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NRSA Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships FAQs (F32)

Before You Apply for a Fellowship
Applying for a Fellowship
Review of Fellowship Applications
Fellowship Offers and Awards
After Your Fellowship Starts
Index by Topic Area


Before You Apply for a Fellowship

Q1: When are the deadlines for receipt of NRSA fellowship applications?

A: April 8, August 8 and December 8, or the following workday if the receipt deadline is a Saturday, Sunday or Federal holiday. Applications must be submitted by these dates. (See the standard NIH due dates at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/submissionschedule.htm.)

Q2: When should I apply, relative to when I want the fellowship to start?

A: Applications submitted for the August 8 and December 8 deadlines are generally funded 6-7 months later. In contrast, applications submitted for the April 8 deadline cannot be funded until December at the earliest. Once a fellowship has been awarded, you have 6 months to activate (start) it.

Q3: What form do I use for the application?

A: The most recent forms and instructions for the F32 fellowship application can be accessed through the NIH Web site for unsolicited applications at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/parent_announcements.htm. Check the F32 program announcement for the most recent details for submitting an application. (Current forms and instructions are at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/424/index.htm#inst.)

Q4: What is the difference between a postdoctoral fellowship (F32) and a senior fellowship (F33)? Should I apply for a senior fellowship if I'm older than most postdocs?

A: Postdoctoral researchers, regardless of age, are eligible to apply for F32 fellowships. Senior fellowships (F33s) are for established, independent investigators who want to make major changes in their research career (see http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training).

Q5: Do I have to be a permanent resident to apply for a fellowship?

A: No, but you have to be a permanent resident when the fellowship is awarded (see Q49).

Q6: Do I have to have my Ph.D., or another terminal degree, before I apply for a fellowship?

A: No, you will need to provide proof that you have fulfilled the requirements for the degree before you activate (start) your fellowship (see Q50).

Q7: Should I apply for a fellowship while I'm still a graduate student, or wait until I've started my postdoc?

A: You should discuss this issue with your postdoctoral sponsor. If money is tight, your sponsor may suggest that you apply for a fellowship while you are still in graduate school so that you can activate (start) your fellowship as soon as you begin your postdoc, or shortly thereafter. Keep in mind, though, that your new research topic will not be as familiar to you as it will be later, after you've started the project, so the research plan that you describe may be naive or overambitious. Moreover, it will be easier to get help with your application from your new sponsor after you have started working in that person's lab.

If you do decide to apply for a fellowship while you're still in graduate school, be sure that you and your graduate advisor agree on when you're likely to complete your Ph.D. requirements so that you can make a logical decision about when to submit your fellowship application (see Q2 and Q6).

Q8: If I'm doing my postdoc at the university where I got my Ph.D., will I be at a disadvantage when I apply for a fellowship?

A: Most likely, yes. Whether the environment offers opportunities for new training is one of the criteria that reviewers of fellowship applications evaluate. If you do your postdoc in the same laboratory in which you did your graduate research, your application will not be competitive, even if you are working on an entirely different project. If you move to a new lab but stay in the same department, this could still count against you, but not as severely.

If personal reasons make it necessary for you to stay in the geographical area where you did your graduate work, consider doing your postdoc at a different university. If there is only one university in the area, think about doing your postdoctoral research in a different component of the institution (e.g., at the medical school rather than the college of arts and sciences), or in a different department.

Whatever you choose to do, be sure to explain, in your application, why you can't move. If you don't address the issue, reviewers will view this as a negative and it may impact your score. You should also emphasize the opportunities for new training. For example, if you're staying in the same department but you're planning to attend different journal clubs and to interact with a collaborator from a different department, say so.

Q9: There are gaps in my C.V. How will this affect the review of my application?

A: If you provide a reasonable explanation for the gaps, and it is clear that you have made good progress on your research project(s) and that your publication record is solid, reviewers are unlikely to penalize you. Reviewers realize that every applicant's situation is different, and they do not expect all applicants to have a seamless transition from college to graduate school to postdoc. You will, however, be penalized if you do not explain the gaps, especially if the gaps are very long or there are several of them. If you do not address the issue, reviewers may assume that you are not committed to a career in science.

Q10: My publication record is modest. When I apply for a fellowship, should I list all of the manuscripts in preparation that I anticipate publishing?

A: In general, manuscripts in preparation are not as impressive as published papers or papers in press. If you are still in graduate school, you will probably not be penalized if you have relatively few papers and lots of manuscripts in preparation. However, if you earned your Ph.D. several months ago, reviewers expect to see published papers, not manuscripts. You should make every effort to publish your graduate work as quickly as possible. If, despite your best efforts, there are circumstances beyond your control that have delayed publication of some or all of your graduate work, you should explain the situation in your application and also ask your references to address the issue.

