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Early-Stage Investigator Training Program (KL2)

The Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Early-Stage Investigator Training Program (KL2) provides a supportive interdisciplinary environment for junior faculty scholars to acquire the skills and experience needed to become successful, independent clinical and translational scientists. This is accomplished through coursework, mentored research and career development programs.

KL2 funding provides 75 percent protected time for research; funds for research supplies; tuition support for up to three courses per semester; and travel. (If links in this page are not working, please try a different browser.)

To request a PDF of the full RFA, please email Jessica Petrie, Education Strategy and Planning Manager, at

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KL2 Program Details

Scholar Eligibility Expand answer
  • Full-time Penn State junior faculty with a research or practice doctorate (MD, DO, PhD, MD/PhD, PharmD, DrPH, DO/PhD or comparable doctoral-level degree) at the rank of assistant professor.
  • Research focus on translational science or translational research.
  • In rare cases (following consultations with KL2 program directors), associate professors whose career trajectory has changed to focus on translational research.
  • Research associates at either Penn State University Park or Penn State College of Medicine.
  • Faculty appointments cannot be dependent upon receipt of this award.
  • Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent U.S. residents at the time of application.
  • Individuals on temporary or student visas are not eligible.
  • Current and former program directors or principal investigators on an NIH research project (RO1), program project (P01), center grants (P50), other career development awards (K awards), or the equivalent are not eligible.
  • Current and former program directors or principal investigators of an NIH Small Grant (R03), Exploratory/Developmental Grant (R21), Dissertation Award (R36), or SBIR/STTR (R41, R42, R43, R44) are eligible.
  • Appointed KL2 scholars may apply for an individual K award from the NIH and, if successful, will be transferred to that K award.
Level of Effort Expand answer

KL2 scholars are required to commit a minimum of 75 percent full-time professional effort (i.e., a minimum of nine person-months) or 50% effort for surgery or surgical specialties to their career development and research training during the mentored phase.

Candidates may engage in other duties (clinical, research or teaching) as part of the remaining 25 percent of their full-time professional effort not covered by this award, as long as such duties do not interfere with or detract from the proposed career development plan.

Candidates who have VA appointments may not consider part of the VA effort toward satisfying the full-time requirement at the applicant institution. Candidates with VA appointments should contact the staff person in the relevant institute or center before preparing an application to discuss their eligibility.

Department Nomination Expand answer

Applicants must be nominated by their department chair who must guarantee in writing in the nomination letter that a minimum of 75 percent of the applicant’s professional time will be protected to pursue clinical and/or translational research training if the candidate is accepted into the KL2 (50 percent for clinicians from surgery or surgical specialties). The nomination (chair’s letter) is included as part of the application (see table below) as well as the LOI.

Application Process Expand answer

The KL2 grant application should be written for research and training to be conducted over two years. KL2 awards are for two years with the option to competitively renew (from among the current pool of scholars) for a third year based on satisfactory performance in the program, a demonstrated need for additional research training, and programmatic resource availability. Productivity in submitting external grants will be a key factor in the assessment of productivity.

  • Letter of intent due Dec. 8, 2023, by 5 p.m. EST
  • Application due Jan. 19, 2024, by 5 p.m. EST
  • Notifications by March 29, 2024
  • Funding to start July 1, 2024

Letter of Intent

A letter of intent should be submitted before applying so that the directors can begin to identify potential reviewers for your grant. These letters will not be used to make award decisions and all who submit a letter of intent should plan to submit a full proposal. Include your name, title, department, contact information, project title, your NIH biosketch, a paragraph describing your research, how it is translational, and the name, title and department of your mentor(s). Letters of Intent must include a statement that the candidate will commit at least 9 person-months (75% of full-time professional effort, 50% for clinicians from surgery or surgical specialties) to the career development program and related career development activities. Letters of Intent should be sent to Jessica Petrie, Education Strategy and Planning Manager, at


The table below details required application information.

Preparation of the CTSI KL2 application closely follows the guidance for preparation of a general NIH K grant, with a few exceptions. Equal weight is placed on the candidate/training plan and the research plan.

