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The Impact of Individual Mentored Career Development (K) Awards on the Research Trajectories of Early-Career Scientists

Nikaj, Silda, PhD; Lund, P. Kay, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002543
Research Report: PDF Only

Purpose: This analysis examined the role of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) individual Mentored Career Development Award (K01, K08, K23) on launching and sustaining independent research careers for early-career scientists and investigated the effects of these awards during and after the doubling of the NIH budget.

Method: The authors used grants data from the NIH covering the period 1990 through 2016 and compared success in receipt of R01 equivalent awards (R01 Eq.) and Research Project Grants (RPGs) for K awardees and K applicants who did not receive funding. The analysis combined regression discontinuity design with coarsened exact matching and regression.

Results: Overall, receipt of K award was associated with a 24.1% increase in likelihood of first independent NIH award (P < .01) and a larger number of R01 Eq. and RPG awards. After accounting for first major independent awards, K awards were uncorrelated with receiving second major independent research awards. Comparing different funding periods, K01 awards were predictive of subsequent R01 Eq. and RPG awards after but not during the NIH doubling, K08 awards were predictive only during the NIH doubling, and K23 awards were predictive during both periods.

Conclusions: Receipt of Mentored Career Development Awards was linked to increased likelihood that early-career scientists successfully transitioned to an independent research career. These findings indicate that extending funding to additional K award applicants with meritorious scores could significantly strengthen the pipeline of biomedical researchers. In addition, enhancing K awards may be relevant to sustaining research careers for clinician scientists.

Written work prepared by employees of the Federal Government as part of their official duties is, under the U.S. Copyright Act, a “work of the United States Government” for which copyright protection under Title 17 of the United States Code is not available. As such, copyright does not extend to the contributions of employees of the Federal Government.

S. Nikaj is a labor economist, Division of Biomedical Research Workforce, Office of Extramural Research, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

P.K. Lund is director, Division of Biomedical Research Workforce, Office of Extramural Research, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at

Acknowledgements: The authors wish to thank the anonymous referees, the editor of Academic Medicine, and the editorial office for reviewing and assisting in the preparation of the manuscript. The authors thank Jennifer Sutton, Shoshana Kahana, Lisa Evans, Henry Khachaturian, Walter T. Schaffer, Marguerite Matthews, and Kristen Kirkham within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Division of Biomedical Research Workforce; participants of the Data Policy Seminar in the Office of the Director/Office of Extramural Research; the Evaluation Training Advisory Committee; and participants of the 2017 American Evaluation Association. The authors would like to thank Rachael Walsh, Lindsey Scott, Natalie Graham, Katie Patel, Robert Moore, Deepshikha Roychowdhury, Katrina Pearson, Paul Jordan, Cassandra Spears, Charles Wu, Joy Wang, and Jamie Doyle of the Statistical Analysis and Reporting Branch for assistance on data related questions. The authors would like to thank Mike Lauer for providing comments. The authors wish to thank Kendra Williams for assistance with data visuals as well as Julie Mason, Ming Lei, Jessica Faupel-Badger, Erica Ginsburg, Yvette Seger, Leo DiJoseph, Joshua Schnell, and Jonathan Wiest for the logic model. Any omissions or errors are the authors.

Funding/Support: The research was performed as part of the authors’ regular work duties. All authors are employees of the NIH.

Ethical approval: The data consist of administrative records. Participants consent to the NIH using data for evaluating the effectiveness of programs.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the National Institutes of Health or the Unites States Department of Health and Human Services.

Previous presentations: The authors have presented data at the Data Policy Seminar (NIH: April 19, 2018, and October 19, 2017), American Evaluation Association (November 10, 2017), and Evaluation Training Advisory Subcommittee (March 5, 2018).

Correspondence should be addressed to Silda Nikaj, Division of Biomedical Research Workforce, Office of Extramural Research, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Rockledge One, Rm 3529, Bethesda, MD 20892; telephone: (301) 594-4786, email:

© 2018 by the Association of American Medical Colleges