Guidance on NIH Career Development (K) Awards

This guidance sets forth Duke University’s processes related to Career Development Awards (CDA or “K” mechanisms) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and applies to all individuals, clinical and non-clinical, who have committed effort on a proposed or active K award.


The objective of the NIH Career Development Award is to help ensure that a diverse pool of highly trained scientists are available in adequate numbers and in appropriate research areas to address the Nation's biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research needs. As described in NIH’s Grants Policy Statement:

CDAs provide up to five years of salary support and guarantee substantial protected time to engage in research and related activities. The award is available to persons who have demonstrated independent research accomplishments but need additional experience to establish or sustain an independent research program.

While award requirements, terms and conditions vary by NIH Institute/Center (IC) and by K award mechanism, all K awards require that the institution guarantee substantial protected time for all K awardees throughout the life of the award.


This guidance aims to support compliance with applicable K award terms and ensure the investigator has adequate protected time to complete the award objectives. To be eligible for a K Award and meet the minimum effort requirements, K award recipients must maintain the minimum effort requirements as outlined in the funding announcement and the award terms and conditions throughout the life of the award.
University Appointment

The K award recipient must have a Duke University appointment that can accommodate the minimum effort required of the CDA.  

For example, for a CDA (K award) that requires 75% (9 calendar months), the Duke University appointment must be at least 80% (9.6 calendar months) to ensure that there is sufficient effort to meet the 75% (9 calendar month) K award minimum effort requirement and other unrelated academic activities (administrative effort*).

*Administrative effort may include activities such as lectures, teaching, peer review of grants and manuscripts, preparing other grant applications, mentoring, unfunded research activities and advocacy activities that are not specifically quantifiable.

If the investigator is a new hire at Duke, then the proposed appointment must be sufficient to accommodate the K award minimum effort requirements.

There are certain factors that can reduce the Duke University appointment and affect the ability to meet NIH’s minimum effort requirements of the K award, including:

  • Outside Clinical Obligations (PDC)
  • VA Appointments
  • Formally Approved Flexible Work Arrangements
  • Direct-Paid Duke-Kunshan University (DKU) Appointments
  • Direct Paid Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Appointments

K award recipients who hold additional appointments outside of Duke University (including the Private Diagnostic Clinic “PDC” and the Durham Veterans Affairs Administration “VA”) may not use these additional appointments to meet the minimum effort requirements of a K award. Responsibilities outside of Duke University are not restricted; however, they also cannot be used to meet any minimum effort requirement of or to qualify for a K award unless the K award includes clinical research or clinical care explicitly described in the specific aims of the K application.

PDC Appointments

If clinical activity is required as part of the goals of the K award, the faculty member may include only that portion of their effort related to research interactions toward the fulfillment of the required 75% (9 calendar month) effort. The intention to use clinical activity as part of the K award effort must be included in the original proposal. Any time seeing and providing clinical care to patients that are not directly part of the research project is excluded.

Veterans Affairs (“VA”) Appointments

K award applicants with VA appointments must discuss their eligibility with their Chair to ensure sufficient time is available in their Duke Appointment to meet K award minimum effort requirements. The VA appointment must be disclosed in the budget justification and the Biographical sketch of the K application.

Salary Support

NIH limits the amount of salary that can be recovered by the K award. Salary limits vary by NIH Institute/Center (IC) and are noted in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). Salary requested in the K application must be based on the investigator's institutional base salary (IBS) in effect at the time of application and must be prorated for/commensurate with the level of commitment on the K award.

The portion of K award salary not recovered from NIH 1) must be covered by Duke up to the level of the K award recipient’s IBS, 2) must be from non-Federal sources, and 3) must not require extra duties or responsibilities that would interfere with the goals of the K award.

Level of Effort

For most K award programs, the K awardee must commit a minimum of 9 person months (equivalent to 75% full-time professional effort), directly to their research project and career development activities. The remaining effort (up to 25%) can be devoted to additional research, teaching, clinical work, or other efforts complementary to career development of the K awardee. 

Note: Some NIH Institutes/Centers (IC) allow less than 9 calendar months (but not lower than 6 calendar months) effort for certain clinical specialties (e.g., surgical and procedure-intensive specialties).  Consult the FOA and IC Program Staff to determine if this exception may apply.

K award recipients must acknowledge and accept NIH's K award program requirements prior to application. This is accomplished by completing the K Award Total Professional Effort Worksheet and securing approval from the prospective K awardee, the primary mentor, the Department Chair and Business Manager.