Having specific aims for the training/career development plan is strongly recommended, as well as a description of how each training aim will be addressed, the role that each mentor or member of the research team will play in supporting each aim of the training plan, and any additional courses to be taken to meet the training aims.

Instructions for sections below will follow closely instructions for the NIH K23 program.

Application Resources

The following resources are available to help applicants who are preparing an application. Email requests to Jessica Petrie at

  • Examples of successful K grant applications
  • Example of a training plan
  • A sample training table for mentors and co-mentors to attach to their biosketch

The NIH has published detailed instructions for career development awards, which this funding announcement will largely follow. Click to see NIH SF424 instructions.

Program Directors Expand answer

Selection Process

The goal of the KL2 Training Program is to select candidates who, with proper career development and clinical and/or translational research training, have potential to become independently funded, successful and ethical clinical and translational investigators.

Decisions will be based on the strength of the translational research and career development training plan submitted by the prospective trainee, the potential of the applicant, the multidisciplinary of the training environment, the success and track record of the lead mentor or co-mentor in mentoring previous junior faculty members and other trainees.

Emphasis is placed heavily upon a fully developed training plan, including training goals, procedures, description of the roles of each mentor and plans for mentoring interactions.

Review Committee Expand answer

The candidates will be evaluated by a review committee selected by the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute Executive Committee.

Criteria include overall scholarly excellence as defined by written statements, and letters of recommendation and record of productivity. Clear delineation of career/research goals and a strong commitment to translational and interdisciplinary research are essential.

Each application will have three reviewers who will be asked to write a review and complete a scoring sheet, in accordance with the NIH system of 1 to 9, to establish the score for each application.

A list of applicants will be circulated in advance of the meeting to allow reviewers to identify any applications in conflict. Applicants will be discussed by the review committee and preliminary scores will be updated into final scores. Recommendations for funding will be made to the CTSI Executive Committee, who will make the final decisions.

The formal offer of a position in the program will depend upon the candidate’s department chair committing to protecting 75 percent effort for research (50% for clinicians from surgical specialties or subspecialties) and $25,810 for direct research costs and $2500 for travel during the course of the scholar’s support by the KL2 award.

Core Review Criteria Expand answer

There will be five core review criteria following the NIH review process (i.e., each scored 1 to 9 and weighed separately on the score sheet. See K23 instructions, under “Section V. Application Review Information 1. Criteria”. Questions that will be considered by reviewers, under each section, are noted below. These are:

  • Candidate
  • Training/Career Development Plan
  • Research Plan
  • Qualifications of Mentor and Co-Mentor(s)
  • Environment

Details for each category are below.

Overall Impact Expand answer

Reviewers will provide their assessment of the likelihood that all proposed career development and research plan will enhance the candidate’s potential for a productive, independent scientific research career in a health-related field, taking into consideration the criteria below in determining the overall impact score.

Scored Review Criteria Expand answer


  • Does the candidate have the potential to develop as an independent and productive researcher?
  • Are the candidate’s prior training and research experience appropriate for this award?
  • Is the candidate’s academic, clinical (if relevant), and research record of high quality?
  • Is there evidence of the candidate’s commitment to meeting the program objectives to become an independent investigator in research?
  • Do the reference letters address the above review criteria, and do they provide evidence that the candidate has a high potential for becoming an independent investigator?
  • Does the candidate have the potential to organize, manage, and implement the proposed clinical trial, feasibility or ancillary study?
  • Does the candidate have training (or plans to receive training) in data management and statistics including those relevant to clinical trials?

Career Development Plan/Career Goals and Objectives

  • What is the likelihood that the plan will contribute substantially to the scientific development of the candidate and lead to scientific independence?
  • Are the candidate’s prior training and research experience appropriate for this award?
  • Are the content, scope, phasing, and duration of the career development plan appropriate when considered in the context of prior training/research experience and the stated training and research objectives for achieving research independence?
  • Are there adequate plans for monitoring and evaluating the candidate’s research and career development progress?

