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Penn State BIRCWH K12 Scholar Positions for Assistant Professors


Timeline for Selection of July 2015 BIRCWH Scholars


RFA released November 19, 2014
Applications Due February 27, 2015
Application review by BIRCWH Advisory Committee March 20, 2015
Applicants notified of decisions End of April 2015
2–year funding period July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2017


General Information

The Penn State BIRCWH Program is an institutional NIH K12 award for mentored research career development for junior faculty members holding the rank of Assistant Professor at Penn State University. BIRCWH Scholars awards are made for a 2–year period with the option to competitively renew (from among the current pool of Scholars) for up to a 1–year extension based on satisfactory performance in the program, a demonstrated need for additional research training, and availability of funding. BIRCWH Scholar applications should be written for research and training to be conducted over a 2–year period.

The Penn State BIRCWH Program is one of 27 NIH–funded BIRCWH Programs nationally that support mentored research career development of junior faculty members, known as BIRCWH Scholars, who have recently completed clinical or doctoral training or postdoctoral fellowships, and who will be engaged in interdisciplinary basic, translational, behavioral, clinical, and/or health services research relevant to women’s health or to sex/gender differences related to health. The goals are to increase the number and skills of investigators who can develop independent research programs that will benefit the health of women; advance research on sex/gender influences on health; and encourage interdisciplinary research methodology. These goals are in alignment with the NIH’s strategic plan for Women’s Health and Sex Differences Research for the next decade.

Interdisciplinary mentoring teams are essential to the BIRCWH Program and are defined as teams of experienced senior faculty investigators from diverse disciplines who provide the necessary training components for Scholars to carry out interdisciplinary research projects. Team members support a BIRCWH Scholar in the transition from trainee to independent researcher. The interdisciplinary team approach is especially relevant to the study of women’s health across the lifespan, as the field bridges basic and clinical science and requires the input of various disciplines and research methodologies.

Eligibility Criteria for Penn State BIRCWH Scholars

At the time of appointment as a BIRCWH Scholar, candidates must:

  • Hold a Penn State faculty appointment at the level of Assistant Professor (either tenure-track or fixed-term);
  • Have a clinical doctorate or Ph.D. degree or its equivalent;
  • Have completed any postgraduate training normally expected for a faculty appointment in their field (residency or fellowship training, postdoctoral fellowship training);
  • Be a U.S. citizen or noncitizen national, or must have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence and possess an Alien Registration Receipt Card (1-151 or 1-155) or some other verification of legal admission as a permanent citizen; individuals on temporary or student visas are not eligible;
  • Have no more than six years of research or research training experience beyond their last doctoral degree (i.e., completion of PhD, residency or fellowship training no earlier than July 2009);
  • Be able to spend at least 9 person months (75% effort) – or at least 6 person months (50% effort) for surgical–specialties (including obstetrics and gynecology) – of full–time professional effort conducting research and research career development activities during the period of BIRCWH funding;
  • Be able to attend and actively participate in required monthly K Seminars (generally first Mondays of the month), alternating between the Hershey and University Park campuses;
  • Not be or have been a PD/PI on an R01 or subproject of a Program Project (P01), Center (P50, P60, P20, P30, U54) grant, independent mentored career development (K-series) grants, or other equivalent research grant awards; except for R03 and R21. A faculty member who is already in the process of applying for a R01 or P01 grant is likely to be too senior for the BIRCWH Program.

Is my research considered "women’s health?"

Successful applicants will propose research in an area of women's health or on the influence of sex or gender on health and disease. Specific questions about whether your research would be considered eligible for the BIRCWH program should be directed to Cynthia Chuang, MD, MSc, BIRCWH Research Director, at .

Identifying mentors

Before submitting the application, the candidate must identify a Primary Mentor who will supervise the proposed research and career development experience. The Primary Mentor should be an active investigator with NIH or equivalent funding and be committed both to the research career development of the candidate and to direct supervision of the candidate’s research. The Primary Mentor should have a successful track record mentoring individuals at the candidate’s career stage. The most successful Primary Mentors often are faculty members in a different discipline and department than the BIRCWH Scholar who have experience in cross–disciplinary mentoring.

Candidates must identify at least two Secondary Mentors, to form a mentoring team. Secondary Mentors should be selected who have areas of content expertise, methodological expertise, or other relevant experience that will help the candidate achieve their research goals. Please contact the BIRCWH program if you need assistance identifying your mentoring team.

