The NIH supports various Individual Fellowship Programs, all of which have transitioned to the electronic application submission process through grants.gov with the August 2009 application receipt dates. While most programs are funded under the authority for National Research Service Awards or NRSA (e.g., F30, F31, F32, F33), there are non-NRSA programs (e.g., F05, F37) that may vary in the applicant institution and fellow eligibility requirements, funding amounts, and specific program related issues (see the NIH F Kiosk). Each NIH fellowship program is announced as a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts.
This document represents frequently asked questions and answers to many questions fielded by the Office of Extramural Programs (OEP).
Is there someone at the NIH with whom a fellowship applicant can discuss his/her planned research training program prior to application submission?
Each funding opportunity announcement (FOA) lists scientific/research contacts, as well as Financial/Grants Management contacts for each NIH Institute (IC) providing funding for the program. Also, it is strongly recommended that the applicant fellow discuss the planned research training program with his/her sponsor who will be guiding and supervising the research training program. The selection of an appropriate sponsor is extremely important for Individual Fellowship programs. For a list of current fellowship FOAs, see the F-Kiosk: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_nrsa.htm.
Do all of the NIH fellowship programs follow the same “rules”, i.e. are the policies the same for all programs?
No, while the majority of fellowships are funded as National Research Service Awards (NRSA: F30, F31, F32, F33, for example) NIH also funds non-NRSA fellowship programs such as the National Library of Medicine’s Individual Fellowship for Informationist Training (F37) and the Fogarty International Center’s International Neurosciences Fellowship (F05). Each FOA provides information regarding applicable policies, many of which are the same as the NRSA. For a list of current NRSA fellowship FOAs, see the F-Kiosk: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_nrsa.htm. For a list of current non-NRSA fellowship FOAs, see: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_non_nrsa.htm.
What is the difference between a statement by sponsor and the letters of reference and how are these documents submitted?
There is a critical difference between the “statement by sponsor” and “letters of reference.” The statement from the sponsor, who will supervise the training and research experience, must include: 1) documentation about the availability of sufficient research support and facilities for high-quality research training at the sponsoring institution, 2) a detailed description of his/her commitment to, and proposed role in, guiding the individual application during the research training experience, 3) a description of the research training plan, and 4) an assessment of the applicant fellow’s qualifications and potential for a research career. The Letters of Reference should be from well-established scientists (referees) addressing the qualities of the applicant fellow as well as his/her potential to develop research skills needed in preparation for a productive research career in scientific areas related to the mission of the NIH Institute or Center (IC). These letters should be from individuals not directly involved in the application, but who are familiar with the applicant fellow’s qualifications, training, and interests. Electronic submission of the reference letters is a separate process from submitting an application electronically. Reference letters are submitted directly through the eRA Commons and do not use Grants.gov. Complete instructions are in the SF 424 (R&R) Individual Fellowship Application Guide.
Where can a fellowship applicant find out what is reviewed in the application and who determines which application get approved for funding?
This information is in each funding opportunity announcement (FOA), Section V. See the F-Kiosk for a list of current fellowship FOAs: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_nrsa.htm
Are there set salary and fringe benefit levels applicable to fellowship programs?
Fellowship recipients are not considered employees of the Federal government or the sponsoring institution and therefore do not receive salaries or fringe benefits. Instead, a stipend is provided as a subsistence allowance to help defray living expenses during the research training experience. Stipends are set amounts for 12-month periods of full-time training and must be paid in accordance with the stipend levels established by the NIH. Current stipend levels can be viewed at: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm (scroll down to see: “NRSA Stipend Levels”).
What are the applicant fellow eligibility requirements, and do they differ from program to program?
Each funding opportunity announcement (FOA) includes specific applicant fellow eligibility requirements. Yes, the requirements may vary among programs that are supported by various funding authorities. For a list of current NRSA fellowship FOAs, see the F-Kiosk: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_nrsa.htm.
Can an individual submit an application if he/she has applied for permanent residence but has not yet received approval as a permanent resident of the U.S.?
In general, when U.S. citizenship or permanent residency is required, the requirement must be satisfied at the time of award, not application submission. Each funding opportunity announcement (FOA) addresses this in Section III. For a list of current NRSA fellowship FOAs, see the F-Kiosk: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_nrsa.htm.