Timeline and Milestones

A timeline that includes tasks and activities to meet milestones is required. It may include elements such as, but not limited to, manuscript submissions, grant submissions, IRB approval, enrollment of first participant and planned enrollment timeline, completion of specific experiments.

Research Plan

  • Are the proposed research questions, design, and methodology of significant scientific and technical merit?
  • Is the prior research that serves as the key support for the proposed project rigorous?
  • Has the candidate included plans to address weaknesses in the rigor of prior research that serves as the key support for the proposed project?
  • Has the candidate presented strategies to ensure a robust and unbiased approach, as appropriate for the work proposed?
  • Has the candidate presented adequate plans to address relevant biological variables, such as sex, for studies in vertebrate animals or human subjects?
  • Is the research plan relevant to the candidate’s research career objectives?
  • Is the research plan appropriate to the candidate’s stage of research development and as a vehicle for developing the research skills described in the career development plan?
  • Are the scientific rationale and need for a clinical trial, feasibility or ancillary study well supported by preliminary data, clinical and/or preclinical studies, or information in the literature or knowledge of biological mechanisms?
  • If proposing a small feasibility study, is the study warranted and will it contribute to planning and preliminary data needed for design of future larger scale clinical trials?
  • Is the clinical trial or ancillary study necessary for testing the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of an intervention, or in the case of a feasibility study necessary to establish feasibility of future clinical trial?
  • Is the study design justified and relevant to the clinical, biological, and statistical hypothesis(es) being tested?
  • Are the plans to standardize, assure quality of, and monitor adherence to, the protocol and data collection or distribution guidelines appropriate?
  • Are planned analyses and statistical approach appropriate for the proposed study design and methods used to assign participants and deliver interventions, if interventions are delivered?
  • For trials focusing on mechanistic, behavioral, physiological, biochemical, or other biomedical endpoints, is this trial needed to advance scientific understanding?


Mentor, Secondary Mentor(s)

  • Are the qualifications of the mentor(s) in the area of the proposed research appropriate?
  • Does the mentor(s) adequately address the candidate’s potential and his/her strengths and areas needing improvement?
  • Is there adequate description of the quality and extent of the mentor’s proposed role in providing guidance and advice to the candidate?
  • Is the mentor’s description of the elements of the research career development activities, including formal course work adequate?
  • Is there evidence of the mentor’s, consultant’s, and/or collaborator’s previous experience in fostering the development of independent investigators?
  • Is there evidence of the mentor’s current research productivity and peer-reviewed support?
  • Is active/pending support for the proposed research project appropriate and adequate?
  • Are there adequate plans for monitoring and evaluating the career development awardee’s progress toward independence?
  • Does the mentor or mentoring team have the expertise, experience, and ability to guide the applicant in the organization, management and implementation of the proposed clinical trial, ancillary, or feasibility study and help him/her to meet timelines?

Environment and Institutional Commitment to the Candidate

  • Is there clear commitment of the sponsoring institution to ensure that the required minimum of the candidate’s effort will be devoted directly to the research described in the application, with the remaining percent effort being devoted to an appropriate balance of research, teaching, administrative, and clinical responsibilities?
  • Is the institutional commitment to the career development of the candidate appropriately strong?
  • Are the research facilities, resources and training opportunities, including faculty capable of productive collaboration with the candidate adequate and appropriate?
  • Is the environment for scientific and professional development of the candidate of high quality?
  • Is there assurance that the institution intends the candidate to be an integral part of its research program as an independent investigator?
  • Are the administrative, data coordinating, enrollment and laboratory/testing centers appropriate for the trial proposed?
  • Does the application adequately address the capability and ability to conduct the trial feasibility or ancillary study at the proposed site(s) or centers? If applicable, are there plans to add or drop enrollment centers, as needed, appropriate?
  • If international site(s) is/are proposed, does the application adequately address the complexity of executing the clinical trial?
Additional Review Considerations Expand answer

As applicable for the project proposed, reviewers will evaluate the following additional items while determining scientific and technical merit, and in providing an overall impact score, but will not give separate scores for these items.

