Nexus October 2012
Dr. Sally Rockey

Rock Talk

Clearing Up Confusion about Postdoc Salaries and Training Activities

We all know postdocs don’t spend every moment at the bench. I think everyone would agree that attending a professional meeting and presenting research results is a critical part of a postdoc’s expected responsibilities. However, lately we’ve had a number of inquiries about which activities postdoctoral fellows are allowed to perform as part of their official duties supported by NIH grants. It’s possible that the confusion arose from the recent activities surrounding cost principles for government-funded research. I’d like to try to clear up any misconceptions and highlight the NIH policies that address this issue.

Postdocs supported by research grants are employees of the institution. The NIH’s grants policy on salaries and wages follows the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) Cost Principles Circular A-21, the guidelines that describe what costs educational institutions can and can’t charge to federal grants and contracts. Some Rock Talk readers may recall that OMB recently asked for public comment on proposed reforms to Circular A-21, and some of these proposed reforms include research community feedback collected by the A-21 Task Force I co-chaired with leaders from the Department of Defense and OMB.

So, what constitutes appropriate postdoctoral fellowship activities that can be charged to research project grants and other sponsored agreements? The guidelines allow compensation for all activities that contribute to and are intimately related to the work supported by the award, and that are consistent with the institution’s employment agreements with individuals in comparable positions. So, delivering special lectures, writing reports and articles, participating in seminars, consulting with colleagues and graduate students, and attending meetings and conferences can be supported according to these guidelines.

Postdocs supported by their National Research Service Award (NRSA) receive stipends set by NIH, and they are expected to devote their full time to the proposed research training, as outlined in Section 11 of the NIH Grants Policy Statement. When the stipend levels set by NIH change, revisions are posted in the NIH Guide (see NOT-OD-12-033 for fiscal year 2012 levels). Since the purpose of an NRSA postdoctoral traineeship or fellowship is to continue training for a career in research, all activities that contribute to this goal are permissible under these awards. Such activities might include laboratory research, writing research reports, reviews and journal articles, and attending and presenting at scientific conferences and seminars. Other training-related activities that would enhance a future scientific career might include teaching or overseeing students on projects related to the fellow’s or trainee’s research training experience.

I hope this helps clarify any misconceptions of NIH-supported postdoctoral activities, and allows postdocs to get the most out of their experience in this stage of their careers.

Posted in Research Training and Career Development, Rock Talk | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Supporting Early Career Researchers through Loan Repayment Programs

Developing ways to support early career researchers has been a key goal at NIH for many years. As I’ve discussed here in the past, we have a commitment to support new investigators as they become independent scientists. But there are multiple ways NIH supports people as they transition through the various stages of their research career.

One such type of support is our Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs). For over 10 years, the LRPs have repaid the educational debt of investigators who commit to at least two years of nonprofit biomedical or behavioral research. Program participants receive up to $35,000 per year as long as they pursue clinical, pediatric, health disparities or contraception and infertility research as allowed by the LRP legislation. Initial payments are for two years, and participants may apply for one- or two-year renewals as long as they meet eligibility requirements. These programs are competitive, and participants are evaluated on the research they propose through peer review. Twenty-three of our institutes and centers participate, and LRP funds go directly to our participants’ lenders.

The 2012 application cycle has just been completed. Out of 3,100 applicants, 50% received awards.

LRP Applications and Awards 2012

The programs had 706 first-time awardees, and the average debt for each new recipient was approximately $101,000. As you can see from the chart below, most new recipients had $50,000 or more of educational debt.

New LRP Awardees' Educational Debt

While the LRPs support a variety of doctoral-level researchers, my colleagues at NIH and I have long known that educational debt hits especially hard for medical school graduates, who in 2011 had a median student loan debt of $162,000 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Medical doctorate training complements health research, yet only 15% of MDs enter research careers post-training. An intermediate evaluation suggests that the LRPs are meeting their intended goals. Participants stay in research careers longer, apply for and receive more research grants, and are more likely to become independent investigators.