Can the sponsoring institution be a foreign organization/university?
Refer to the specific funding opportunity announcement (FOA); eligibility for the Sponsoring Institutions is in Section III. For a list of current NRSA fellowship FOAs, see the F-Kiosk: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_nrsa.htm.
When do Individual Fellowship Applications transition to the electronic grants.gov submission process?
All individual fellowship programs supported by the NIH transitioned to the electronic grants.gov application submission process with the August 2009 application receipt dates. No paper applications will be accepted.
Where does one find information and instructions for submitting a fellowship application electronically to NIH?
Each Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) provides information and refers to the SF424 (R&R) Individual Fellowship Application Guide for NIH and AHRQ which is located in the Forms and Deadlines for grants.gov at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/424/index.htm.
If submitting a revised application (prior application was on the PHS 416-1), does the resubmission have to be an electronic submission to grants.gov?
Yes, resubmissions must be submitted electronically.
How can an Individual submit an electronic application from a sponsoring institution if he/she is at another institution (i.e. has not moved to the sponsoring institution at the time of application submission)?
In such situations, the fellowship applicant should follow instruction information in Section 220.127.116.11 describing “Guidance for Affiliating Individual Fellows in the eRA Commons”. The NIH Notice Number, NOT-OD-07-003, also provides information regarding affiliating fellows.
Does one have to respond to an FOA for the electronic submission, or can he/she just submit an unsolicited application and the NIH will decide the next steps for assignment and review?
Applications must refer to an Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to obtain the appropriate application package which will include the application and specifically designed supplemental forms that must be included in the application submission. Each FOA includes a link to the most current set of instructions. For a list of current NRSA fellowship FOAs, see the F-Kiosk: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/F_files_nrsa.htm.
When letters of reference are required, are these to be included in the grants.gov application submission?
No, letters of reference (at least 3, but no more than 5) must be submitted directly to the NIH through the eRA Commons and do not use Grants.gov. Please note that each letter must be submitted by the individual writing the letter. Information about the required letters of reference is in each FOA, and complete instructions are in Section 5.4 of the SF424 (R&R) Individual Fellowship Application Guide. See: http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/funding/424/index.htm
A specific certification letter is required to be submitted by the PA-09-209, “Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31) to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research”, but it isn’t clear who must sign the letter and where it goes in the electronic application.
Please refer to NIH Notice Number: NOT-OD-09-117 released July 6, 2009. The certification letter must be on sponsoring institution letterhead, bear a scannable signature of an institutional official, and attached under item 12 “Other Attachments” described in Section 4.4.
Is an Activation Notice (Form PHS 416-5) required every year?
No. Unless the fellow is at a foreign or federal sponsoring institution, an activation notice is only required for the –01 year.
What are the change of institution requirements for fellowships?
This can vary somewhat depending on the NIH awarding component so the awarding Institute or Center should be consulted for guidance. Some awarding components only allow transfers to "officially" occur on the anniversary date. Even if the physical move occurs mid-year, an arrangement is made for the old institution to continue to award the stipend until the end of the budget period. An application along with staff review and approval is usually required for a mid-year change of institution.
Other ICs treat fellowship transfers the same as research grants. Therefore, if the move occurs mid-year, a Type 7 application (change of institution) is submitted from the new sponsoring institution and an actual Type 7 award reflecting the mid-year transfer is issued. Again, the awarding IC should be consulted for advice if a fellow is planning a move.
If a fellow moves and NIH processes the award as a Type 7 (Change of Institution), is an activation notice required?
No. If the award is issued as a T-7, it should include a specific budget period (like a T-5). Thus an activation notice from the new grantee is not required. Like a T-5, the award itself is the authorizing document.
What needs to be done when a fellow terminates early?
A Termination Notice should be submitted immediately upon termination. The Notice of Research Fellowship Award should be revised to reflect the early termination, as well as the amount of stipend actually paid (noted on Termination Notice). In addition, depending on the length of time remaining, adjustments to the Institutional Allowance may also be appropriate. It may be necessary to actually confirm with the sponsoring institution what, if any, amount remains before revising the award.