If a manuscript is accepted for publication after you submit your fellowship application, but before the application is reviewed, you should contact the SRO (scientific review officer) who runs the study section in which your application will be reviewed to discuss the possibility of submitting an updated publication list (see Q28). This is especially important if your publication record is modest or if your paper is likely to have a major impact on the field.

Q11: Should I apply for a fellowship if the research that I'm doing as a postdoc is similar to the research that I did when I was a graduate student?

A. NRSA postdoctoral fellowships are for training, and training potential is one of the criteria that reviewers and program staff evaluate. However, if you are learning lots of new skills and techniques, becoming familiar with a new system, or studying a new aspect of the organism that you worked with in graduate school, it may make sense for you to apply for a fellowship. If your postdoctoral work is in the same general area as your graduate work, you should emphasize the opportunities for new training and explain how that new training relates to your long-term career goals.

Q12: Will I have any problems if the research that I'm doing as a postdoc is very different from what I did when I was a graduate student?

A: Probably not, but you should justify how what you're doing as a postdoc relates to your long-term career goals. If reviewers think that you are choosing research projects at random, without thinking about how what you'll learn as a postdoc will enhance your career, they will view this as a negative and it may impact your score.

Q13: Should I apply for a postdoctoral fellowship if I've already been doing postdoctoral research for several years and I want to stay in the lab that I'm in now?

A: No. NIGMS policy is to consider time spent in the sponsor's lab when making funding decisions. If you have been in your current sponsor's lab for more than 2 years at the time that you submit your application, it will not be considered for funding.

Q14: Should I apply for a fellowship if I want to do a second postdoc in a new lab?

A: Maybe. For your application to get a good score, you will have to convince the reviewers that you are not yet ready to apply for independent positions and that your second postdoc will prepare you for an independent position by providing you with opportunities for substantial new training. It is important to justify your choice of a lab in which to do a second postdoc in terms of how the research relates to what you did in your first postdoc and to your career goals. If you were not productive in your first postdoc due to circumstances beyond your control, you should explain the situation in your application and also ask your references to address it.

Q15: Can I apply for a fellowship to do postdoctoral research in a foreign country?

A: Yes, if there is no laboratory doing comparable research in the United States or there are resources in the foreign laboratory that are not available in comparable laboratories in the United States. In your application, you must provide a rationale for doing postdoctoral research in a foreign country, which reviewers and program staff will evaluate. Be aware that if an award is made, the process will take extra time, since special arrangements must be made for paying the stipend and institutional allowance.


Applying for a Fellowship

Q16: Should my sponsor help me write my fellowship application?

A: Yes. You are responsible for writing the application, but your sponsor should help you design your project, critique your drafts and provide advice on grantsmanship.

Q17: What parts of my application are written by other people?

A: Your sponsor provides the section of the application titled "Sponsor Information" and other individuals submit letters of reference electronically on your behalf. Be sure everyone is aware of your deadline and that they have enough time to complete their task.

Q18: From whom should I request reference letters?

A: Reviewers expect to see letters from your graduate advisor and other people who know you well. Since what your reference letters say will be a major determinant of the reviewers' evaluation of the candidate (you), choose your references carefully. Good choices: members of your dissertation committee and former collaborators, if they are independent investigators. Bad choices: your postdoctoral sponsor, people with whom you are collaborating as a postdoc, graduate students, postdocs and people who do not know you well enough to evaluate your scientific skills.

Q19: I am having problems getting a reference letter from my graduate advisor. What should I do?

A: If your graduate advisor is deceased, incapacitated or cannot be contacted because s/he is doing fieldwork in a remote location, simply explain the situation. If, on the other hand, you're reluctant to request a letter from your graduate advisor because the two of you don't get along, try to figure out whether the problem is likely to affect what your advisor will say in his/her letter. If you decide not to request a letter from your graduate advisor, be sure to explain the situation in your application, since reviewers will expect to see a letter from that person. You should also ask your references to address the situation.

Q20: My sponsor has little or no experience training postdocs. How should s/he address that situation when s/he writes my training plan?

A: Your sponsor should consider asking a more experienced faculty colleague to serve as a co-sponsor. S/he should provide a detailed, well-thought-out training plan, in which the roles of sponsor and co-sponsor are clearly delineated. In addition, a sponsor who has not previously trained postdocs should describe any other training experience that might be relevant, e.g., supervision of graduate students or mentoring of a collaborator's postdocs.

Q21: What should be in my training plan?

A: The training plan, which is written by your sponsor, should be specific for you. It should include a description of what you will be learning that is new for you; the lab meetings, journal clubs and conferences that you will attend; the collaborations that you will engage in; and plans for ensuring that you have access to equipment and core facilities that are essential for your research. Be sure to obtain letters from co-sponsors, collaborators and the directors of essential core facilities.

Q22: How detailed should my research plan be, and what should it include?