I’m proud to report that since the beginning of the LRPs, over 15,000 awards have been made for an investment of more than $700 million in this next generation of researchers. If you are eligible for these awards, the 2013 application cycle is open now through November 15 at 8 p.m. ET. To apply or learn more about these programs, visit

We’re in the business of supporting the next generation of biomedical researchers and the LRP program continues to serve as an important avenue for doing this and giving scientists a jump start in their careers.

Posted in Research Training and Career Development, Rock Talk | Tagged | 6 Comments

NIH Operating Under a Continuing Resolution through March 27, 2013

As you know, the new fiscal year for government spending (FY 2013) began on October 1. In order to continue operations in the absence of a FY 2013 budget appropriation, President Obama signed a continuing resolution (CR) on September 28, 2012 that applies the terms of the fiscal year 2012 budget appropriations through March 27, 2013. A CR is a type of legislation enacted by Congress as a temporary funding measure. Passed when the new fiscal year is about to begin (or has begun), a CR provides funding for existing federal programs to continue in operation until the regular FY appropriations are enacted.

I wanted to go through with you how NIH will operate its extramural programs under the CR. You can see today’s NIH guide notice for additional details (NOT-OD-13-002). Until a final FY 2013 appropriation is made into law, we will be issuing non-competing research grant awards at 90% of the previous committed level indicated on the most recent Notice of Award for your grant. This is consistent with our practice during most CRs of late. The NIH institutes and centers (ICs) where you are funded will consider upward adjustments after the final appropriation is made. During this time period, it is critical that institutions monitor their expenditures carefully. Also, all legislative mandates that were in effect for FY 2012 remain in effect. This means the salary limitations that were established last year are still in place (NOT-OD-12-035).

As I described in an earlier post that explored the meaning of IC paylines, operating under a CR means that the final funding levels for the entire fiscal year are unknown. Therefore, ICs won’t be able to offer many details about their expected paylines. See our fiscal operations page for more on this.

I’ll be sure to keep you updated on budget matters as the year progresses.

Posted in Rock Talk | Tagged | 12 Comments

RePORT Funding Facts: Why don’t you just tell us what you want to know?

In a classic scene from Seinfeld, Kramer imitates Moviefone‘s automated phone service prompts but becomes confused and abandons the script, asking the caller instead “Why don’t you just tell me the name of the movie you’ve selected?”

We’ve done something similar in our latest release of our popular Funding Facts tool on the RePORT website.  We built Funding Facts to provide quick answers when you have a very specific question about NIH grants such as the number of awards, success rates, levels of funding, or the average size of an award. Filters let you select different institutes and centers, funding mechanisms, grant activity codes, types of awards, and fiscal years. Although the old system seemed to work well enough, selecting the various filters to narrow down your search of the thousands of statistics in the database could become tedious.

So, why don’t you just tell us what you want to know? We’ve built a new interface that lets you enter natural language questions that in many cases will provide you with a correct result in much less time than manually selecting each of the filters. (Of course, if the new interface doesn’t provide the information you’re looking for, you can always construct a query the usual way.)

For example, if you want to know the number of new (type 1) R01s NIH awarded in 2010, you could select the various filters for activity code, type, and fiscal year and execute a query. Or, you could simply enter the question and click the Submit Query button (simply hitting the return button works too):

Screen shot of RePORTER query: "how many new awards did nih make in 2012"



Funding Facts will return with a hit list of records that match the question, in this case showing the answer is 3,889.

Screen shot of Funding Facts search returning a list of records that match the question.

You’ll notice that three records were returned, all with the same answer. When you’ve asked for a particular activity code this will almost always be the case since activity codes are nested within a hierarchy of funding mechanisms. For instance, in this example, you can see from the “Mechanism” column that an R01 comes up as a Research Grant, a Research Project Grant (RPG), and a non-SBIR/STTR RPG.

