Understanding Lead-time for NIH Staff Participation in Scientific Meetings


Attending scientific meetings and research conferences is an important way for NIH extramural scientists to stay connected with their communities and keep up with scientific advances. Not only does it allow our scientific program and peer review staff to stay on top of the latest findings for the particular fields of science in which they have programmatic responsibilities, but just as importantly it provides an opportunity to interact directly with you, the research community – both informally during sessions, mixers or just hallway conversations, or formally during scientific or administrative workshops or talks. In times of fiscal uncertainty, travel is often constrained, so when academic and professional societies want NIH representation we have to balance our abilities to send people out with what the budget will allow. One thing that helps in this regard, particularly when we have additional layers of approval on travel, is to plan early. So, when thinking about inviting an NIH staff member to speak at a conference or other event, it’s important to understand our timelines.

Our program and review officers, along with other NIH staff must think about travel months in advance in order to assure both the resources and approvals are in place. If you or your organization would like an NIH extramural staff member to attend or speak at a meeting, we ask that you extend the invitation as early as possible (usually at least four months) before the meeting date. I also think it is important for the research community to recognize that NIH may not be participating in meetings at the same level as we have in the past, so please bear with us.

NIH institutes and centers may differ in the resources available for travel and their travel policies, and the early notice cannot guarantee that NIH can attend the meeting. If you are requesting participation of someone more at the NIH-wide program and policy level, my office has this web page to help you understand OER’s approach to meeting outreach requests.

Participating in scientific meetings is a critical aspect of an NIH program or review officer’s job and our ability to stay attuned to cutting-edge science. We are doing everything possible to keep our staff fully engaged in the scientific community and we hope you will help us by planning early.


  1. There are surely many occasions when an organization wants to invite an NIH officer to a meeting on a much tighter deadline than >4 months. We have experienced times when it was recommended we extend an invitation, sometimes to meetings set up well within your 4-month restriction, the officers were available and said they very much wanted to attend because of the nature of the meeting topic and discussion but were not able to because of your rules (even meetings held on your own doorstep). Why don’t you start setting the process not with the constraints of NIH processes, but on the basis of needs of meeting organizers, and figure out a way a much much shorter timeline to process such applications can be arranged? Frankly if we wanted someone to go to a meeting tomorrow because it was to our and the meeting’s benefit, we would do everything possible to make it happen. Strikes me common words for the workplace these days are flexibility, agility, ability to be innovative, not processes than hinder knowledge-sharing and innovation.

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