A: You should provide enough detail so that reviewers understand what is already known, what you are planning to do and why, how you are planning to do the experiments and what you anticipate the results will be. Avoid "fishing expeditions," "looking for something that's undefined" and open-ended screens. If you are proposing to do something laborious, be sure that there is no easier or faster way to accomplish what you propose to do. You also need to consider the scope of the proposed research. Think carefully about whether what you propose to do can be accomplished by one person in 3 years.

Q23: How risky should my research plan be?

A: You should aim for a balance of conservative and risky, cutting-edge experiments. A pedestrian research plan may provide a good training experience, but reviewers will downgrade your application if everything that you propose to do is routine. On the other hand, if the entire research plan is risky, or all of your subsequent work depends on the success of one high-risk experiment, reviewers will be concerned about the possibility that your entire project will fail. When you propose a risky experiment, be sure to include a backup plan.

Q24: Do I need to include a plan for obtaining training in responsible conduct of research (RCR)?

A: Yes. It is a common misconception that you only have to include an RCR plan in your application if you are using human subjects. In fact, an RCR plan is required of all applicants. Responsible conduct of research encompasses a variety of topics, including scientific ethics and morality, research misconduct, intellectual property issues, authorship, human and animal subjects, data management and sharing and conflicts of interest. The easiest way to fulfill your RCR requirement is to take (for credit) or audit a course or seminar that addresses most of these topics and provides opportunities for participants to discuss controversial issues. Institutions with training grants are required to offer courses and seminars that fulfill the RCR requirement and many institutions without training grants also offer such courses. For additional guidance on the appropriate components for RCR training see http://www.nigms.nih.gov/training/pages/responsibleconduct.aspx.

If you took an RCR course in graduate school or earlier in your postdoctoral career, you do not have to take another one if you took the course within 2 years of when you apply for the fellowship. In your application, you should provide a brief description of the course and indicate when you took it.

Q25: If my application is not funded, can I submit a revised application?

A: If you can address most or all of the reviewers' concerns and you haven't exceeded the NIGMS limit for time already spent in the current sponsor's lab (see Q13), you should talk to your sponsor about the possibility of submitting a revised application. Receipt deadlines for revised applications are April 8, August 8 and December 8. You should address the reviewers' comments and describe the progress that you've made since you submitted the original application. Your publication list and your sponsor's information should be updated, if necessary.

In general, the more time you spend in your sponsor's lab, the fewer opportunities you have for new training. Training potential is one of the major criteria that reviewers assess when they evaluate fellowship applications (see Q30). Accordingly, if you revise your application, consider requesting a shorter term (e.g., 2 years, if you requested 3 years in your original application), scaling down the scope of the proposed research and emphasizing the opportunities for new training. If you do decide to request a 3-year term, be aware that if your revised application is funded, you will almost certainly get less than 3 years of support, per NIGMS policy (see Q37).

Q26: If I submit a revised application, do I need to obtain new reference letters and supply new appendix materials?

A: Yes. The people who review your revised application will not have access to the letters and appendix materials that accompanied the previous version.


Review of Fellowship Applications

Q27: What happens after I submit a fellowship application, and how long does the review and award process take?

A: When an application arrives at NIH, it is referred to a study section for review. It is also assigned to an NIH institute or center (IC) that will pay the grant if it receives a favorable review. The topic of your proposed research determines the study section to which your application is referred and the IC to which it is assigned. You can identify the IC to which your application has been assigned by looking at the application number. "GM" indicates that your application was assigned to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).

The interval between receipt of an application and funding is generally 6-8 months.

Receipt Date

 

Review Date

 

Potential Start Date

 

April 8

 

June/July

 

December

 

August 8

 

Oct./Nov.

 

March

 

December 8

 

Feb./March

 

July

 


Q28: Whom should I contact before my application is reviewed if I have questions about the review process or if I want to submit an update?

A: You should contact the SRO who is in charge of the study section in which your application will be reviewed. You'll find the SRO's name and contact information in your eRA Commons account, which will be available about a month after you submit your application. Feel free to contact the SRO if you have any questions or concerns prior to review or immediately afterward (see Q31). Submission of updated materials is now limited, so check with the SRO about current practices.

Q29: How are fellowship applications reviewed?

A: Most applications are reviewed in study sections that specialize in fellowships. Typically, three to four members of a study section are assigned to review each application. The reviewers receive the application approximately 5 weeks before the study section meets. Before the meeting, reviewers assigned to an application give a preliminary impact score. Reviewers also give separate scores and report individually for each of five core review criteria: (1) candidate, (2) sponsor and collaborators, (3) research training plan, (4) training potential and (5) training environment (see Q30). When the study section meets, each reviewer summarizes his/her evaluation of the application and then the reviewers and other study section members discuss the application. After the application is discussed, every eligible member of the study section gives a final priority score and the assigned reviewers submit their final written critiques to the SRO.

