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Your Environment. Your Health.

Fellowships Frequently Asked Questions


General Issues

  1. What types of predoctoral support are available through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)?
    The NIEHS supports a variety of Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowships with two awards specifically for predoctoral students.
  2. Do I need to have an advisor chosen before I apply for a predoctoral fellowship?

    Yes, to apply for one of the predoctoral fellowships (F30 or F31), you need be accepted or enrolled into a Ph.D. program. Once in the program, you will identify a research mentor. In the application, you will describe your proposed Ph.D. research project and your mentor’s training plan.
     

  3. Are there other options for predoctoral training besides the F30 and F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (Kirschstein-NRSA) Individual Fellowship Awards available through NIEHS?
    Yes, in fact most predoctoral training is offered through institutional training grants where a person is part of a graduate school program that has a NIEHS T32 training grant. Through the T32 program, a student can receive a stipend and tuition support (the length of time depends on the specific program). Information can be found on the NIEHS Institutional Research Training Web page http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/trainingfrom/irt/index.cfm including a map displaying the locations of current T32 training programs.

  4. What types of fellowships are available for M.D./Ph.D. students interested in the field of environmental health?

    The Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual National Research Service Award Fellowships for M.D./Ph.D. (F30) students provides an annual stipend, an offset of a portion of the tuition and fees, and a research allowance for up to six years. You can find more information about the individual M.D./Ph.D. (F30) fellowships on the NIEHS Individual M.D./Ph.D. Fellowships (F30) Web page and the latest program announcement (PA-11-110). 
     

  5. What types of research does the NIEHS fund with its Kirschstein-NRSA fellowship grants?

    You can learn about the types of projects supported through NIEHS Fellowship grants by perusing the "NIEHS Extramural Research Portfolio"  (Who We Fund) database, which provides a searchable list of current NIEHS grants.

    • Click on the “Search by Topic” (or Science Code) link to see a listing of the areas of research supported by the NIEHS including the number of funded grants and resulting publications.
    • Look under the topic “Training,” and then click on the number of grants listed for “Training Grants and Fellowships.” By looking through the abstracts of specific F grants, you can obtain an overview of the types of research supported by NIEHS.

  6. How can I tell if my research area is within the mission of the NIEHS?

    Program priorities at the NIEHS are diverse, but all meet the Institute’s guiding mission to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives.

    Proposals should emphasize an environmental exposure as related to a human health endpoint. To get a better understanding of the types of research programs supported by the NIEHS, please see the "NIEHS Extramural Research Portfolio"  , a database of environmental health research funded by NIEHS. You can search for current NIEHS research grants by topic, state, or with keywords. You can also learn more about research funded by the NIEHS at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/programs/index.cfm.
     

    Another option is to send your research proposal abstract to the Fellowships Program Administrator and request feedback. The contact name is listed at the bottom of the NIEHS Fellowships Web page. http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/trainingfrom/fellowships/index.cfm

     

  7. When is the best time to apply if I want to start my fellowship during a specific month?

    The interval between receipt of an application and funding is approximately 6-8 months. For example, if you need funding in June, you would apply in December. Once you accept an award, you have 6 months to activate the fellowship. The guidelines listed below for the F30, F32, and F33 may help you plan.

     

    Receipt DateReview DatePotential Start Date
    April 8June/JulyDecember
    August 8October/NovemberMarch
    December 8February/MarchJuly


    F31 receipt dates are April 13, August 13, and December 13.

    If you have specific questions about your fellowship application, please contact the Fellowships Program Director listed at the bottom of the NIEHS fellowships webpage http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/trainingfrom/fellowships/index.cfm.

     

  8. What postdoctoral opportunities are available at or through the NIEHS?

    For NIEHS postdoctoral openings, go to the Postdoc Positions at the NIH  website and type “NIEHS” into the search box as a keyword. To apply for a postdoctoral fellowship outside of the NIEHS, you can find information on the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Postdoctoral F32 Fellowships at http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/trainingfrom/fellowships/f32/index.cfm

    The program announcement  describes the NRSA Fellowship program in more detail including award information, eligibility requirements, and application guidelines. Links to the application forms are contained within the announcement.

