NICHD provides the following answers to common training-related questions to help potential trainees navigate through the application process. Please note that these answers are specific to the NICHD’s procedures and activities.
For more general answers, visit the NIH Research Training and Career Development website.
If, after looking through the FAQs, you still have questions about extramural training, contact Dennis A. Twombly, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the NICHD Office of Extramural Policy.
NIH supports training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows through several mechanisms:
- The Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) program. These fellowships (e.g., F30, F31, F32) provide stipends for salary support as well as small institutional allowances to partially offset costs of research, tuition, and health insurance.
- Students and postdoctoral fellows may also be supported by Institutional Training Grants (i.e., T32, K12). These grants are awarded to an institution to support several trainee positions or "slots."
- Career Development Awards (K awards) provide support for senior postdoctoral fellows or faculty-level candidates. Individual K awards are designed to promote the career development of specific individuals based on their past training and career stage. Institutional Career Development Programs (K12) support groups of scholars at a single institution or as part of a national mentoring network. The objective of the K programs is to bring candidates to the point where they are able to conduct their research independently and are competitive for major grant support.
Individuals interested in graduate student fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships, career development awards, or institutional training grants can find general descriptions and policies for different types of award mechanisms at the following web sites:
- Support for Training at Universities and Other Institutions (Extramural): This page is the main gateway to training-related programs sponsored by NICHD.
- F Kiosk: Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowships are available through the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) program (F31 or F32). The F Kiosk lists the types of fellowships awarded by different institutes at NIH.
- K Kiosk: Career Development Awards are designed for senior postdoctoral fellows or faculty. The K Kiosk lists the different types of K awards sponsored by institutes at NIH.
- T Kiosk: Institutional Training Programs are awarded to institutions for the support of a number of pre- and/or postdoctoral or faculty positions (full-time employee or "slots"). The T Kiosk lists the different T awards sponsored by the institutes at NIH.
- NIH Office of Extramural Research Training Page: This site provides references to policies, stipend/salary levels, application and review process, and funding opportunity announcements for all grants, fellowships, and career development awards.
- Research Portfolio On-line Reporting Tools (RePORT): This NIH website includes a searchable database of all funded grants, as well as statistics on numbers of applications to specific NIH institutes, success rates, and other information.
- NIH Grants Policy Statement (GPS): The GPS outlines policies for all grant mechanisms at NIH, including fellowships, career development awards, and institutional training grants. The GPS is the ultimate resource for policy questions.
- NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP): The extramural LRPs encourage promising individuals to pursue research careers by repaying up to $35,000 of their qualified student loan debt each year. LRP programs through NICHD are available in only three of the five qualifying research areas:
- Clinical Research
- Pediatric Research
- Contraception and Infertility Research
Many of the above web sites provide links to specific Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), also called Program Announcements (PAs). These FOAs include the purpose of each program, the list of participating NIH Institutes, eligibility criteria, budgetary information, application instructions, and review criteria. These FOAs are the fundamental resource for applicants and for NIH staff in determining the rules for each program.
There are two important things to remember when consulting any FOA.
- First, FOAs are regularly updated. Newer as well as archived versions are listed near the beginning of the text. Google searches often retrieve outdated FOAs. Readers should verify that they are consulting the most recent version of the announcement.
- Second, so-called "Parent FOAs" are co-sponsored by groups of NIH Institutes. For example, the F30, F31, F32, K01, K08, K23, and T32 awards are described under parent FOAs. Participating institutes often have different policies, eligibility criteria, and funding limits. To find the specific provisions for each institute, visit the Table of IC-Specific Information, Requirements and Staff Contacts section. These tables are linked several times in beginning sections of the FOAs. The tables include the name of a Research/Scientific and Grants Management contacts for each institute. Applicants are strongly advised to contact these staff members to ask about the mission of the Institute and specific eligibility criteria.
Letters of reference must be submitted directly through eRA Commons by the referees. The instructions in the SF424 application guide must be followed carefully to assure that the letters are properly linked with the application. The deadline for the letters is the same as for the application itself. There is no longer a 5-day waiting period.
Choosing a mentor depends on who will be guiding you and conveying the new skills that are part of the training plan. The primary mentor is usually someone who is a full-time established investigator with independent funding. Secondary mentors are typically investigators who will be teaching you something new as part of the training plan. For all mentors, be specific in describing their time commitments to your training. Make certain that your application and the mentor letter(s) reflect a common understanding of the planned commitments.
Reviewers will evaluate the experience and contribution of each mentor. Sometimes grant funding history can help illuminate that, but a mentor with a mostly clinical practice career (and less research) can still impart needed skills. Another consideration is the training record of the mentors. Those who have a good track record of training, and whose students/fellows go on to good faculty positions, will look much better and positively influence the score your application receives.
Reviewers generally expect that the primary mentor will have active grant support. This will probably be support from NIH, though substantial support from the university or private foundations may be sufficient. Fellowships only provide salary support and limited funds for research expenses. Any other research expenses must be covered by the mentor(s) or department. Be sure it is obvious from the application how all expenses will be paid for so the project can be completed successfully. It is often a "kiss of death" for a fellowship application if the primary mentor has no funding.
- NIH Grant Application Forms: Forms provided through this site include grant and fellowship applications, non-competing continuation applications, progress reports, statements of appointment and termination, payback agreement, and grant close-out.
- Application Guides and Instructions: This web page provides links to the different NIH application instruction sets.
- Submitting Applications (Grants.gov): This is the main government-wide website for submitting grant applications. It provides the proper application form based on the grant mechanism selected. You can also access the proper form by visiting the appropriate FOA and selecting the “Apply Online Using ASSIST” link.
You can contact any of the following with additional questions:
- University Sponsor or Mentor
- University Department Chair and/or Administrator
- University Sponsored Programs Office
- Scientific/Research Contact listed in the Funding Opportunity Announcement
- NICHD Training Officer (Dennis A. Twombly, Ph.D.)
- NICHD Program Staff