A specific aim of our KL2 is to leverage the strengths of our CTSI’s rural environment, partnerships and technologies. To that end, while we anticipate most scholars to not focus on rural health research, priority will be given to candidates with a focus on rural health research.

Plan for Recruitment and Retention of Underrepresented Minorities, Women and those with Disabilities

The KL2 program is committed to meeting the NIH/NCATS goal to increase the participation of underrepresented populations in the U.S. Biomedical, Clinical, Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Enterprise.

In 2019 the NIH changed its guidance and approach. The revised notice can be found here.

The revised guidance encourages applications from the following groups:

  1. Individuals from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown by the National Science Foundation to be underrepresented in health-related sciences on a national basis.
  2. Individuals with disabilities, who are defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.
  3. Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, including individuals who were homeless, in foster care, were eligible for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program, etc. Detailed definitions can be found here.

Protections for Human Subjects

For research that involves human subjects but does not involve one of the six categories of research that are exempt under 45 CFR Part 46, the committee will evaluate the justification for involvement of human subjects and the proposed protections from research risk relating to their participation according to the following five review criteria:

  • Risk to Human Subjects
  • Adequacy of Protection against Risks
  • Potential Benefits of the Proposed Research to Human Subjects and Others
  • Importance of the Knowledge to be Gained
  • Data and Safety Monitoring Plan/Board

For research that involves human subjects and meets the criteria for one or more of the six categories of research that are exempt under 45 CFR Part 46, the committee will evaluate:

  • The justification for the exemption
  • Human subjects involvement and characteristics
  • Sources of materials

For additional information on review of the Human Subjects section, refer to the NIH Guidelines for the Review of Human Subjects (pageK-105).

Inclusion of Women, Minorities and Individuals Across the Lifespan

When the proposed project involves human subjects and/or NIH-defined clinical research, the committee will evaluate the proposed plans for the inclusion (or exclusion) of individuals on the basis of sex/gender, race and ethnicity, as well as the inclusion (or exclusion) of children, to determine if it is justified in terms of the scientific goals and research strategy proposed.

For additional information on review of the Inclusion section, refer to the NIH Guidelines on the Inclusion of Women and Minorities as Participants in Research Involving Human Subjects (page K-119).

Vertebrate Animals

The committee will evaluate the involvement of live vertebrate animals as part of the scientific assessment according to the following criteria:

  • Description of proposed procedures involving animals, including species, strains, ages, sex and total number to be used
  • Justifications for the use of animals versus alternative models and for the appropriateness of the species proposed
  • Interventions to minimize discomfort, distress, pain and injury
  • Justification for euthanasia method if not consistent with the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals

For additional information on review of the Vertebrate Animals section, refer to the NIH Worksheet for Review of the Vertebrate Animal Section.

Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research

All applications for support must include a plan to fulfill NIH requirements for instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). Considering the level of experience of the applicant, including any prior instruction or participation in RCR as appropriate for the applicant’s career stage, the reviewers will evaluate the adequacy of the proposed RCR training in relation to the following five required components:

  • Format: The required format of instruction, i.e., face-to-face lectures, coursework, and/or real-time discussion groups (a plan with only online instruction is not acceptable)
  • Subject matter: The breadth of subject matter, e.g., conflict of interest, authorship, data management, human subjects and animal use, laboratory safety, research misconduct, research ethics
  • Faculty participation: The role of the mentor(s) and other faculty involvement in the scholar’s instruction
  • Duration of instruction: The number of contact hours of instruction (at least eight contact hours are required)
  • Frequency of instruction: Instruction must occur during each career stage and at least once every four years.

Plans and past record will be rated as acceptable or unacceptable, and the summary statement will provide the consensus of the review committee. See details via NIH.

