When the new leadership of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Rockville, Md, decided to limit the Career Scientist Award (known as the K-05) to a single 5-year term, we believe they may have unwittingly invoked the law of unintended consequences.
The K-05 award is part of a major NIMH program commitment that supports individual researchers rather than research projects. Begun in 1954, the program recognized a need for long-term support that would attract the brightest and most creative young psychiatrists and those in allied disciplines into research careers. Bert E. Boothe, PhD, the first director of this research scientist development program, saw the necessity for several levels of support. The entry level (called the K-01), designed to overcome some of the deterrents to undertaking research in mental health, provided 5 years of salary support together with some small research funds and money for training outside of the awardee's own department. Level 2 (the K-02 award) was conceived as a bridging mechanism that would help the young researcher move into a more self-sustaining position, ready to establish an independent line of investigation that would contribute to the knowledge base of mental health studies. The K-05 level, awarded to senior scientists (some of whom had previously received awards at the K-01 and K-02 levels), recognized the need for providing support to senior investigators at the most mature level of their careers to permit them to continue to explore creative new directions and to serve as mentors for the younger people who were beginning their research careers.