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NIH Pathway to Independence (PI) Award (K99/R00): NIGMS Guidelines for Reviewers

Purpose and Description of the Award

The Pathway to Independence Award program provides an opportunity for outstanding new investigators to obtain two forms of support (K99 and R00) from a single NIH award. The candidate must propose a research project that will be pursued during the K99 phase and transition into an independent project during the R00 phase of the award.  The candidate and mentor(s) together will be responsible for all aspects of the mentored (K99 phase) career development and research program. This initial phase of mentored support (K99) will allow the candidate 1-2 additional years to obtain additional training, complete research, publish results, and bridge to an independent research position.  

Following the mentored phase, the individual may request up to 3 years of support to conduct research as an independent scientist at an extramural sponsoring institution/organization to which the individual has been recruited, been offered and has accepted a tenure-track, full-time assistant professor position (or equivalent).  This support is to allow the individual to continue to work toward establishing his/her own independent research program and prepare an application for regular research grant support (R01).  Support for the independent phase, however, is not automatic and is contingent upon being accepted by an appropriate extramural institution and the successful NIH programmatic review of the individual’s mentored phase of the award.

Because the focus is on achieving independence as a researcher, reviewers should consider this mechanism as a career development award rather than an independent research project.

Points of Special Emphasis:

1.  These are career development awards.  Please consider all review criteria, not just the research plans.

2.  The applicant should demonstrate the need for additional mentoring, i.e., both phases of this award should be well justified and the plans for a transition to independence should be clear.

3.  Phase 1 (the mentored phase) should lead logically and convincingly to Phase 2 (the independent phase).

A Note on Eligibility

Applicant eligibility will be determined by NIH staff before applications are sent out for review.  If a reviewer has questions about the eligibility of an applicant, these questions should be communicated in an administrative note, but must not be considered when evaluating the merit of the application.

Review Criteria

  • Potential to carry out independent research, based on the postdoctoral candidate's experience level and research training background leading up to the current application;
  • Potential to become an outstanding successful independent investigator who will contribute significantly to a chosen health-related research field;
  • Evidence of the candidate’s research productivity, including quality of peer-reviewed scientific publications;
  • The overall quality of the candidate's pre- and postdoctoral research training experience including expertise gained at the current stage of his/her career;
  • Evidence of the candidate’s research creativity;
  • Letters of reference from well-established scientists that address the above areas and any other evidence that the candidate has a high potential for becoming an independent investigator;
  • Mentor’s (sponsor’s) statement and statement from the institutional training grant director (if applicable).
Career Development Plan
  • Appropriateness of the career development plan and the likelihood that the award will contribute substantially to the scientific development of the candidate.
  • Appropriateness of the content and duration of the proposed didactic and research components of the award.
  • The consistency of the career development plan with the candidate’s prior research experience and current research career goals.
  • For individuals currently supported in research training programs, appropriateness of the current training and how such training is preparing the candidate for continued support leading to independent career status.
  • Adequacy of plans for evaluation of the mentored awardee’s progress to determine suitability for transition to the independent phase of the award.
  • Appropriateness of the timeline planned for the transition to the independent phase of the award.
Research Plan
  • Scientific and technical merit of the research question design and methodology.
  • A sound research project that is consistent with the candidate’s stage of research development and as a vehicle for developing the research skills described in the career development plan.
  • Appropriateness of the proposed specific aims for the mentored phase of research and evidence of long-term viability of the proposed research at the subsequent independent scientist phase.
  • A description of the planned mentored phase research program, followed by a description of the planned independent phase research project.
  • Potential of the proposed research to contribute significantly to the research and scientific literature associated with the mission of the NIH awarding component
  • Significance of the proposed research.
  • Approach to the proposed research.
  • Innovation and creativity of the proposed research, i.e., do the plans develop or employ novel concepts, approaches or methodologies, tools, or technologies for the specific area of research?
  • Appropriateness of the mentor’s research qualifications, scientific stature, experience and mentoring track record for the applicant’s career development needs.
  • Adequacy and extent of proposed supervision that will occur during the mentored phase period of support, and the commitment of the mentor to the applicant’s continued career development;
  • Evidence of mentor’s consultations and collaborations with sponsoring institution (intramural NIH or extramural institution) ensuring commitment to the candidate.
  • Appropriateness of mentor’s support of the candidate’s efforts to transition to independence and support of the proposed career development and research plans.
  • Appropriateness of the mentor’s description of the elements of the research training plan and career development activities, including formal course work.
Environment and Institutional Commitment to the Candidate
  • Adequacy of research facilities and the availability of appropriate educational opportunities, including collaborating faculty, when necessary.
  • Clear commitment of the sponsoring institution to ensure that the required effort of the candidate will be devoted directly to the research training, career development, and research activities described in the proposed career development and research plans.
  • Strength of the institutional commitment to fostering the career development of the candidate;
  • Unique features of the scientific environment that benefit the proposed research; e.g., useful collaborative arrangements or subject populations
  • Quality and relevance of the environment for scientific and professional development of the candidate.
Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research
  • Appropriateness and adequacy of training in the responsible conduct of research.
Resubmission Applications (formerly “revised/amended” applications)
  • Are the responses to comments from the previous scientific review group adequate?
  • Are the improvements in the resubmission application appropriate?
Protection of Human Subjects from Research Risk
  • The involvement of human subjects and protections from research risk relating to their participation in the proposed research will be assessed.
Inclusion of Women, Minorities and Children in Research
  • The adequacy of plans to include subjects from both genders, all racial and ethnic groups (and subgroups), and children as appropriate for the scientific goals of the research will be assessed. Plans for the recruitment and retention of subjects will also be evaluated.
Care and Use of Vertebrate Animals in Research
  • If vertebrate animals are to be used in the project, the five items described under Section F of the PHS Form 398 research grant application instructions will be assessed.
  • If materials or procedures are proposed that are potentially hazardous to research personnel and/or the environment, adequacy of the proposed protection will be assessed.
Sharing Research Resources (should NOT affect the priority score)
  • Investigators responding to this FOA should include a plan addressing how unique research resources will be shared or explain why sharing is not possible. In general, this component is evaluated by program staff and need not be considered by reviewers; however,
  • If model organisms will be produced, reviewers should comment on the adequacy of the sharing plan.
Budget (the priority score should NOT be affected by the evaluation of the budget)
  • The reasonableness of the proposed budget and the requested period of support in relation to the proposed research transition award program.

This page last reviewed on August 19, 2011