Onboard and settle in
Arriving at the NIH will be both busy and exciting. Be sure to connect with your principal investigator or main NIH contact to know when and where to arrive on your first day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, your new NIH colleagues are willing to help. Give yourself grace as you make the transition to the NIH, new systems can be overwhelming.
Abbreviations used on this page:
- PI – Principal Investigator, the leader of an NIH research group
- IC – Institute or Center (there are 27 at NIH)
- AO - administrative officer, the staff member who coordinates on-boarding and paperwork for research staff. This person is part of your IC.
- CIT - NIH Center for Information Technology
- DPSAC - Division of Personal Security and Access Control
- DIS - Division of International Services
Your first days
Until you obtain your badge, you will need to go through a security check at the Visitors Center every time you enter campus. This can be a time-consuming process, especially if there is a conference on campus, so plan for delays.
To enter campus through security, you need a government-issued picture ID, like a U.S. driver’s license, or passport. Once you obtain your NIH badge, you will use it to enter without going through security.
Check out visitor guides to each campus for information about parking and public transportation:
- Visiting the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Durham, North Carolina)
- Visiting Rocky Mountain Labs (Hamilton, Montana)
- Visiting the National Cancer Institute (Frederick, Maryland)
- Visiting the NIH main campus (Bethesda, Maryland)
- The main NIH campus and many of the surrounding campuses (Twinbrook, Shady Grove) are accessible by Metrorail & Metrobus.
General information on driving to all NIH campuses:
- If you would like to drive your own vehicle, look up information about parking ahead of time. Since you will be entering a federal facility, you will need to go through security and show ID before you can drive onto campus. You may also need to provide the name and phone number of your PI, so be sure to have that with you.
You will meet with your AO to complete the required on-boarding paperwork and they will likely help you get started with health insurance, badging, Transhare, your NIH email, and your computer.
Your on-boarding paperwork will list your annual stipend; check that the stipend matches the current stipend tables which are adjusted each May. If your stipend is lower than what is indicated on the current stipend tables, ask your AO to make an adjustment. Seek guidance from your IC training director or OITE if you have questions about your stipend level.
The AO or lab manager in your research group will provide information on how to gain access to your NIH email address and whether you will be given an NIH laptop or desktop computer. This will take several days and can take longer, especially for Visiting Fellows who have a delayed on-boarding process. Continue to consult your AO and your research group to obtain access to your email, computers, research spaces, and other systems.
You can request a PIV Card Waiver so that you will be able to use NIH electronic equipment while you are waiting for your official badge. The procedure for approval varies among ICs, talk to your AO.
To encourage the use of public transportation in the vicinity of the main NIH campus, NIH staff and trainees may receive funds to commute to campus via the Transhare program. If you apply for Transhare benefits, you cannot receive a permit to park on campus.
The first day will filled with meeting new colleagues and finding your way around. Check with your PI, AO, or other contacts in your research group to be sure you know when to arrive and where to meet them on your first day. Some buildings have secure entrances, and someone may need to meet you to access the building. Integrating into your group will take time; we recommend that you review the Building relationships with mentors page.
As you settle, in, explore other resources that are available on your NIH campus:
- Baltimore NIH Work/Life Resources
- NCI Frederick news and activities
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – Working at NIEHS
- Rocky Mountain Labs -About RML
- NIH main campus: there are shuttles, cafeterias, fitness centers, and other amenities. Building 10, the NIH Clinical Center, can seem like a maze - try using the NIHCC Take Me There app.
Your first months
OITE orientation helps you make the most of your NIH training experience. Make it a priority to attend an orientation and learn more about the resources available to you. The dates of the next OITE orientations are on the Upcoming Events page. Your IC may also have trainee orientation, or require you to check in and meet with you as well, check with your IC training director.
The OITE provides handbooks for each training group; explore the one that is relevant for you:
- Summer handbook for summer interns
- Postbac handbook for recent college graduates
- Advanced trainee handbook for graduate students and postdocs
The handbook highlights NIH resources and other important information.
Your AO will help make sure you get paid. Trainees receive monthly stipend payments by direct deposit for work completed the previous month. Visiting fellows need to arrive and get their social security number (SSN) before opening an American bank account, which they will need for direct deposit.
Taxes are not withheld; you may need to pay quarterly estimated taxes throughout the year to avoid penalties. Visit your trainee handbook for more information. Also, check the current stipend tables to ensure you are being paid the correct amount.
You are required to have health insurance during your time as a trainee. NIH provides insurance for eligible trainees through the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES). (Note: if you are in UGSP or are a full-time employee you have different insurance). You may opt out of the NIH insurance if you are covered by a different policy, however, you must provide evidence of coverage.
The OITE hosts listservs to share official information with all postdocs, graduate students, postbacs, and summer interns at NIH. Information in these messages will connect you to resources and community. The messages will come from a sender entitled ‘List OITE-[your training group].’ If you are not receiving messages, please fill out this survey.
We hope this information helps you settle in and make the most of your time at the NIH. We are here to support you, so reach out if you have questions or can’t find what you need. Welcome to our community - we wish you success in your career, professional, and research endeavors!