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Anatomy of a successful K99 application

Jamie Lahvic
Program Officer (Training),
Office of Strategic Extramural Programs (OSEP)

Since its NIH launch in 2006, the K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award has facilitated the transition of postdocs into independent investigator positions by providing the opportunity for two phases of funding, across and up to five years. Still, it’s not easy to write a successful K99 application, and these complex, multi-part submissions often reach 100 pages in length.

Many applicants benefit from reading previously successful applications and receiving advice from K99 awardees in their professional networks. To make this type of resource accessible to all prospective K99 applicants, NIA worked with one of our awardees to publish their highly scored application.

A new resource for K99 applicants

Applicants for the upcoming June 15 and future K99 deadlines can explore our recently revamped NIA K99/R00 website, including sample applications from Dr. Ryo Sanabria, now an assistant professor at the University of Southern California. Dr. Sanabria generously provided not only their successful 2020 K99 resubmission, but also their initial 2019 submission, along with reviewer summary statements for each application. With this pairing, applicants can see how Dr. Sanabria successfully adjusted their application and addressed reviewer comments for resubmission.

Note, though, that any sample application is a snapshot in time: Always read the FOA and follow the most updated instructions. As you explore this application, remember that this is a single example of a successful K99, and that every application will be unique. It’s important to tailor your research plan, including your career development plan, to your own specific needs. NIA receives quality K99 applications written in a variety of styles, and we hope to publish additional sample applications in the future. You can also explore additional K award sample applications from NIAID.

Tips for a successful K99

In addition, as you prepare your K99, keep in mind these general tips:

  • Plan ahead. The K99 has a tight eligibility window of up to four years of postdoctoral experience (with some extensions available, which we describe on the NIA K99 website). This limit also applies to resubmissions, so plan to submit early and give yourself time for a resubmission.
  • Don’t neglect the career development plan. The K99 is a career development award, and reviewers value the career development plan just as much as the research plan. So, assemble an advisory team that covers all areas of needed expertise for your project, and plan your continued training thoughtfully.
  • Highlight your plans for independence. K99 reviewers want to know how you will differentiate yourself from your postdoctoral mentor, and how much of your postdoctoral project you can take with you to your own lab. Clearly describe your vision for independence and discuss this with your mentor to best align the mentor and candidate portions of your application.

Finally, remember that the K99 is only one award type, and it is not right for everyone. For example, for postdocs who are closer to independence and don’t need the additional postdoctoral training funded by the K99, other career development awards may be a better fit.

If you are planning to apply ahead of the June 15 deadline, we hope this anatomy of a successful K99 application is helpful, and we wish you good luck in your efforts! Our NIA Training and Career Development team is happy to answer your questions about the K99 or other career development awards at

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