     

  9. Can you provide information about the Kirschstein-NRSA for Senior Fellows (F33)?
    The purpose of the F33 award is to provide experienced, independent scientists (at least 7 years research experience beyond the doctorate) with an opportunity to obtain training to broaden their scientific background or to extend their potential for research in a health-related field. In essence, the F33 award is a mentored sabbatical in which you can obtain new training or additional career development. It is not a way to extend a current research project or to begin a new collaboration.

    For more information, please see our web page on Individual Fellowships for Senior Fellows (F33) and refer to the most recent announcement ( PA-11-114  ).

     

  10. Can foreign institutions sponsor Kirschstein-NRSA Fellowships?

    Yes, it is possible to do your NRSA Fellowship at a foreign institution. Reviewers will determine if the research proposed to be performed abroad offers a clear, scientific advantage that would not be available in the United States.

     

  11. Do you need to be a U.S. citizen to receive a Kirschstein–NRSA Fellowship?

    Yes, at the time of the award, you must be either a citizen or non-citizen national of the United States or must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for Permanent Residence. Individuals on temporary or student visas are not eligible to apply for Kirschstein-NRSA individual fellowships.
     

  12. Who do I contact to find out more about the various fellowship programs and if I should apply?
    You can contact the Fellowships Program Administrator found at the bottom of the NIEHS fellowship Web page http://www.niehs.nih.gov/careers/research/trainingfrom/fellowships/index.cfm.


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Application Issues

  1. When do most applicants apply for the F30 Individual M.D./Ph.D. fellowship?
    Most applicants are already enrolled in their degree program and have the first year or two of medical school completed before they apply.

  2. How much preliminary data is necessary for a fellowship application?
    Providing preliminary data can be helpful but is not necessarily required for a successful application. Applicants in all stages of their degree program have been successful in obtaining fellowship funding. Applications are reviewed by study sections dedicated to the review of fellowships, considering both the quality of the science proposal and the training potential of the applicant.

  3. Are there specific forms to use for when writing a reference for an applicant?
    Yes, there is a specific form to fill out for the fellowship references. Please refer to the instruction manual “SF424 (R&R) Individual Fellowship Application Guide for NIH and AHRQ,” which is found through this link: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/424/SF424_RR_Guide_Fellowship_VerB.pdf  .

    Section 5.4 deals with Letters of Reference and includes instructions for the referees. Your “letter of reference” must be submitted using the Fellowship Reference Form  . Failure to submit the required reference in the appropriate format will result in the application being returned to the applicant without review.

    You can also find this form on theSF424 (R&R) Application and Electronic Submission Information page http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/424/index.htm  . You will find a file link for the “References for Fellowship Awards” document under the “Additional Format Pages” section.

    Reference letters are submitted directly through the eRA Commons and not through Grants.gov. Note that the sponsor and any co-sponsors may not submit a letter of reference.

  4. Can reference forms be submitted prior to the submission of the application?
    Yes, reference forms can by submitted as soon as the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) opens. Reference letters are submitted directly through the eRA Commons.

  5. I am re-applying for the individual fellowship. Will I need to get new letters of reference for my resubmission?
    Yes, you will need to get new reference letters for your resubmission. You can use the same individuals for references, but resubmitted reference letters must be included in the fellowship resubmission.

  6. How do I best reference my application when communicating with NIH/NIEHS?
    The best number for referencing your application is the grant number that looks like this:
    1-F31-ES017214-01. The first number (“1”) indicates that it is a new application. The “F31” is an activity code that tells us what type of application it is (in this case a fellowship). The “ES017214” tells us that the application was assigned by the NIH to NIEHS (hence the “ES”) and the “017214” means it’s the 17,214th application that came to NIEHS. The final “01” tells us it is the first year of the grant.

  7. Who should I address my cover letter to so that my application is directed appropriately?
    You should submit your cover letter to the Division of Receipt and Referral (DRR) in the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). The DRR first assigns each application to a review group that has the expertise to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of the application. They then assign one or more appropriate Institutes/Centers for funding consideration.

  8. Could you tell me if the number of publications per applicant is a strict criterion for a successful application?
    There is no requirement for an applicant to have a certain number of publications before applying for the fellowship. However, reviewers will look at an applicant’s publication record to determine productivity in their previous training.


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Eligibility Issues

  1. How many years of support can I expect from a F31 fellowship?
    Individuals may receive up to 5 years of aggregate Kirschstein-NRSA support at the predoctoral level, including any combination of support from institutional training grants (e.g., T32) and the individual fellowship award.

