FAQs: National Research Service Award Pre- & Postdoctoral Fellowships (F31, F32)

What are the receipt dates and page limits for fellowship applications?


Where can I find more information if my question isn't addressed in these FAQs?

More extensive policies and FAQs on NRSA fellowships are available on the NIH Office of Extramural Research website at http://grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm#policy.


What kinds of research training support are available for graduate students or postdoctoral fellows?

The NIH supports training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows through the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA program. These fellowships provide stipends for salary support as well as small institutional allowance to partially offset costs of research, tuition, and health insurance. The NICHD participates in the Diversity F31 Predoctoral Fellowship program and the F32 Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship program.

These FAQs are focused on NICHD-related policies. More general information on NRSA fellowships is available on the NIH Office of Extramural Research website at http://grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm.


What areas of research does the NICHD support under the NRSA fellowship program?

The NICHD offers fellowships and career development awards in research areas relevant to the Institute's scientific objectives. The mission of NICHD is to ensure that every person is born healthy and wanted, that women suffer no harmful effects from reproductive processes, that all children have the chance to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives, free from disease or disability, and to ensure the health, productivity, independence, and well-being of all people through optimal rehabilitation.

In pursuit of this mission, the NICHD supports a broad spectrum of research on normal and abnormal human development, including contraception, fertilization, pregnancy, childbirth, prenatal and postnatal development, and childhood development through adolescence. The mission areas also include research on intellectual and developmental disabilities and rehabilitation medicine. For more information, visit the Areas of Research Supported by NICHD. Prospective applicants are strongly advised to contact the NICHD to determine if their research fits within the NICHD mission.


Are foreign citizens eligible for predoctoral or postdoctoral fellowships?

Foreign students are not eligible for NRSA fellowships. By the time of an F31 or F32 award, the individual must be a citizen or a non-citizen national of the United States or have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (i.e., possess a currently valid Permanent Resident Card USCIS Form I-551, or other legal verification of such status). See the Program Announcements for more information.


What types of fellowships does the NICHD offer for graduate students?

  • The NICHD sponsors the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31 – Diversity); visit http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-11-112.html for more information. The intent of this fellowship program is to increase the diversity of the NIH-funded biomedical research workforce by focusing on three underrepresented populations—targeted underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (as identified by the National Science Foundation [NSF]), persons with disabilities, and, under very limited circumstances, persons from disadvantaged backgrounds. The following racial and ethnic groups have been identified by the NSF as underrepresented in biomedical research: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders (see http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/start.cfm). Further examples of the disadvantaged and disabled categories are included in the F31 program announcement. Applications for the F31 program must include a formal letter from the institution certifying eligibility for one of the above categories of students. Predoctoral students may receive a maximum of 5 years of support under individual or institutional NRSA programs.
  • The NICHD also sponsors F31 NRSA Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellows in PharmD/Ph.D. Programs (PA-11-129). These F31 awards support promising students enrolled in a PharmD/Ph.D. degree program who will be performing dissertation research and training in areas relevant to the missions of the NICHD, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
  • Predoctoral students who do not qualify for the Diversity F31 may be eligible for the Parent F31 (PA-11-111). The NICHD does not participate in the Parent F31 program. Participating NIH Institutes include the National Cancer Institute, National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institute of Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Please note that the proposed fellowship project needs to fit the mission of one of those Institutes. The National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke have F31 awards for other specific purposes. NIH funding opportunities for research training are available at http://grants.nih.gov/training/extramural.htm.
  • Predoctoral students can be supported on slots awarded to an Institutional Training Grant (T32). Students interested in such programs should consult with the Program Director/Principal Investigator of those grants at their institution. Predoctoral students may receive a maximum of 5 years of support under individual or institutional NRSA programs.
  • Graduate students may be supported by Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research. These supplements are provided to NICHD-supported grants that are already awarded to investigators at the student's university. Eligible students include:
    • Individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups
    • Individuals with disabilities
    • Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Applications for supplements must be submitted by the Principal Investigator of the parent grant. 