Prior to the meeting, the preliminary impact scores from the assigned reviewers are used to determine which applications will be discussed. Applications determined to be in the less competitive range (this may be up to 50 percent of the applications) are streamlined for review. This means that they are not discussed at the review meeting and receive a score of "ND" (not discussed). Each applicant still receives a summary statement with comments and individual scores for the five core review criteria. Should your application not be discussed, it does not prohibit you from submitting a revised application, but you should contact your program director to discuss the reviews.

Q30: Is the score based solely on the research plan?

A: No. Reviewers evaluate five aspects of the application: the candidate (you), the sponsor and collaborators, the research training plan, the training potential and the training environment. Each component is described below.

Candidate: The reviewers will assess your potential as an independent investigator by evaluating your reference letters, your publication record, your honors and awards, your long-term career goals and the extent to which your postdoctoral training will facilitate achieving them, your accomplishments as a graduate student and your grades. One or two poor grades are generally not a problem, especially if you took the courses many years ago. However, the reviewers will be concerned if your grades are consistently poor, or if your grades got worse when you took more challenging courses.

Sponsor and collaborators: The reviewers will attempt to determine whether your sponsor is a top-notch scientist and whether s/he is likely to be a good mentor for you. They will downgrade the application if your sponsor has a weak publication record, lacks external funding, or has little or no experience training postdocs (see Q20 for suggestions for addressing the latter problem). Conversely, if there are dozens of postdocs in the lab, the reviewers may have concerns about how much individual attention you're likely to get. Regardless of the size of the lab, the reviewers are likely to question the extent of your sponsor's commitment to your training if s/he provides a cursory, generic training plan rather than a detailed training plan that is tailored to your project and your needs, or if your research proposal is poorly written and it appears that your sponsor provided minimal assistance with the preparation of your application (see Q16). Reviewers also evaluate the sponsor's expertise in relation to the research that you propose to do. Even if your research plan is outstanding, reviewers will downgrade the application if you are not taking advantage of the strengths of the sponsor's lab.

If you are planning to work with a collaborator or you need specialized equipment, core facilities, animal resources or access to field sites, you should make it clear in your application that you will have what you need. Collaborators should provide letters confirming the collaboration and explaining their involvement in your training and their contribution to the proposed research. If a collaborator's expertise is not obvious, s/he should also provide a biosketch.

Research training plan: In addition to its scientific merit (see Q22 and Q23), the reviewers will assess the research plan to evaluate your creativity, your knowledge of the relevant literature and your writing skills. Although your sponsor should help you prepare your fellowship application (see Q16), the research plan should be written in your own style, and it should incorporate ideas that reflect your unique perspective, interests and expertise. Do not plagiarize sentences, paragraphs, or aims from your sponsor's research grant application! The reviewers will also evaluate the scope of the proposed research. The most common mistake that applicants make is proposing an overly ambitious research plan that lacks essential details.

Training potential: The reviewers will evaluate your research plan to determine whether you will be learning a new discipline, a new system, and/or new technical skills. They will also ask whether the new training is consistent with your long-term career goals. If the reviewers think that the training potential is minimal or that there's no relationship between what you're doing as a postdoc and what you plan to do in the future, your application will get a poor score even if they think that the candidate, sponsor and environment and research plan are outstanding.

Training environment: Reviewers evaluate the environment which includes the department, the university and the local geographical area to be sure that it is intellectually stimulating and that you have the resources and expertise that you need to do the proposed experiments.

Q31: How can I tell how my application did in review?

A: Within a few days of the study section meeting, your application's priority score will be available through your eRA Commons account. Your priority score is determined by calculating the mean score from all the study section members impact scores (1-9) for your application and multiplying the average by 10. This gives a possible scoring range of 10 (best) to 90 (worst). Note that this overall score is not an average of the individual criterion scores. Contact your program director to find out whether your priority score is likely to be in the fundable range.

The reviewer comments or "summary statement" will be available in the NIH Commons about 1 month after the study section meets. The summary statement will include a paragraph summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of your application and at least two reviewers' written critiques. If the study section had concerns about your application that will have to be resolved prior to an award (e.g., concerns about animal use or human subjects), or the reviewers recommended a shorter fellowship term than what you requested, that information will also be in your summary statement. If your application was considered noncompetitive and was not discussed, this will also be indicated in your Commons account.

If you plan to apply for an NIH fellowship, ask your university administrator to set up an NIH Commons account for you (see https://commons.era.nih.gov/commons).

Q32: Why didn't my application receive a percentile?

A: Fellowship applications assigned to NIGMS are not percentiled.

Q33: Whom do I contact if I have a question after my application has been reviewed?

A: Until you receive your priority score, contact your SRO. After you receive your priority score, contact your program director, who will contact the SRO, if necessary, to resolve your concern.

Q34: If I have concerns about the review, my priority score or comments in the summary statement, what should I do?