  2. How many years of F32 postdoctoral support one can receive?
    Individuals may receive up to 3 years of aggregate Kirschstein-NRSA support at the postdoctoral level, including any combination of support from institutional training grants (e.g., T32) and an individual fellowship award.

  3. If I am currently on a NIEHS Institutional Training Grant, am I eligible to apply for the Kirschstein Individual Fellowship?
    Yes, you can receive a total number of 5 years support as a predoctoral fellow. If you have 2 years on a training grant already, you can receive 3 additional years on an individual fellowship.

  4. Is a U.S. citizen working on an M.D./Ph.D. degree in a foreign country eligible for the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral M.D./Ph.D. Fellows (F30)?

    According to the F30 fellowship announcement  (PA-11-110), the sponsoring institution must be a U.S. institution.


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Review Issues

  1. Do I need to choose a specific study section to review my application?
    No, it is not necessary to specify the study section that should review your application. However, if you have a study section preference, you can request it.  Applications are reviewed by the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) fellowship study sections.

    CSR will assign the fellowship application to one of the fellowship study sections when they receive it based on the science/organ system/disease under examination in the proposal. Because of the diversity of our research portfolio, fellowship applications assigned to NIEHS end up in a variety of different fellowship study sections.

    You can find more information about fellowship study sections on the CSR website:
    http://cms.csr.nih.gov/PeerReviewMeetings/Fellowship/ 

  1. What is the general timeline for funding decisions?
    Fellowship funding decisions are made by a committee at NIEHS.  After fellowships for each round of applications are reviewed, and we receive the scores and summary statements, the Fellowship Committee meets to discuss applications and determine how many and which applications will be funded. 

    Our fellowship funding plans are finalized 3 times per year and coincide with NIEHS Advisory Council meetings. Council Rounds take place in September, January, and May of each year, and funding plans are generally finalized a month after the Council meetings.

    The table below illustrates the timeline for F30, F32, and F33:
    Receipt DateReview DatePotential Start Date
    April 8June/JulyDecember
    August 8October/NovemberMarch
    December 8Febuary/MarchJuly


    F31 receipt dates are April 13, August 13, and December 13.
     

  2. What is the meaning of the Overall Impact/Priority score and percentile ranking ?
    Fellowship applications receive two scores:

    1. overall impact/priority score, and a
    2. percentile

    Before each Scientific Review Group meets, reviewers score each application on five review criteria (Fellowship Applicant; Sponsors, Collaborators, and Consultants; Research Training Plan; Training Potential; Institutional Environment & Commitment to Training) using a 9-point rating scale, with 1=exceptional and 9=poor.  Each Reviewer then provides their overall impact score for the application.  The overall impact/priority score for the application is then determined by calculating the mean score from all of the reviewers’ priority scores and multiplying by 10, which  results in scores from 10 (high impact) through 90 (low impact).
     

    The percentile score indicates how your application compared to all other fellowships in a study section. The lower the percentile score, the better. For example, a 12th percentile indicates a grant was in the top 12% of all applications. 
     

  3. I received a ND instead of an overall impact/priority score. What does this mean?
    ND stands for Not Discussed. If an application is not expected to be in the top 50% of the applications in a study section, the 2-3 reviewers assigned to read the application will determine that it is non-competitive, and no formal discussion of the application occurs during the review section.  You will be provided with written critiques of your application and the designation of "ND" as an overall impact/priority score.


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Financial Issues

  1. How will my F32 Postdoctoral fellowship stipend be determined?
    The stipend level for the first year of support is determined by the number of full years of relevant postdoctoral experience at the time of appointment. Relevant experience may include research experience (including industry), teaching assistantship, internship, residency, clinical duties, or other time spent in a health-related field beyond that of the qualifying doctoral degree.

  2. How might parental leave affect my stipend level?
    Under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy, if the trainee was on an unpaid leave of absence, the time should NOT be included in calculating the years of experience, as only ACTIVE parts of a trainee’s experience should be included. This includes paid Sick Leave, Parental Leave, Vacations and Holidays, as specified in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

  3. What are the restrictions for how institutional funds may be used?
    The institutional allowance can be used on anything that the trainee needs to complete their research, such as computers, health insurance, travel to conferences, research supplies, books, and equipment.  Expenses for which you cannot use the funds include exams and travel for interviews.

