NIEHS Fellowships

General Issues

  1. What types of predoctoral support are available through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)?
    NIEHS supports a variety of Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowships with three awards specifically for predoctoral students.

  2. Do I need to have an advisor chosen before applying for a predoctoral fellowship?
    Yes, to apply for one of the predoctoral fellowships (F30 or F31), you need to be accepted or enrolled into a Ph.D. or equivalent program (or dual-degree program for the F30). 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?
    Yes, in fact, most predoctoral training is offered through institutional training grants where a person is part of a graduate school program that has an 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 webpage, 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 Kirschstein-NRSA fellowships for M.D./Ph.D. (F30) students provide 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 on the Individual M.D./Ph.D. Fellowships (F30) webpage.

  5. How can I tell if my research area is within the mission of NIEHS?
    Program priorities at 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 environmental exposure as related to a human health endpoint. To gain a better understanding of the types of research programs supported by NIEHS, please see the Grant Funded webpage.

    Another option is to send your research proposal abstract to the Fellowships Program Administrator, Mike Humble, Ph.D., and request feedback.

  6. 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 apply to all of the fellowship mechanisms.

    Receipt Date Review Date Potential Start Date
    April 8 June/July December
    August 8 October/November March
    December 8 February/March July

    If you have specific questions about your fellowship application, please contact the Fellowships Program Administrator, Mike Humble, Ph.D.

  7. What postdoctoral opportunities are available at NIEHS?
    For postdoctoral openings at NIEHS, go to the Postdoc Positions at the NIH website and type “NIEHS” into the search box as a keyword.

  8. What postdoctoral fellowship opportunities are available through NIEHS?
    NIEHS supports the F32 Kirschstein-NRSA Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships.

  9. What opportunities are available for independent scientists?
    The Kirschstein-NRSA for Senior Fellows (F33) provides experienced, independent scientists (with at least seven years of 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. The F33 award is a mentored sabbatical to 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 the Individual Fellowships for Senior Fellows (F33) webpage.

  10. Can foreign institutions sponsor Kirschstein-NRSA Fellowships?
    Yes, it is possible to do your NRSA Fellowship at a foreign institution. If the applicant organization is a foreign institution, the applicant must include a “Foreign Justification” attachment describing how the foreign training is more appropriate than in a domestic setting. Include reasons why the facilities, the sponsor, or other aspects of the proposed experience are more suitable in a foreign setting. Foreign training will be considered for funding only when the scientific advantages, compared to the training available domestically, are clear.

  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. A fellowship application can be submitted while an application for citizenship or permanent residency is pending, but an award will not be made until citizenship or permanent residency is certified.

  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, Mike Humble.

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 scientific proposal and the training potential of the applicant.

  3. Are there specific forms to use when writing a reference for an applicant?
    Instructions for submitting the required fellowship reference letters can be found on the NIH’s reference letters webpage. Referees must submit reference letters through the eRA Commons by the application due date.

    Note that the sponsor and any co-sponsors may not submit a letter of reference.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 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.

  6. How do I direct my application to NIEHS?
    The PHS Assignment Request Form can be included when you submit your fellowship application. This form may be used to request specific NIH Institute and study section assignments to the NIH Division of Receipt and Referral (DRR) within the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR). The DRR assigns each application to a review group that has the expertise to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of the application. They also assign the application to one or more appropriate institutes or centers for funding consideration.

  7. 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, publications are viewed as evidence of productivity during previous or on-going training, and reviewer expectations relevant to the level of training will be reflected in their comments.

Eligibility Issues

  1. How many years of support can I expect from an F31 fellowship?
    Individuals may receive up to five 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 three 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 an NIEHS Institutional Training Grant, am I eligible to apply for the Kirschstein Individual Fellowship?
    Yes, you can receive a total number of five years of support as a predoctoral fellow. If you have two years on a training grant already, you can receive three additional years on an individual fellowship.

Review Issues

  1. Do I need to choose a specific study section or scientific review group 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 in the PHS Assignment Request Form. 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 CRS website.

  2. What is the general timeline for funding decisions?
    Our fellowship funding plans are finalized three 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. (See table under General Issues: question 6)

  3. What is the meaning of the overall impact/priority score and percentile ranking?
    Fellowship applications receive two scores:

    • Overall impact/priority score
    • 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. An individual reviewer’s impact score reflects their judgement on the overall impact of the application and may not represent an average of the individual criterion scores. The overall impact/priority score for the application is then determined by calculating the mean score from all 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 percent of all applications.

  4. I received an 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 percent of the applications in a study section, the 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 score. Applications that are Not Discussed can still be revised and resubmitted. Applicants should contact their Program Official to discuss next steps.

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. What are the current stipend rates?
      Current stipends can be found in the following NIH Notice.

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

      Postdoctoral 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 NRSA Payback Service Center webpage.

Current Grantee Issues

  1. Where do I find information on preparing my yearly progress report?
    FFellowship recipients are required to submit the Research Performance Progress Report annually. The report is due two months before the beginning date of the next budget period and must include information describing the current year's progress as well as the research and training plans for the coming year. The progress report will include a letter signed by the sponsor assessing the progress of the research training, academic work, and the fellow’s accomplishments during the reporting period.

  2. What is the procedure for requesting an unpaid leave of absence from my postdoctoral fellowship?
    TTo request an unpaid leave of absence, a written request must be submitted by your university’s grants office. These requests should be sent to the Grants Management Specialist in charge of your fellowship.

  3. 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.

  4. What form do I need to submit if I am terminating my NRSA F31 fellowship early?
    To terminate a fellowship, a termination notice is required. Your Institution’s Grants or Sponsored Programs Representative can guide you through the process.

  5. 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 submitted from the university grants office to the Grants Management Specialist assigned to the fellowship.

    The request should include the change in mentor, an assurance that the research project will continue to meet the goals of the original, peer-reviewed proposal, and a current biosketch for the new mentor.