A: Contact your program director to discuss the situation. In most cases, a conversation with your program director will be sufficient to resolve your concerns. If you have new publications or data that address reviewers' criticisms, your program director may request an update before funding decisions are made. If you think that the review process was seriously flawed (e.g., the reviewers were biased or they made factual errors that had a major effect on your priority score), contact your program director immediately to discuss the possibility of an appeal. Appeals of fellowship reviews are considered by the NIGMS Fellowship Oversight Group (FOG). If the FOG agrees that the review was flawed, they can recommend that your application be deferred for a re-review. Keep in mind, though, that serious flaws in the review process are rare. Most disagreements with reviewers are differences in scientific opinion, which are not grounds for appeal. Note also that funding decisions cannot be appealed (see Q35).


Fellowship Offers and Awards

Q35: What criteria are used to determine whether an application is funded?

A: Your priority score matters, but it is not the only factor that your program director will consider when making a decision about whether to offer you a fellowship. First, s/he will determine whether you are eligible for a fellowship. What is the status of your citizenship? How many years have you already spent in your sponsor's lab? How many years of NRSA postdoctoral support have you had? If you are eligible, s/he will consider what your summary statement says about the strengths and weaknesses of your application. An outstanding candidate whose research project has some flaws and is high risk, but is extraordinarily interesting, is more likely to be offered a fellowship than a mediocre candidate who is doing sure-to-succeed but somewhat pedestrian research in a top-notch lab.

Q36: How will I know whether my application will be funded?

A: Your program director will phone you or, if necessary, send you an e-mail message. S/he will ask you questions, explain what's being offered (term, stipend level, institutional allowance, etc.), and answer any questions that you may have. You may be asked to provide additional information or documents (e.g., your home address, your e-mail address, proof of permanent residency, a revised plan for responsible conduct of research or copies of letters withdrawing other fellowship applications; see Q44). You'll then be asked whether you want to accept the fellowship. You do not have to make a decision immediately. If you want to discuss the offer with your sponsor before making a decision, simply tell your program director that.

If your program director can't offer you a fellowship, s/he won't call you to tell you that. However, don't assume that a fellowship won't be forthcoming if your program director hasn't called you. It's possible that s/he hasn't had a chance to call you yet, or s/he may be planning to offer you a fellowship if another applicant declines his/her offer. If you're tired of waiting for the phone to ring, or you have to make a decision about whether to accept another fellowship, contact your program director for an update on the status of your application.

Q37: I requested 3 years of support, but my program director offered me a 2-year award. Why?

A: Three factors determine the term of a fellowship. The first factor is the study section, which may recommend a term that is shorter than what you requested (see "Committee Budget Recommendations" at the end of your summary statement). The second factor is whether you have been on an NRSA postdoctoral training grant or have had an NRSA postdoctoral fellowship previously. If so, the term of your fellowship will be adjusted so that your total NRSA postdoctoral support does not exceed 3 years. The third factor is the time that you have already spent in your current sponsor's lab. In general, if you have been in the lab for more than a year, NIGMS policy is to adjust the term of your fellowship so that it is less than 3 years, regardless of the study section's recommendation.

Q38: How is the stipend level calculated?

A: Stipend levels range from 0, for freshly minted Ph.D.s, to 7 (current fellowship stipends are available at http://grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm). Your stipend level is determined by the amount of time that you've spent doing biomedical research-related activities (research, teaching or clinical) since you earned your Ph.D. or another terminal degree. The relevant experience can be in your current sponsor's lab, elsewhere, or both. If you earned two terminal degrees (e.g., an M.D. and a Ph.D.), we calculate your stipend based on when you earned the first degree.

Q39: I'm eligible for a level 1 stipend when I'm offered the fellowship, but by the time I activate it, I'll be eligible for level 2. Will I get level 1 or level 2?

A: Level 1. Your stipend level in year 1 will be the one for which you were eligible when you were offered the fellowship, regardless of when you activate (start) the fellowship.

Q40: I've been offered 3 years of support. Will my stipend increase after the first year?

A: Yes. Every year, your stipend will be one level higher than it was in the previous year. For example, if you are paid at level 2 in the first year of your fellowship, you'll be paid at level 3 in the second year and at level 4 in the third year. In your second year, your stipend will be what Congress authorizes that year for level 3. In your third year, your stipend will be what Congress authorizes that year for level 4.

Q41: Can my stipend be supplemented?

A: Your institution or your sponsor may choose to supplement your fellowship stipend, which is legal as long as the supplemental funds come from a non-Federal source.

Q42: Are stipends taxable?

A: Yes. In most cases, your business office will issue the IRS Form 1099 that you'll need when you file your tax return.

Q43: What can the institutional allowance be used for?

A: Your institution determines what it can be used for. In general, it can be used to pay for health insurance premiums, travel to scientific meetings, computers and other costs that are directly related to your postdoctoral training.