All mentors must have appointments at Penn State University, and at least one member from each campus (Hershey and University Park). Mentors of successful Scholar applicants will need to be approved by the Penn State BIRCWH Advisory Committee and the NIH Office of Women’s Health Research. A list of previously approved Penn State BIRCWH mentors is available on the Penn State BIRCWH website (, but it is not required to choose mentors from this list.

Departmental Support

Because each BIRCWH Scholar is required to devote 75% effort to research during the period of BIRCWH funding, the applicant’s Department Chair must provide a letter of support as part of the application. The BIRCWH program provides up to $100,000 in salary support and fringe benefits annually. The Chair’s letter must state that the Chair agrees to the required effort allocation (e.g., reduced teaching or clinical obligations) and will supplement the Scholar’s salary to ensure 75% support for BIRCWH research if BIRCWH funds are not sufficient to cover 75% effort. A sample template for the Department Chair’s letter can be found in the application instructions below (Section 6).

Instructions for BIRCWH Application Submission

Interested applicants should contact Cynthia Chuang, MD, MSc (Penn State BIRCWH Program Research Director) when preparing their application.

Follow the instructions below, and refer to the NIH SF424 guide when directed. The application should be formatted using the following section headings. There is a page limit of 8 pages for the Candidate Information (2 pages) and Research Strategy (6 pages) sections combined. Sections 1-12 should be compiled into a single .pdf file and emailed to Cynthia Chuang, MD, MSc, Penn State BIRCWH Research Director, at . by the application deadline.


BIRCWH Application Sections and Page Limitations
Applicants should organize their applications using the following Section headings, and adhere to the following page limits. Detailed instructions regarding each section are below.
1. BIRCWH Application Cover Page(s) 2 pages
2. Project Summary/Abstract 1 page
3. Candidate Information (Candidate’s Background, Career Goals and Objectives, and Candidate’s Plan for Career Development/Training Activities During Award Period) Candidate Information cannot exceed 2 pages (including all tables, graphs, figures, diagrams, and charts)
4. Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research 1 page
5. Plans and Statements of Primary Mentor and Secondary Mentors 2 pages each
6. Letter of Commitment from Candidate’s Department Chair 2 pages
7. Specific Aims 1 page
8. Research Strategy Research Strategy section cannot exceed 6 pages
9. Human Subjects Section (Protection of Human Subjects, Inclusion of Women and Minorities, Inclusion of Children, Planned Enrollment Report) No page limit
10. Bibliography/References No page limit
11. Research Budget and Budget Justification for Year 1 (can request up to $23,000 for research expenses per year) No page limit
12. Biosketches of candidate, primary mentor, secondary mentors, and other key personnel 4 pages each
13. 2 Letters of Reference (submitted separately) No page limit


Section 1. BIRCWH Application Cover Page

Include the following on a 1–2 page cover page:

  1. Candidate’s full name and degree(s)
  2. Candidate’s current academic rank
  3. Department and PSU College
  4. Office address, phone number, and email address
  5. BIRCWH Research Project title
  6. Name of Primary Mentor, Title, Department/College affiliation
  7. Names of Secondary Mentors, Title(s), Department/College affiliation(s)

Section 2. Project Summary/Abstract

(Do not exceed 1 page)

Provide an abstract of the entire application (training and research components). Include the key elements of the research career development plan, and a description of the research project, as indicated in Part I.4.4.6 of the SF424.

Section 3. Candidate Information

(cannot exceed 2 pages)

This section should be divided into the following subsections:


  1. Candidate’s Background
  2. Use this section to provide any additional information not described in the biosketch such as research and/or clinical training experience. For example:


    • Describe your commitment to an academic career in women’s health or sex/gender differences research.
    • Present evidence of your commitment to interdisciplinary and collaborative research.
    • Describe any prior training relevant to the proposed research
    • Describe your research experiences to this point and how they are relevant to this application.

  3. Career Goals and Objectives
  4. Describe how the proposed BIRCWH research fits into your future research plans and career development. If there are consistent themes or issues that have guided previous work, these should be made clear; if your work has changed direction, the reasons for the change should be indicated.