Can a postdoctoral fellow supported on an F32 receive training in a foreign country?

Yes, foreign training for postdoctoral fellows is allowable. The F32 program announcement (PA-11-113) lists foreign organizations as eligible institutions. Foreign clearance from the Fogarty International Center is needed prior to award. Foreign training for postdoctoral fellows is described in the Grants Policy Statement (GPS) at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/nihgps_2010/nihgps_ch11.htm#_Toc271265032.

The following provisions pertain to foreign work by postdoctoral fellows:

  • Foreign Sponsorship (GPS Section An individual may request support for training abroad. In such cases, the fellowship applicant is required to provide detailed justification for the foreign training, including the reasons why the facilities, the mentor, or other aspects of the proposed experience are more appropriate than training in a domestic setting. The justification is evaluated in terms of the scientific advantages of the foreign training as compared to the training available domestically. Foreign training may require additional administrative reviews and will be considered for funding only when the scientific advantages are clear.
  • Review Considerations (GPS Section Applications involving foreign training are considered by reviewers under "Additional Review Considerations," which do not receive scores and do not enter into the overall impact/priority score. For applications from foreign sponsoring institutions, the reviewers will also assess whether the research training experience presents special opportunities for the fellowship applicant through the use of talent (e.g., mentor) resources, populations (if applicable), or training environment that are not readily available in the United States or augment existing U.S. talent and/or resources.
  • Travel to Foreign Training Sites (GPS Section For fellows at foreign training sites, in addition to the institutional allowance, awards may include a single economy or coach round-trip travel fare. No allowance is provided for dependents. U.S. flag air carriers must be used to the maximum extent possible when commercial air transportation is the means of travel between the United States and a foreign country or between foreign countries. This requirement shall not be influenced by factors of cost, convenience, or personal travel preference.


Can I apply for an F32 fellowship if I stay at the same institution where I completed my Ph.D.?

The F32 fellowship is designed to support research training experiences in order to maximize the acquisition of new skills and knowledge. In most cases, therefore, the sponsoring institution should be a site other than where the applicant fellow has trained as a graduate student. However, if the applicant fellow is proposing postdoctoral training at his/her doctoral institution, the application must carefully document the opportunities for new research training experiences specifically designed to broaden his/her scientific background. In addition, the application should propose research experiences that will allow the fellow to acquire new knowledge and/or technical skills in order to become a productive, independent investigator (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-11-097.html).


How do I choose a mentor, and when should I consider co-mentors?

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.


How and when are letters of reference submitted?

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.


Can an NRSA postdoctoral fellow receive an appointment as a clinical instructor or other faculty position and remain under fellowship (F32) support?

No. Fellowship support would probably not be able to continue after a new appointment. The relevant policies include:

  • Any new faculty appointment would normally involve significant duties that are no longer considered postdoctoral research training. The F32 Program Announcement states: "At the time of award, individuals are required to pursue their research training on a full-time basis, normally defined as 40 hours per week or as specified by the sponsoring institution in accordance with its own policies."
  • A Kirschstein NRSA fellowship may not be used to support the clinical years of residency training. However, these awards are appropriate for the research fellowship years of a residency program. Research clinicians must devote full-time to their proposed research training and confine clinical duties to those activities that are part of the research training program.
  • Accepting a new position at a new university, presumably with a new mentor, would be considered a change in project or at least a change in scope. Individual fellowship awards are made for training at a specific institution under the guidance of a particular sponsor. The approval of the NIH awarding Institute or Center is required for a transfer of the award to another institution, a change in sponsor, or a project change (see requirements for change in project below).


Can an NRSA fellow change projects or transfer to another institution?

See Grants Policy Statement 11.2.12, Changes in the Project

Individual fellowship awards are made for training at a specific institution under the guidance of a particular sponsor. The approval of the NIH awarding Institute or Center is required for a transfer of the award to another institution, a change in sponsor, or a project change.

