includes salary, fringe benefits, research support allowance and applicable facilities and administrative costs.

Activating the Independent Scientist Phase (R00)
The candidate must receive approval in writing from the NIH awarding component and must be accepted by an extramural institution in a tenure-track, full-time assistant professor (or equivalent) position in order to activate the extramural support phase. The extramural institution will submit an application on behalf of the candidate using the PHS 398. The noncompeting application must include a letter from the department or division chairman describing the institution's commitment to the candidate and plans for his or her career development. The application submitted by the awardee and the extramural institution will be evaluated by extramural program staff of the awarding component for completeness and responsiveness to the program. Transition from the mentored phase to the independent phase is intended to be continuous in time.

Funding Decisions

In making funding decisions, NIGMS will give high priority to applications directly related to the missions of its divisions.

Contact the following NIGMS staff members for more information:

Paula Flicker, Ph.D.
Division of Biophysics, Biomedical Technology and Computational Biosciences
Biographical Sketch

Daniel Janes, Ph.D.
Division of Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
Biographical Sketch

Oleg Barski, Ph.D.
Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry
Biographical Sketch

Michael Sesma, Ph.D.
Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity​
Biographical Sketch​​