NIH All About Grants Podcast: Family Friendly Policies


>> Kosub: Hello, and welcome to another virtual edition of NIH's "All About Grants" podcast.  I'm your host David Kosub with the NIH's Office of Extramural Research, and today we're going to be focusing all about our initiatives and programs to help support family ‑‑ who have family responsibilities, and these are our Family Friendly Initiatives and Programs.  And I'm glad to say that we have with us two members of the Office of Extramural Research's division of the Biomedical Research Workforce.  We have the acting director, Dr. Ericka Boone, and we have a Health Science Policy Analyst, Dr. Pritty Joshi, here to tell us everything about these programs, and I welcome you both to the show.


>> Boone: Thank you for letting us be here.


>> Joshi: Yes, thanks, David.


>> Kosub: Great.  So Ericka, I'll start with you.  What exactly are Family Friendly Programs and Initiatives and can you give some examples?


>> Boone: Of course.  Family Friendly Policies and Programs are generally ones that include any benefits or policies that recognize and address challenges of balancing work and family life which is important to all of us, including biomedical and behavioral researchers.  In recognition of this, NIH has several Family Friendly Initiatives that help our grantee institutions to better foster family friendly environments for the NIH supported workforce. So for example, NIH supports researchers taking time off to care for a family member or in the event of personal disability.  Also many grant awards allow for reimbursement of actual allowable costs incurred for child care, parental need, or additional technical support. Specifically, NRSA trainees and fellows can receive up to 60 calendar days of parental leave per year for the adoption or birth of a child.  Also, NRSA trainees and fellows are eligible to receive $2,500 per budget period to help defray the high costs for child care. Career development awardees may adjust their appointment status or percent effort for personal or family situations, for example, parental leave, child care, elder care, medical conditions, so on, so forth.  Also, via administrative supplements to promote research continuity and retention, NIH provides supplemental awards for researchers that have experienced critical life events, and these funds can be used to help support additional personnel, purchase supplies, equipment, so on and so forth. David, NIH also offers other types of flexibilities, including extension of early stage investigator ESS status, for investigators that have experienced a lapse in their research, research training during the ten‑year ESI period.  And because we also recognize that the COVID‑19 pandemic has presented some unique challenges to the biomedical research community, fellowship and career development awardees may request no cost and sometimes funded extensions to their award periods. Now, that was a long answer and if you missed any of it, NIH has a website dedicated to listing current flexibilities that we have in place, and you can find it under the policy and compliance section of the website, and I highly encourage investigators to review this website and to contact their program officer if they have additional questions.


>> Kosub: Thank you for that.  It sounds like there's a lot of great opportunities in this kind of space.  And Pritty, turning to you, Ericka kind of hit on this, but I'd love to hear about how you feel these programs actually benefit one's career.


>> Joshi: Sure.  So we know that there are periods along an individual's biomedical research career path that are particularly vulnerable transition points.  That includes a transition from post doctoral training to a faculty appointment, as well as the time before an investigator either renews his or her first independent research project grant or successfully competes for a second research project grant. Now, we're also aware that this time frame often coincides with the time many individuals are growing their families or perhaps they're providing care for their parents who are aging, and so we hope that flexibilities during these challenging periods will help investigators obtain the support and the resources they need to maintain their productivity during this time. So for example, as Ericka had mentioned earlier, NIH provides administrative supplements for career development awardees and for first‑time research project grant recipients, who are undergoing some sort of qualifying life event such as childbirth. And so these investigators can use funds from the program to, for example, hire a technician, perhaps at the point of post‑doc, maybe purchase equipment or obtain computational services; anything that will help them sustain their research when they themselves have to take time away from the bench.


>> Kosub: Thanks for that.  And you mentioned qualifying life events.  Ericka referenced these as well.  You said child care.  Can you give any examples of all the different types of qualifying life events that are out there?