  4. What are the current stipend rates?
    Stipend levels may vary or increase from year to year.  The current NRSA stipend levels are found here:

    http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-12-033.html   
     

  5. What are considered acceptable forms of payback service?
    There are a wide range of acceptable forms of payback service. NRSA pre- and post-doctoral fellows incur a payback obligation during their first year of support. The second year of training then pays back the first year.  Therefore, trainees and fellows who receive two full years of NRSA training will have fulfilled their payback obligations.

    Trainees or fellows that complete less than 24 months of NRSA research training can discharge their obligation by engaging in health-related research or teaching or health-related professional activities. 

    For details, please see the NIH Office of Extramural Research NRSA Payback FAQ page http://grants.nih.gov/training/payback_faqs.htm  . Fellows document payback by completing a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Annual Payback Activities Certification  .

  6. Who owns computers purchased with institutional allowance funds?
    The NRSA fellow is not entitled to keep computers purchased with the Institutional Allowance (IA).  IA is under the direct administrative control of the sponsoring institution, which has sole spending authority on behalf of the fellow and in accordance with its policies. However, you may negotiate with the institution if you wish to keep a piece of equipment. NIH is not involved in those decisions.

  7. I will be terminating my fellowship early. Will my institution be required to refund part of my stipend?
    If a Kirschstein-NRSA fellowship is terminated early, the stipend must be prorated according to the amount of time spent in training. The balance of any institutional allowance (at least one-half) must be refunded if the training has been for 6 months or less.


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Current Grantee Issues

  1. Where do I find information on preparing my yearly progress report?
    Forms and instructions for the NRSA Fellowship progress reports can be found on the following "Forms" website: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms.htm  .  Look for form PHS 416-9, Individual Fellowship Progress Report for Continuation Support. 

    You will find additional information here: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/416-9/phs416-9.htm  .

    Finally, please check out the following NIH Guide Notices: NOT-OD-09-005  , NOT-OD-09-007  and NOT-OD-10-011  .

  2. What is the procedure for requesting an unpaid leave of absence from my postdoctoral fellowship?
    To request a leave of absence, a written request must be submitted by your Office of Sponsored Programs.  ALL prior approval actions must be either submitted via email by the authorized business official or by written request that includes signatures of both the PI and the authorized business official.  These requests should be sent to the Grants Management Specialist in charge of your fellowship.

  3. Can a fellowship have a no-cost extension?
    A “no cost extension” on a fellowship can be requested (and granted), but the extension must be justified based on a need for further training and not the fact that there is money left in the account.

    An “extension with cost” can be requested, but it too must be justified by a need for additional training. It is subject to programmatic approval and available funding. The request(s) for extension should be submitted by your Sponsored Programs office to the Grants Management Specialist for the fellowship.

  4. My sponsor is currently funded by an R21 and not an R01. Will this negatively influence my chances of receiving fellowship funding?
    It is hard to determine how your mentor’s funding will affect the outcome of your fellowship application.  The Fellowship award covers the cost of tuition and a stipend but does not include funds to cover the cost of doing the research, which is the mentor’s responsibility.  Since R21 grants are typically two years, the review committee might be concerned that a mentor doesn’t have enough years of funding in place to cover the completion of an applicant’s research.  This is more of a concern if the sponsor does not have a long history of successful grant funding and is new to mentoring. 

    If the sponsor is experienced in mentoring students and has a solid history of obtaining grant funding, then only having an R21 may not be a significant concern as the reviewers may assume that the mentor will have the experience and ability to get additional funding before the Fellowship is completed.

  5. What form do I need to submit if I am terminating my NRSA F31 fellowship early?
    To close-out a fellowship, the Termination Notice (PHS 416-7) is required.  Your Institution’s Grants and/or Sponsored Programs Representative can guide you through the process.  Fellowship termination forms ( PHS 416-7  ) are entered into X-Train – the module found within eRA Commons.  

  6. What is the process for changing mentors?
    Transitioning to a new mentor is a straightforward process as long as the research project stays within the scope of the original, peer-reviewed proposal.  An official request should be e-mailed from the university grants office to the NIEHS Grants Management Specialist assigned to the fellowship (and the fellowship program administrator should be copied in the e-mail). 

The request should include the change in mentor, an assurance that the research project will continue to meet the original, peer-reviewed proposal, and a current biosketch for the new mentor. This information forms the basis for NIEHS’ decision about the request.


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