Q44: I have other fellowship applications pending. How does that affect my NRSA fellowship?

A: If you have other applications pending, you will have to withdraw those applications before you can accept an NRSA fellowship. Your program director will ask for copies of the letters that you write to withdraw your other fellowship applications. If you are anticipating a decision from another funding source soon, you may want to wait until you hear from that funding source before you accept or reject the offer from NIH. Your program director will tell you how long s/he can wait for you to make a decision.

Q45: I've been offered a fellowship from another funding source. I'd like to know whether NIH will offer me a fellowship, and what the term and the stipend would be, before I make a decision about the other offer. What can I do?

A: Ask your program director when decisions are likely to be made about NRSA fellowships and the probability that your application will be funded. If you are likely to be offered a fellowship, your program director can calculate what your term and stipend would be.

Q46: I've been offered a fellowship from another funding source, and I'm going to accept it. How do I withdraw my NRSA fellowship application?

A: Send a letter, countersigned by an authorized representative from your institution's Office of Sponsored Research, requesting your application be withdrawn to your assigned NIGMS program director. The letter can be scanned, uploaded and sent as a PDF to the program director's e-mail address located in your eRA Commons account.

Q47: My program director told me that my responsible conduct of research (RCR) plan is unacceptable. What can I do?

A: If s/he needs more details about the course that you're planning to take, simply e-mail a more complete course description to your program director. If, on the other hand, your RCR plan is unacceptable, you will have to identify a suitable course (see Q24) and get your sponsor's approval to take it before your fellowship can be awarded. You can e-mail the course description to your program director and ask your sponsor to send an e-mail message to your program director indicating his/her approval. Alternatively, you can print out a course description, sign it and ask your sponsor to sign it, and then fax the signed copy to your program director.

Q48: My program director told me that there is a bar on funding my application because of concerns about animal use or human subjects. What can I do?

A: The fellowship cannot be funded until the bar is lifted. Neither your program director nor your grants management specialist can lift the bar. If the concern is about animal use, the person who can lift the bar is in the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW). If the concern is about human subjects, the person who can lift the bar is in the HHS Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). OLAW or OHRP will ask you and/or your institution to answer questions and provide additional information. After you have responded to the initial request, OLAW or OHRP may ask for additional information. Be aware that the process of getting the bar lifted will delay the fellowship award, sometimes for several weeks.

Q49: My grants management specialist needs proof of permanent residency. What do I have to do?

A: E-mail or fax a notarized statement certifying that you are in possession of a green card (I-551) to your grants management specialist. You need to do this before your fellowship can be awarded. If your green card is being approved for renewal, you can submit a notarized statement certifying that you are in possession of Form 1-90, which was provided to you when you filed for your new green card. Once you have received your new green card, you must send a notarized statement certifying that you have your green card to Grants and Council Operations, NIH/NIGMS, Room 2AN.44, 45 Center Drive, MSC 6200, Bethesda, MD 20892-6200.

Q50: I was still in graduate school when I applied for the fellowship. Do I have to prove that I earned my Ph.D. before the fellowship can be awarded?

A: No, but you have to submit proof that you completed the requirements for the Ph.D. or another terminal degree before you can activate (start) your fellowship. You can submit the Ph.D. certification form that was sent to you with your Notice of Research Fellowship Award (note that this form has to be signed by the dean or registrar of the institution from which you earned your degree); a copy of your diploma, if it specifies the degree that was awarded; or an official copy of your graduate transcript. The document should be sent to Grants and Council Operations, NIH/NIGMS, Room 2AS.55, 45 Center Drive, MSC 6200, Bethesda, MD 20892-6200.

Q51: I accepted the NRSA fellowship. What happens next?

A: Your grants management specialist will issue the award. It typically takes a few weeks--maybe up to a month--for that to happen, after you tell your program director that you would like to accept the fellowship. If you need to submit something before your award can be issued (e.g., proof of permanent residency, a revised RCR plan), do that right away. If you don't, your award will be delayed.

The Notice of Research Fellowship Award (NRFA) will be automatically e-mailed to your institution's Office of Sponsored Programs and available through their eRA Commons account. After receiving the Fellowship Award Notice, you may activate your fellowship by following the instructions for submitting the Activation Notice and Payback agreement, which are found in the Terms and Conditions section of the NRFA. These instructions include the links to the forms you'll need.

Q52: When can I start my fellowship?

A: You can activate (start) your fellowship any time within 6 months of the date on which the Notice of Research Fellowship Award was issued, except between October 1 and November 15. Talk to your sponsor about the best time to activate your fellowship. Activating it quickly may be preferable if money is tight in the lab. Conversely, if you activate your fellowship late, you may be able to extend your time in your sponsor's lab. The term of your fellowship will be the same, regardless of when you activate it.