    Describe a systematic plan: (1) that shows a logical progression from prior research and training experiences to the research and career development experiences that will occur during the career award period and then to independent investigator status; and (2) that justifies the need for further career development to become an independent investigator.

  5. Candidate’s Plan for Career Development/Training Activities During Award Period
  6. Stress the specific new research skills and knowledge that you will acquire as a result of the proposed BIRCWH award. Consult with your mentor(s) in preparing the career development plan and explain how progress will be monitored.

    Describe any structured training activities (such as course work, workshops, or directed readings) that are part of the career developmental plan. If course work is included, provide course numbers and descriptive titles. The didactic (if any) and research aspects of the plan must be designed to develop the necessary knowledge and research skills in scientific areas relevant to the proposed research and your career goals.

    A timeline is helpful for describing the career development plan, including plans to publish the results of the BIRCWH research and apply for subsequent NIH or equivalent grant support within the 2-year period of BIRCWH funding.

Section 4. Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research

All applications must include a plan to fulfill NIH requirements for instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). To fulfill this requirement, applicants must either demonstrate that they have already completed formal coursework that meet this criteria, or that they will take coursework to meet the NIH requirements during their BIRCWH funding period. Courses at Penn State that meet this requirement are: IBIOS 591 (Ethics in the Life Sciences) or PHS 500 (Research Ethics for Clinical Investigators). CITI training is not sufficient to meet this requirement.

Section 5. Plan and Statements of Primary Mentor and Secondary Mentors

The candidate must name a primary mentor who, together with the candidate, is responsible for the planning, directing, monitoring, and executing the proposed research and training program.

  • The application must include a statement from the Primary Mentor providing: 1) information on the Primary Mentor’s research qualifications and previous experience as a research mentor; 2) a plan that describes the nature of the mentoring that will occur during the proposed award period (e.g., how often the Mentor will meet with the Scholar); 3) a plan for how the candidate will progress research independence during the period of BIRCWH funding; and 4) a plan for monitoring the candidate’s research, publications, and progression towards independence. The Primary Mentor must agree to provide written semi-annual evaluations of the candidate’s progress as required in the 6–month progress reports.
  • Letters must be provided by Secondary Mentors. Secondary Mentors should describe their areas of expertise and experience as a research mentor. Secondary Mentors should clearly describe their role on the mentorship team and how they will coordinate with the other mentors, including providing feedback to the Primary Mentors for the 6–month progress reports.

Section 6. Letter of Commitment from Candidate’s Department Chair

The Chair of the applicant’s department must submit a letter indicating support of the candidate’s application for a Penn State BIRCWH Scholar position and understanding of the NIH’s requirements for effort and funding. Candidates should provide the following instructions to their department chair.

The candidate is applying to the Penn State BIRCWH K12 Mentored Research Career Development Award. The purpose of this award is to develop the research capabilities and independence of junior faculty members holding the rank of Assistant Professor. These awards provide salary support and fringe benefits so that they can devote at least 9 person months (75% of their total professional effort) or 6 person months (50% of total professional effort for surgical subspecialties, including obstetrics and gynecology) to research for the duration of the 2–year award as well as funds for research and career development costs.

Please provide a letter (2 pages or less, in .PDF format), stating your commitment to support the candidate’s participation in the BIRCWH program if selected. Recommended text for the letter:

I fully support Dr.__________________’s application for a position as a Penn State BIRCWH Scholar. If this candidate is chosen to be a Penn State BIRCWH Scholar, I agree that 75% of his/her effort will be dedicated to the BIRCWH program for research and career development, as required by the NIH.

I understand that that the Penn State BIRCWH program will provide up to $100,000 in salary support and fringe benefits annually for a period of 2 years so that the Scholar can devote 75% of his/her time (or at least 50% if surgical subspecialty) to development as an independent, externally funded scientist in the field of women’s health and/or sex/gender differences related to health. If 75% of the candidate’s salary plus fringe exceeds $100,000, this department will cover the difference for the duration of the BIRCWH appointment.

This scholar will be required to spend no more than 25% of a 40–60 hour work week (10–15 hours per week) in teaching and/or clinical duties during the appointment as a Penn State BIRCWH scholar.

Letters should be addressed to:
Cynthia H. Chuang, MD, MSc
Professor of Medicine and Public Health Sciences
Research Director, Penn State BIRCWH Program

Letter should be provided to the Candidate to include in their application.

