Career Development Awards FAQs (K25)

NIGMS limits the K25 award to individuals with little or no biological research experience or training who hold independent positions in physics, mathematics, statistics, computer science or engineering equivalent to a tenure-track faculty position. Awards at the postdoctoral level may be made for especially talented individuals with doctoral degrees in physics, mathematics, statistics, computer science, or engineering who wish to enter the field of systems biology.

Individuals who are interested in postdoctoral positions and do not fit these criteria are encouraged to apply for a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award individual postdoctoral fellowship.

As noted in the K25 award announcement, a potential applicant whose research topic falls within the mission of NIGMS is urged to contact Dr. Michael Sesma prior to applying to determine whether s/he is eligible for the award.

Among the many anticipated questions are:

How do I contact Dr. Sesma?

The best way is by email to To facilitate the discussion, include a brief description of the project you wish to pursue, the name of the potential mentor, and your resume.

I am completing my postdoctoral training in particle physics and wish to apply my knowledge to understanding protein folding. Do I qualify for a K25 award?

No. Except for individuals who wish to enter systems biology, you must have an independent position.

If I don't have a permanent position, what other award options are available to me?

You should consider applying for an individual postdoctoral fellowship.

I have never had a tenure track position, but have been working for 10 years beyond my Ph.D. degree in a high-energy physics laboratory. Do I qualify for a K25 award?

Most likely. Tenure track is an indication of a certain level of independence. The same considerations would also apply to someone from industry.

What do you mean by "knowing little or no biology"?

If you would be able to submit a credible R01 (research project grant) application to NIH, you can assume you know more than a "little biology."

I have a Ph.D. in physics and had a 3-year postdoctoral position doing molecular dynamics calculations of proteins. I now have an independent faculty position in the chemistry department of a university. I have some interesting ideas that I want to apply to cell biology. If I submit those ideas as part of an R01, I am concerned that no one will take me seriously because I have had little or no exposure to cell biology. Am I eligible for a K25 award?

Probably not. As part of your postdoctoral position you probably learned a fair amount of biology and would be able to submit a credible application dealing with the investigation of protein structure/dynamics using computational methods.

You talk about needing to have a position in one of several specific departments cited in the NIGMS-specific eligibility requirements on the program announcement. I am a quantum chemist who does not know one end of a protein from another. I have a wonderful opportunity to study the theoretical aspects of protein folding from an expert in the field. But I am an assistant professor in a chemistry department, not a physics department. Why are your criteria so narrow?

Space constraints limited the criteria we could cite. NIGMS certainly welcomes applications from individuals who meet the intention reflected in the description.

The announcement uses the word "chemist," but you leave it out in your more restricted requirements. Are chemists excluded from applying under this announcement?

Some areas of chemistry require extensive training in mathematics and physics; other areas do not. We would certainly welcome applicants with extensive training in mathematics and physics and who have a research career that required this training.

What do you mean by the term "systems biology"?

The term "systems biology" means different things to different people. One explanation is that systems biology aims for a systems-level understanding of biological systems that takes into account complex interactions of gene, protein and cell elements. Since the term is subject to different interpretations, potential applicants for whom this definition is critical should discuss their situation with the program contact Dr. Sesma.

Why do you allow individuals to apply for postdoctoral awards in systems biology and not other biological areas?

Many well-established areas of biomedical research, such as biophysics, have had a history of attracting individuals with excellent quantitative training. Because systems biology is growing rapidly, NIGMS feels that there is a special unmet need that justifies the exception.

What do you mean by "especially talented individuals"?

We would define the term as meaning individuals who would be competitive for individual postdoctoral fellowship awards from agencies that normally support their respective fields.