Now that I am a blogger, I’ve been careful to keep my eyes out for other blogs that may be having discussions about NIH-related topics. There has been some recent blog traffic on how NIH should support research projects when there are disruptions in careers due to family obligations. As pointed out by the blogger, our National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) explicitly offers a supplement to support a technical replacement for a postdoctoral research associate that may need to be away from the lab because of illness, disability or family care responsibilities. And the question came up, “Why don’t other NIH institutes and centers offer the same supplement program?” A very important question, given that NIH is obviously concerned about accomplishing the goals of the funded project but is on record as having the desire to foster a family-friendly environment for its supported workforce.
It is worth noting that while most NIH institutes do not have a specifically identified supplement program for postdocs, policies are in place to allow grant funds to be used for parental leave and child care. This is an NIH-wide policy, applying to all grants, not just those supported by NIAID. The costs of replacement technical support can be charged to any NIH research grant, and, if necessary, the grantee institution can request an administrative supplement to cover the costs. Those standard provisions are described in frequently asked questions about Policies Related to Parental Leave and Child Care, which are posted on the Office of Extramural Research website. In addition, these policies provide for a number of other things, among them: 1) dependent child care expenses can be charged as part of fringe benefits provided through the grantee institution or through the indirect costs, as can the costs of leave for the birth or adoption of a child if this policy is in effect for other institutional employees in similar positions, and 2) a grant may be extended or an investigator can reduce their percent effort to take a leave of absence for care-giving responsibilities. We also have recently implemented a policy that requires applicants who are seeking conference support to describe plans to identify resources for child care and other types of family care at the conference site to allow individuals with family care responsibilities to attend.
I hope this is not the first time you are hearing about these policies. They are central to the NIH family-friendly position. As we at NIH continue to work towards developing a diverse workforce, we must do whatever we can to assure that the best and brightest are able to participate in research and being able to balance work and family life can certainly add to the attraction of a research career.
Updated: All our family-friendly policies are now on one page.