Section 7. Specific Aims

(Do not exceed 1 page)

State concisely the goals of the proposed BIRCWH research and summarize the expected outcome(s), including the impact that the results of the proposed research will exert on the research field(s) involved, on clinical practice, on population health, etc. List succinctly the specific objectives of the research proposed, including clear statements of the research questions or hypotheses and any novel methods or approaches to be included.

Section 8. Research Strategy

(cannot exceed 6 pages, including all tables, graphs, figures, diagrams, and charts).

The Research Plan is a major part of the research career development plan. It is important to relate the research to your overall scientific career goals. Describe how the research, coupled with other developmental activities, will provide the experience, knowledge, and skills necessary to achieve the objectives of the career development plan and launch an independent research career.

For most types of research, the plan should include: a specific research question or hypothesis; a list of the specific aims and objectives that will be used to answer the question or test the hypothesis; a description of the methods/approaches/techniques to be used in each aim; a discussion of possible problems and how they will be managed; and, when appropriate, alternative approaches that might be tried if the initial approaches do not work.

The Research Plan is expected to incorporate the new skills that are part of the training plan. The research plan should be achievable within the 2-year period of BIRCWH funding. The plan should be clear about how pilot or preliminary data will be obtained and disseminated, and how they will be incorporated in applications for future NIH or equivalent funding.

Section 9. Human Subjects Section

The following subsections are required, and should be formatted as instructed in the NIH Supplemental Grant Application Instructions:

  1. Protection of Human Subjects
  2. Inclusion of Women and Minorities
  3. Inclusion of Children
  4. Planned Enrollment Report (MS Word 30 KB)

Section 10. Bibliography/References

Section 11. Budget and Budget Justification (Year 1)

Include a detailed budget for Year 1 using PHS 398 Form Page 4 (MS Word 35 KB) or the Penn State SIMS budget format. Only items directly related to training or the research project should be included in the proposed budget and budget justification (up to a limit of $23,000 in direct costs per year). Funding for the BIRCWH Scholar’s 75% effort (and fringe benefits) should NOT be included.

Personnel. In general this section should include support only for any staff providing assistance with the candidate’s research project (i.e., research assistants). It is not necessary to budget for biostatistical support personnel as these services are provided through the Penn State BIRCWH Program. Do not include the mentor(s) or any other senior/key personnel.

Other Direct Costs. A total of up to $23,000 in direct costs can be requested to support the Candidate’s training and research plan activities. These funds can be used to cover a wide range of BIRCWH training and research-related expenses, including research assistant time, equipment, incentives for research participants, travel to scientific meetings, tuition for coursework (including training in the responsible conduct of research), books and supplies. All BIRCWH Scholars are required to attend the 2–day BIRCWH meeting held annually in the fall in Rockville, MD. Meeting and travel expenses to the annual BIRCWH meeting are paid from the core Penn State BIRCWH budget, and do not need to be included in the Candidate’s proposed budget.

Provide a budget justification for the all requested budget items.

Section 12. Biosketches and Training Tables

NIH-formatted biosketches are needed for the candidate, primary mentor and secondary mentors. The candidate’s biosketch should follow the format of K applicant biosketches as described in section 7.4.4 of the NIH guide SF424. Mentors and other key personnel should follow the standard NIH biosketch format as found in Part I.4.5 of the SF424.

The primary mentor is requested to attach a training table to the end of the 4-page biosketch. The training table should include a list of prior predoctoral and postdoctoral mentees, the institution where the training or mentorship occurred, dates (years), position/level of training of mentee at time of mentorship, project title; and current position of mentee.

Section 13. Letters of Reference

Two letters of reference are required for all BIRCWH applications. The letters should be from individuals not directly involved in the application, but who are familiar with the applicant’s qualifications, training, and interests. The mentors named in the application cannot provide these letters of reference. The reference letters should address the potential of the candidate to develop into an independent investigator during the period of BIRCWH funding. The letters may address the adequacy of the candidate’s scientific background, quality of research endeavors or publications to date, commitment to women’s health or sex/gender differences in health, need for further research experience and training, and any additional related comments.

Letters should be addressed and emailed directly to:
Cynthia H. Chuang, MD, MSc
Professor of Medicine and Public Health Sciences
Research Director, Penn State BIRCWH Program

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