For School of Medicine Appointments

In addition to the level of effort required by NIH to be maintained on the K award, the School of Medicine also requires a portion of time be protected for administrative responsibilities.  For Duke appointments that do not include an administrative role, at least .6 calendar months must be protected. For Duke appointments that include a formal academic administrative role, at least 1.2 calendar month must be protected.

The minimum required level of effort must be maintained throughout the life of the K award unless prior approval (in writing) is obtained from NIH through the Office of Research Administration (ORA) for Schools of Medicine or Nursing or the Office of Research Support (ORS) for all other Campus Schools. It is not permissible to reduce effort without prior approval, to include an effort reduction in the progress report without having secured prior approval, or to contact NIH directly to request prior approval.

Concurrent Support and Complementary Effort

Concurrent Support

The goal of the K-Award is to provide a transition to fully independent research awards. During the final two years of the award, PIs are allowed to reduce the effort on the K-Award to no less than 6 person-months when named PI or project director on a competing federally funded research award or a project leader on a competing multi-project award. During this time, the recipient must remain in a mentored relationship. While effort on the K may be reduced to as low as 6 months, the total research effort for the PI across all projects must be at least 9 person months per year. Any request to rebudget funds associated with a reduction of effort requires prior approval from the NIH IC Grants Management Specialist. Concurrent support reduction may be permissible with approval from the applicable program officer and coordination through the ORA or ORS.

Complementary Effort

To meet the K-Award 9-month minimum effort requirement, an awardee may devote effort to other institutional activities as long as those activities are consistent with the objectives of the K-Award.

K-Awardees may provide complementary effort without salary support on other research grants that include related research between the K-Award and the research grant. The percent effort on the research grant is subsumed within the required effort of the K-Award. There must be no significant duplication of the scope of the research supported by the K-Award and the related research must be consistent with the goals and objectives of the K-Award.


The specific aims of the non-federal award must be consistent, but not overlapping, with the specific aims of the K award.  In such cases where there is scientific alignment, the percent effort on the related grant is subsumed within the required effort of the K award. However, there should not be significant duplication of the scope of the research supported by the K award. Further, the related grant must be consistent with the goals and objectives of the K award.  Requests to the sponsor for approval of concurrent effort must be made by ORA/ORS. 

Proposal Preparation

The goal of the K award is to develop the K award recipient’s ability to be an independent researcher. It is expected that K award recipients will actively apply for externally-funded research, and it is therefore allowable to use K award funds in part to support efforts in preparing applications for external research funding.

Roles and Responsibilities

The following defines the roles and responsibilities of those functions and compliance requirements related to this K award guidance.

Management Center

  • Enforces compliance with guidance.
  • Reviews and approves requested changes to University appointments to ensure minimum effort requirements can be met.

Chair, Division Chief or Other Supervisor

Department Administrator

  • Reviews the appointment to ensure that K applicant has sufficient Duke time to meet the minimum effort requirements of the proposed K award as well as any additional sponsored research, academic or administrative commitments.
  • Makes adjustments to the appointment as necessary to maintain required protected time for the K award.

Unit-level Grants Administrator, HR Manager or Effort Coordinator

  • Reviews the appointment to ensure that K applicant has sufficient Duke time to meet the minimum commitment of the proposed K award as well as any additional sponsored research, academic or administrative commitments.
  • Ensures the K award recipient maintains the minimum effort requirements of the K award.

Principal Investigator

  • Carries out the K award as described in the application and in compliance with NIH’s minimum effort requirements.
  • Reports any changes in effort to the unit-level grants administrator in a timely manner.


  • Supervise the K award candidate’s proposed career development plan and research experience.
Office of Research Administration/Office of Research Support
  • Reviews applications (new, competing and non-competing renewals) for compliance with NIH policy.



Effort commitments are monitored throughout the life of the award by ORA, ORS, and the Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance. Additionally, the faculty home department and grant owning org(s) will review and monitor effort activity, at minimum, throughout the lifecycle of the award at the following instances:

Unit-level Grants Manager or Lead Research Administrator
  • Quarterly award review and reconciliation
  • NIH Other Support
  • NSF Current & Pending
  • JIT (for other awards)
  • Annual ECRT review
Department/Unit Administration (Chief Administrative Officer, HR or Finance Manager)
  • Changes in appointment (e.g., Flexible Work Arrangements)
K award recipient
  • Annual ECRT review


Additional Resources