Support for Research Training


With this edition of the Nexus, I thought it would be useful to talk about NIH efforts to assure continuity within the pool of researchers in the health-related sciences by highlighting an upcoming development associated with NIH’s primary research training program, the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (Kirschstein-NRSA) program.

Ruth L. Kirschstein, who passed away in October 2009, was an icon at the NIH, making history with her contributions to the development of the polio vaccine and as the first woman to direct an NIH institute. She then went on to serve as Deputy Director and Acting Director of the NIH. Dr. Kirschstein was involved in all aspects of the administration of the NIH, and she served as a strong advocate for research training. In recognition of her dedication to the support of research training, Congress passed a law in 2002 formally naming the NRSA program after her. In May, the NIH will hold a symposium in tribute to Kirschstein, to mark her decades-long commitment to research training and the NIH. You can read more about her remarkable life here.

The Kirschstein-NRSA program is our primary training program. It encompasses an array of different individual training grants and individual fellowships that support approximately 17,000 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at any point in time. External scientists carefully review the fellowships and training grants in detail, and the programs are continuously evaluated to ensure that they are meeting their goals of maintaining a cadre of well-trained investigators who can meet the biomedical research needs of our nation well into the future.

As an indication of the administration’s support for this program, President Obama’s FY 2011 budget proposal for the NIH includes $42 million to fund a six percent across-the-board stipend increase for trainees and fellows supported by the Kirschstein-NRSA program. Stipends, which offset the cost of living for those in research training, are currently $21,180 for predoctorates and $37,740 for entry-level postdoctorates. While stipends have increased periodically in recent years, the last major adjustment was in FY 2003. If the President’s budget proposal becomes law, it will represent the largest single-year increase in stipends since then, allowing the NIH to continue to attract high-quality trainees and fellows and address the nation’s future biomedical, behavioral and clinical research needs.