What are the current funding levels for stipends, tuition/fees, and institutional allowance?
Current stipend levels tuition/fees, and institutional allowance are located here: http://grants1.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm.
A potential fellow had prior NRSA support from another agency. Are they eligible for an F32 award?
Postdoctoral fellows may receive up to 3 years of aggregate NRSA support, including any combination of support from institutional training grants and individual fellowship awards. Therefore, if the prior NRSA support was postdoctoral (individual fellowship and/or institutional training grant), they would only be eligible for additional fellowship support up to the 3 year aggregate limit, unless a special waiver is requested by the fellow and approved by the awarding IC. If, however, the prior NRSA support was predoctoral, this would have no impact on the amount of postdoctoral support.
Can a fellow have more than one sponsor?
Yes. Sometimes it is advisable to have a second sponsor, especially if the project involves special expertise.
Can a fellow submit an application if he/she has applied for a green card but hasn’t received it yet?
Yes. Permanent residency requirement for fellowships must be satisfied at the time of award—not application. See the NRSA Guidelines, Section II.A.3.
What are acceptable circumstances for approving a leave-of-absence on a fellowship?
The Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Section of the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts provides information on the various types of acceptable leave. This includes sections on: 1) vacations and holidays; 2) sick leave and other leave; 3) parental leave; and 4) unpaid leave. In most cases, a "leave-of-absence" falls under the unpaid leave category. These are usually unique situations that require prior approval of the awarding IC. The awarding Institute or Center should be consulted for guidance.
The IRS and Treasury Department have released regulations clarifying the student exception to the FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes for students employed by a school, college, or university where the student is pursuing a course of study. Question: Do these regulations have an impact on Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA) supported by the NIH?
Our understanding is that these final regulations do not apply to or impact Kirschstein-NRSA programs or awards. 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. We must note that 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 IRS.
Should foreign and federal fellowships submit an Activation Notice (Form PHS 416-5) every year?
Yes. For foreign and federal fellows, an Activation Notice is mailed by the awarding component annually along with each award, or may be obtained from NIH Forms and Applications page at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/forms.htm#training. The fellow must complete it and return it immediately to the awarding component (note the Activation Notice includes a block where the awarding component indicates the return address). Upon receipt, the awarding component must complete the bottom section of the form and then forward it to the Office of Financial Management (OFM), NIH. Since OFM uses the processed copy of the activation notice to authorize the payments, the fellow cannot be paid until OFM receives a copy of this form.
Are Payback Agreements required annually for foreign and federal fellows?
No. A Payback Agreement is required only for the initial 12 months of postdoctoral NRSA support regardless of where the NRSA training takes place.
What extra steps are needed if a foreign or federal fellow terminates early?
As soon notification is received that a direct pay fellow is terminating early, OFM should be contacted so that they can withhold further payments. Once a Termination Notice is received, the awarding component should revise the Notice of Research Fellowship Award to reflect the early termination, and forward a copy of the revised award and termination notice to OFM.
Are there special issues concerning the Termination Notice for direct pay fellows?
Yes. Since we pay these fellows directly, no business official signature is required. Also, direct pay fellows are required to report to the IRS all money paid directly to them by government check; i.e., for foreign fellows, they must include any travel funds awarded.
Should foreign fellowships have their stipend and travel checks sent to a foreign or domestic bank account?
While the NIH cannot require one or the other, fellows should be strongly encouraged to open a domestic bank account. This will avoid considerable delays encountered using foreign mail delivery.
How is the Institutional Allowance awarded for a foreign fellow?
For Foreign fellows, two awards are issued. An –01 award reflecting stipend (and any travel funds) is issued to the fellow, using the fellow’s social security number as the EIN. After the –01 award is released, an –01X1 award is issued to the sponsoring institution for only the Institutional Allowance. The institution’s EIN is used on the -01X1 award.
For Federal fellowships, is health insurance required?
Yes, Federal fellows are required to obtain health insurance either from the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES) or from a private company. If the fellow elects coverage from FAES, the funds are provided separately from the Institutional Allowance in the "Other Expenses" category. If the fellow elects coverage through a private company, the allowable premium is provided in addition to the stipend level in the stipend category.