If you know when you're offered the fellowship that you want to activate it as soon as possible, tell your program director when you accept the offer, so that s/he can let your grants management specialist know. Depending on how busy your grants management specialist is, s/he may be able to expedite the award.

To activate your fellowship, you need to submit an activation notice and a payback agreement (see Q51 and Q55). These documents should be mailed to Grants and Council Operations, NIH/NIGMS, Room 2AS.55, 45 Center Drive, MSC 6200, Bethesda, MD 20892-6200.

Q53: What if I cannot activate the fellowship within the 6 months allotted?

A: If circumstances beyond your control prevent you from being able to activate your fellowship within 6 months, you can request an extension of the activation period. Your request should be in the form of a letter signed by you and countersigned by your sponsor and by the appropriate institutional official. In the letter, you should explain the circumstances justifying the request and specify the date to which you'd like the activation period to be extended. When choosing a date, keep in mind that you will not be able to activate your fellowship between October 1 and November 15. The letter should be faxed to your grants management specialist. If your request is approved, a revised Notice of Research Fellowship Award with a new "latest activation date" will be issued.

Q54: What is a payback agreement?

A: For every month of NRSA postdoctoral support, up to 12 months, you incur an obligation to pay back that support. You can fulfill that obligation by continuing on the fellowship for 12 additional months or by doing biomedical research-related activities while you are not supported by the fellowship. One month of payback is required for every month in which you incur a payback application.


After Your Fellowship Starts

Q55: After I activate my fellowship, to whom do I address questions?

A: Contact the business official at your institution who handles postdoctoral fellowships. If s/he can't help you, get in touch with your grants management specialist or your program director at NIGMS. In general, address questions about policy or legal issues to your grants management specialist and questions about your research project to your program director. Since grants management and program staff work closely with each other, they will confer if necessary to address your questions and resolve any problems that might arise.

Q56: Am I required to submit annual progress reports?

A: Yes. At the end of every year of fellowship support except for the last one, you are required to submit a progress report. Your progress report is due 2 months before your next year of support is scheduled to begin. Your institution will submit the progress report, but it is your responsibility to write the narrative describing your progress. It is your sponsor's responsibility to provide a written evaluation of your accomplishments.

Q57: What form do I use for the progress report?

A: You must use the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR).

Q58: I just found out that my progress report is late. What should I do?

A: Call your program director and explain the situation. If it is just a few days late, there is no harm done, as long as your program director and your grants management specialist know when it will arrive. However, if we do not have your progress report when your current year of fellowship funding expires, your next year of funding will be delayed.

Q59: If I don't use up all of my institutional allowance in the first year of my fellowship award, can I spend what's left over in year 2?

A: No. There is no carryover from one budget period to the next. All funds must be spent in the year in which they were awarded.

Q60: What do I do if I have a problem with my research project?

A: If the problem is so serious that you are thinking about abandoning your project or switching labs, call your program director immediately. S/he can tell you whether you'll be able to retain your fellowship (see Q62) and what paperwork you need to submit to request permission to do that. When you submit your progress report, you should describe any setbacks, major or minor, that you've encountered while doing your research and discuss what you have done to overcome those setbacks.

Q61: If I change projects or go to another lab, or my sponsor moves and I want to move with him/her, can I keep my fellowship?

A: If you change projects, sponsors AND institutions, you cannot keep your fellowship. But if you change projects OR sponsors OR institutions, you can request permission from your program director to keep your fellowship. If you change two of the three parameters (e.g., project and sponsor), you will need approval to retain your fellowship from your program director and from the NIGMS Fellowship Oversight Group (FOG). Your request will only be approved if the justification for the change(s) is very compelling.

If you decide to change projects or move, your program director and your grants management specialist will tell you what paperwork you need to submit and how long the process is likely to take. If your request requires FOG approval or your fellowship has to be transferred from one institution to another, the process can take several weeks. A fellowship cannot be moved from one institution to another between October 1 and November 15.

Q62: I activated my fellowship on April 1. In December, my sponsor will be moving to a new institution, and I want to go with him/her. Can my fellowship be transferred to the new institution mid-year?

A: Yes, but the process may take several weeks since your unexpended institutional allowance and stipend funds will have to be transferred from your old institution to your new institution.

Q63: Can I request a leave of absence from my fellowship?

A: You can request an unpaid leave of absence if you need to stop work on your project temporarily because of illness, a family emergency, serious damage to the lab because of a fire or an earthquake, the birth or adoption of a child or any other good reason. Be sure to use up your vacation and sick days first so that your time without pay is minimal. To request a leave of absence, send a letter to your grants management specialist countersigned by your sponsor and the appropriate institutional official. You should specify the date on which you want the leave to start and the date on which you plan to return, and provide a brief justification for the request. If your plans change and your return is delayed, let your grants management specialist know. Note that your fellowship cannot be re-started between October 1 and November 15.