Requests to transfer a project should include detailed description of the new plan, endorsed by the former and new mentor(s) and Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) from the new institution. The request should confirm that the research scope and training plan would remain reasonably consistent with the awarded fellowship. The request must confirm that the fellow would continue to devote 100% effort (12 person months) to training, and that any clinical activities would be part of the research training program. Any supplementation of salary would need to come from non-Public Health Service sources. The current grantee organization would need to submit a relinquishing statement. If these conditions aren't satisfied, the NICHD has the option of denying the request and terminating the fellowship.

If a fellow sponsored by a domestic non-federal institution is approved to transfer to another domestic non-federal institution before the end of the current award year, the institutions are responsible for negotiating which will pay the stipend until the end of the current year. Disposition of the institutional allowance is also negotiable between the two sponsoring institutions. No Activation Notice is required from the new sponsoring institution.


I am planning on having a child during my fellowship. What are the NIH policies on family leave?

NRSA fellowship recipients are entitled to 15 days of sick leave per year, and up to 60 calendar days of parental leave if the institution provides that benefit to other fellows. The NRSA stipend will continue during those periods. Hence, the fellow would, in fact, be trading some research training time for the opportunity to stay at home with the child. The NICHD could possibly approve a mid-year extension for that particular budget period or a no-cost extension at the end of the project. Either of these options would prolong the training time but would not provide additional stipend support for the extended periods. The fellow may also take an unpaid leave of absence if more than 60 days off are expected.

No NRSA funds can be spent during the unpaid leave period, though health insurance coverage may be continued by the institution. Institutional allowance or other NRSA funds may not be used during the unpaid leave. The overall award period would be extended to offset the duration of the unpaid leave. The key policy provisions are explained in the Grants Policy Statement at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/nihgps_2010/nihgps_ch11.htm#_Toc271265032.

For additional information on Parental Leave and Child Care, visit http://grants.nih.gov/training/faq_childcare.htm.


Can a predoctoral or postdoctoral stipend be supplemented?

The NRSA program requires full-time professional effort, normally defined as 40 hours per week. "Supplementation" is extra salary support provided to an NRSA fellow (T32 or F32) in order to raise the rate above the standard NRSA stipend scale. This support cannot be derived from Public Health Service funds, which includes NIH funds from research grants or contracts. Moreover, any supplementation must be provided to all students in a particular program, namely all predoctoral or postdoctoral trainees appointed to the slots. A T32 program director cannot supplement the stipend of just one trainee.

"Compensation," in contrast, is salary paid to an individual who is in a formal employee-employer relationship with the university. That would include compensation as a teaching assistant, research assistant, or other job category. Compensation may come from NIH grant funds, but it cannot be from a grant that is already part of the trainee's research training experience. It also cannot detract from or delay progress on the proposed training program. NIH usually uses 25% time as the maximum commitment on employment for compensation. The activity should be something that enhances the trainee's professional skill set. For example, working on a different grant or teaching would provide experience that would foster the fellow's career in the long run.


Can an F32 fellow receive an award through the Loan Repayment Program (LRP)?

The LRP website (https://www.lrp.nih.gov/eligibility-programs), under "Eligibility," mentions NRSA funding and the associated restrictions:

Recipients of NRSA fellowships and training grants can apply for and receive LRP awards but may have to defer their NRSA service payback until the completion of the LRP. Recipients of postdoctoral NRSA support for individual fellowships (F32 or F33) or institutional research training grants (T32) incur a service obligation in the first year of their fellowship which is then repaid in the second year. Since the LRPs require a service obligation during the entire period of participation, individuals cannot satisfy two service obligations concurrently.


Are NRSA fellowships subject to income taxes and social security withholding?

An NRSA stipend is provided by the NIH as a subsistence allowance for Kirschstein NRSA fellows and trainees to help defray living expenses during the research training experience. NRSA recipients are not considered employees of the federal government or the grantee institution for purposes of the award. The NIH takes no position on the status of a particular taxpayer, nor does it have the authority to dispense tax advice. The interpretation and implementation of the tax laws are the domain of the Internal Revenue Service.


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