>> Joshi: Sure.  So qualifying life events can vary with the different family friendly programs, but for the most part, these include childbirth or adoption.  It could be child care.  Family care.  As I mentioned earlier, we talked about caring for aging parents, but that could also include caring for a family member with a long‑term illness.  This could also refer to natural disasters or personal disability. As always, we encourage you to review any funding opportunity of interest and speak to your program officer about whether or not that opportunity is really appropriate for you.


>> Kosub: Great.  Thanks for that.  So who is actually allowed to apply for these programs?  Is it only designated for folks like earlier in their career? Love to hear someone take that.


>> Boone:  I'll take that one, David.  So eligibility can vary with the different programs and different policies.  Now, while many of our programs and policies are targeted to individuals that are earlier in their career, these flexibilities are relevant for those that are further along as well.  So for example, NIH's current flexibilities due to the pandemic are not limited solely to early career investigators.


>> Kosub: And y'all have both mentioned the administrative supplements.  Do you have to have a grant to be considered ‑‑ already to be considered for one of these administrative supplements and kind of relatedly, you know, what about for folks who might be designated on one of the National Research Service Awards, the NRSAs?


>> Joshi: So many of our Family Friendly Programs are supplements and so they're often awarded to individuals who already have a career development or a research award; however, that is not a requirement.  So regarding child care costs for NRSA trainees and fellows, applicants and recipients can request these costs as part of new applications, as part of continuation applications, or as an administrative supplement request.


>> Kosub: I see.  I see.  And, you know, with any of our grants, there's always some rules that come along with them as people accept ‑‑ what should someone be thinking about if they get one of these administrative supplements, one of these Family Friendly Programs, you know, what's in the fine print?


>> Boone: You're right, David, there are always those darn rules that are associated with just about everything in life


[ Chuckling ].


So in general, I always caution early stage investigators, make sure you're reaching out to your program officer if you have any questions with regards to funding opportunities or any kind of policies that we have here at NIH.


>> Kosub: And this is I guess more of a general question.  If an organization receives a grant from us, maybe it's not anything to do with Family Friendly Policies like we're talking about here, but are they required to still kind of have Family Friendly Policies at their institution?


>> Joshi: So generally, there is an expectation for NIH‑funded institutions to support Family Friendly efforts.  So for example, NIH grant funds can be used to extend parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child, but only if parental leave is available to all employees with comparable appointments at that institution.


>> Kosub: Well, thank you very much, Pritty and Ericka.  This has been a great opportunity to learn more about these programs.  Before we go, I always like to take the opportunity to allow the guests to kind of give one final thought as to relates to, you know, the topic at hand and we love, if we haven't had a chance to hit on, that you want to talk about with regards to Family Friendly Policies and I'll open it up to both.


>> Boone: Well, David, one thing I would like to say is that I'd like to recognize that NIH has come a long way with the development of this Family Friendly Policies.  90% of these weren't even in place when I was completing my own research training career development period.  But in general, Family Friendly Policies are absolutely integral not only to ensuring we maintain a strong scientific workforce, but also a more diverse one.  Flexible policies can help to recruit and support everyone from students to post‑docs, early career investigators, as well as more senior investigators, all of whom need varying levels of support in order to achieve success in their careers. So I would really suggest, I would really highly recommend that investigators find out more information about these policies and how they can be applied to their own research careers to help them to be successful.


>> Joshi: And I would add, we hope that the community knows we regularly consider the feedback we receive on the best way to strengthen our family friendly policies, and we take the suggestions we receive from the community to heart.  At the end of the day, we at NIH truly care about these programs and supporting researchers with family responsibilities.


>> Kosub: Great.  I'm definitely glad to hear all of that.  Well, again, thank you very much, Ericka and Pritty.  For those interested, as was referenced earlier, please do visit the Family Friendly Initiatives page on our grants site, site.  There's a wealth of information there that you can learn all about the different programs and how to learn more about, you know, who to contact and all that good stuff. This has been David Kosub with NIH's "All About Grants".  Thank you.