The new interface to Funding Facts will work with questions related to:

  • Numbers of applications
  • Numbers of awards
  • Amount of funding
  • Average cost of an award
  • Success rates

for different:

  • Institutes and centers
  • Funding mechanisms
  • Activity codes
  • Application types (e.g., new, competing renewal, noncompeting, etc.)
  • Fiscal years

Here are some examples of other valid questions:

The screen shot shows sample queries: "how many type 2 r01 applications were there in 2011", "what was the success rate of new r01s in fy 2011", "nigms funding for rpgs", "gm p01 funding", "new r01 applications", "k08 average cost", "small business awards", etcetera.You’ll note that complete sentences aren’t required. For the question in my original example “How many new R01 awards did NIH make in 2010?” we would have gotten the same answer by entering “new R01 awards 2010.” Also, the two-letter codes for institutes and centers can be used (e.g., “GM” for NIGMS or “HL” for NHLBI).

For those of you with mobile devices that support voice recognition to input text, some (but perhaps not all) questions can be created using you mobile device’s microphone. Here is one using an iPhone:

iPhone with Siri voice recognition in use on the Funding Facts web page

And this returns the number of NIGMS RPG awards in FY 2011 (all, non-SBIR/STTR, and SBIR/STTR).

iPhone screen shot showing the number of NIGMS RPG awards in FY 2011

We hope that this new interface to Funding Facts will help you more easily find that specific number you’re looking for.

Posted in Rock Talk | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Top Stories

Sally Rockey Talks about Advancing Innovative Research

OER Director Dr. Sally Rockey recently chatted with the editors of Peer Review Notes, a monthly publication of the NIH Center for Scientific Review, to discuss how NIH can encourage innovative research, and to address challenges in the grant review process. Read the full article in September’s Peer Review Notes.

Posted in Top Stories | 3 Comments

New Guidance on Submitting Videos as Application Materials

In an effort to balance rapid changes in technology and fair standards, the NIH is revising the policy and guidelines for investigators contemplating the submission of non-traditional application materials such as videos, devices, or other media. Beginning with applications submitted for the January 25, 2013 due date, the NIH will only accept videos as non-traditional application materials. No devices or other media will be accepted unless specified in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

Acceptable video content is limited to demonstrations of devices and experimental data with a temporal element, demonstrating how something functions over time or demonstrates movement or change. Examples of acceptable and unacceptable video content are described in the NIH Guide Notice (NOT-OD-12-141), so be sure to review these details about acceptable video formats, file sizes, and other content requirements.

If submission requirements are met, videos will be accepted by the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) managing the review; however, NIH cannot guarantee that reviewers will be able to view the videos due to technological constraints. The new guidelines may be superseded by instructions in specific FOAs.

Posted in Application Submission, Grant Writing, Top Stories | Leave a comment

You Ask, We Answer

Does the Appendix Have a Page Limit?

Unless the Funding Opportunity Announcement instructs otherwise, the appendix does not have a page limit. However, we do limit the number of PDF attachments to 10. If you need more than 10 appendix attachments, then the remaining information should be combined in attachment #10.  We also limit what may be included in the appendix. For more details, see the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide’s pp. I-118, I-119.

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How Do I Know Which Budget Format to Use?

First, you need to check the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).  If the budget format is not mentioned in the FOA, then you need to review the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide’s Section 4.6 “Selecting the Appropriate Budget Component” (p. I-73).  Factors  to consider in selecting the appropriate budget component include:  

  • activity code
  • application’s annual direct costs
  • whether the applicant organization is domestic or foreign.  

If you need further clarification, then contact the appropriate financial/grants management staff listed in Section VII of the FOA.

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November 22 (Thursday), 2012 NIH Closed: Federal Holiday

NIH (including help desks) will be closed November 22 (Thursday), 2012.

If a standard postmark/submission date falls on this federal holiday, the application deadline is automatically extended to the next business day.

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November 12 (Monday), 2012 NIH Closed: Federal Holiday

NIH (including help desks) will be closed November 12 (Monday), 2012.

If a standard postmark/submission date falls on this federal holiday, the application deadline is automatically extended to the next business day.

Posted in Calendar | Leave a comment