If you take a leave of absence, your award will be extended to compensate for the time that you are on leave. For example, if you are on an unpaid leave of absence for 3 months, your award will be extended for 3 months.

Q64: What are my obligations when the fellowship ends?

A: You need to submit a termination notice to NIH (PHS 416-7 via xTrain within 30 days of termination). The form and instructions are available at http://grants2.nih.gov/grants/funding/416/phs416-7.pdf . The termination notice should be mailed to Grants and Council Operations, NIH/NIGMS, Room 2AS.55, 45 Center Drive, MSC 6200, Bethesda, MD 20892-6200. Fellows with service payback requirements (see Q54) must notify NIH of any change in address and submit Annual Payback Activities Certification Forms (PHS 6031-1) until the payback service obligation is satisfied.

Q65: I just accepted a faculty position, so I have to terminate my fellowship early. How do I do that? Will I be penalized?

A: Congratulations! If you terminate your fellowship in the first 6 months of a fellowship year, your institutional allowance will be reduced by half. Otherwise, there is no penalty for early termination, assuming that you already fulfilled your payback obligation or will fulfill it by doing biomedical research-related activities in your new position. Simply let your program director know and submit a termination notice (see Q64).

Q66: My fellowship is going to expire soon, but I have not yet finished my research project. Can I get an extension? It's unreasonable to expect a postdoc to finish in 3 years.

A: We realize that most postdoctoral research projects take more than 3 years to complete. However, there is a Congressionally mandated 3-year limit on NRSA postdoctoral support. Generally, sponsors assume the responsibility of supporting postdocs after their fellowships expire. In most cases, requests for extensions of the fellowship will not be considered.

In unusual circumstances, however, a postdoc who has received less than 3 years of NRSA support will be considered for a 6-month extension of the fellowship if the postdoc has an unanticipated opportunity for substantial new training. You cannot request an extension to work on experiments that you proposed to do in your fellowship application and have not yet started, to finish ongoing projects, or to write manuscripts. If you think that you might qualify for an extension, contact your program director.

In very rare circumstances (e.g., an M.D. who needs more time to complete his/her Ph.D. research, a postdoc who has not been able to work efficiently for a prolonged period of time because of a sponsor's illness, or a major disaster in the laboratory), a request for a 12-month extension will be considered. Approval from the NIGMS Fellowship Oversight Group (FOG) is required for a 12-month extension.


Index by Topic Area

Activating (starting) your fellowship: 2, 39, 53, 54

Animal use: 31, 48

Appeals: 34

Applicant, evaluation of: 9, 10, 30

Application deadlines: 1, 2

Application number: 27

Applying for a fellowship while still in graduate school: 7, 50

Changes in institution after fellowship award: 61, 62, 63

Changes in project after fellowship award: 61, 62

Changes in sponsor after fellowship award: 61, 62

Collaborators: 21, 30

Contacts at NIH: 28, 33, 56

Co-sponsor: 20, 21

Extension of your fellowship: 66

F32 vs. F33: 4

Fellowship application--who writes what?: 16, 17

Fellowship Oversight Group (FOG): 34, 61, 66

Foreign institution: 15

Forms: 3, 51, 52, 58, 65

Funding decisions: 34, 35, 36

Funding--when?: 2, 27

Gaps in C.V.: 9

Grants management specialist: 46, 49, 51, 52, 54, 56, 64

Human subjects: 31, 48

Institutional allowance: 36, 43, 60

Leave of absence: 64

NIH Commons: 31, 51, 52

Notice of Research Fellowship Award: 51, 52

Other funding sources: 41, 44, 45, 46

Payback agreement: 53, 55

Percentile: 32

Permanent residency: 5, 49, 51

Ph.D., documenting fulfillment of requirements: 6, 50

Postdoctoral research, relationship to graduate research: 8, 11, 12

Priority score: 31, 34, 35

Program director: 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 56, 59, 61, 66

Progress reports: 57, 58, 59, 61

Publication record: 10, 30

Reference letters: 17, 18, 19, 26

Research plan: 22, 23, 30

Responsible conduct of research (RCR) plan: 24, 47, 51

Review of fellowship applications: 27, 29, 30, 31, 34

Revised application: 25, 26

Scientific review officer (SRO): 10, 28, 29, 33

Second postdoc: 14

Senior fellowship (F33): 4

Sponsor: 20, 30

Sponsor's responsibilities: 16, 17, 20, 21, 30, 47

Stipend: 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42

Study section: 27, 28, 29

Summary statement: 31, 34, 35

Taxes: 42

Term (duration) of fellowship award: 25, 31, 36, 37, 66

Terminating your fellowship: 65, 66

Time in sponsor's laboratory: 13, 25, 37

Training: 8, 11, 14, 20, 21, 30

Training environment: 30

Training plan: 21

Updates, submission of: 10, 28, 34

This page last reviewed on October 01, 2015