Conflict of Interest in Review

The KL2 reviewers will not review an application or participate in the ranking of any proposal in which the following is true:

  • The applicant or mentor is in their department.
  • The reviewer would serve as a mentor, advisor or collaborator
  • The reviewer has a conflict or potential conflict of interest with the proposed primary or secondary mentors of the applicant
  • The reviewer has provided scientific or mentorship advice for the applicant in preparing the application

Scholar and Mentor Expectations

Unlike individual K awards or other types of awards, the KL2 program is an institutional research and career development program. As such, there is mandatory participation in our activities designed to accelerate your transition to independent R01 funding.

Reporting Expand answer

Scholars are also expected to comply with all program and grant reporting requirements through provision of progress reports and to cite the KL2 grant in all publications completed during the KL2 period. KL2 scholars are required to complete a progress report every six months during the program, then yearly following completion of the program. Session evaluations are also mandatory.

Mentors are expected to participate in quarterly meetings with KL2 leadership, to review scholar progress in meeting expectations described in the timelines and milestones (including Individualized Development Plan) laid out in the application.

Coursework Expand answer

KL2 scholars may select from graduate courses offered at the University, including clinical and translational science and public health sciences. Educational funds can be included in the applicant’s KL2 budget.

The career development plan for KL2 scholars will provide time for scholars to earn either a 30-credit Master of Science in Public Health Sciences or a 15-credit graduate certificate in translational science, depending upon their prior level of training. Neither of these are mandatory.

Scholars may enroll in one or more courses, as needed, without earning a certificate or degree. Most courses are offered in designated time slots two to three evenings per week or a designated early morning session in order to facilitate attendance by both clinicians and non-clinicians, including individuals based at University Park. Several courses are available via videoconference between Hershey and University Park for those who cannot travel for course sessions.

Curricular and Workshops and Seminars Expand answer

Currently, KL2 scholars are expected to participate in all planned trainings and workshops. Details of the schedule will be confirmed closer to the funding start date. In general, scholars and co-directors will meet weekly, via video or in-person (where practicable), to discuss and solve current problems that scholars are experiencing with either their career development or research activities. These sessions will continue year-round, including summer, and are considered mandatory. Additional half-day (monthly) curricular sessions will also be scheduled. The location of these sessions alternates between Penn State University Park and Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey; in-person attendance is expected.

Mentor Memorandum of Understanding Expand answer

After being notified of funding, KL2 scholars and their mentors sign a memorandum of understanding that serves as an agreement on the part of the mentor and mentee to follow best practices for mentoring relationships. A sample memorandum is available for use.

Rural Practicum Expand answer

All scholars will be required to complete a rural health translational practicum, in which scholars will be expected to partner with a rural health stakeholder (e.g., researcher, hospital, community organization, care provider) to collaborate on a small-scale project to work with the stakeholder in understanding and/or addressing the health and healthcare needs of rural populations. KL2 scholars will meet a range of rural health stakeholders and are encouraged to design or collaborate on a clinical translational project that helps them better understand the health and health care needs, resources and outcomes of rural populations.

Institute External Advisory Board Meeting Expand answer

Each year, generally in the fall, Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s external advisory board meets with the leadership, members and KL2 and TL1 scholars within the institute. Scholar attendance is required at this meeting, typically in Hershey, and select scholars may be asked to give a brief presentation on their research.

In addition, there may be an additional mandatory CTSI programmatic activities each year.

Advanced Training in Translational Research Expand answer

Are you an Assistant Professor (tenure-track) in the health sciences and interested in being mentored in preparation for external grant submissions? The Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Early-Stage Investigator Training Program (KL2) provides a supportive environment for junior faculty scholars to acquire the skills and experience needed to become successful, independent clinical and translational scientists. This is accomplished through coursework, mentored research, workshops, and career development programs. KL2 funding provides scholars with 75 percent protected time for research; funds for research supplies; tuition support for up to three courses per semester; and travel. There are 8 scholars per year selected from a competitive pool of applicants submitted by junior faculty across the University. You must be a current KL2 Scholar to be eligible to participate in this Provost Endorsement Program. Additional information can be found on the Penn State Provost Endorsement Program website.

Start date: Spring 2024


For questions about the application process or KL2 program, please contact Jessica Petrie at