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Intramural policies for trainees and fellows

Information governing trainee appointments, including leave, telework, exceptional extensions, outside activities, reasonable accommodation and more.

About the policies

NIH Intramural Research Program policies govern the appointment and training experience of summer/academic year interns, postbacs, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows who are appointed as Intramural Research Training Awardees (IRTAs), Cancer Research Training Awardees (CRTAs), Visiting Fellows (international scientists), and Special Volunteers.

Note that there are different policies governing Research and Clinical Fellows who are appointed as Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees. Therefore, Research and Clinical Fellows should reach out to contacts in NIH Human Resources with questions or concerns.

Trainee and fellow appointment mechanisms

Most NIH trainees and fellows who are appointed as summer or academic year interns, postbacs, graduate students, or postdocs are appointed using the following appointment mechanisms:

  • Student, predoc, or postdoc Cancer Research Training Awardee (CRTA) or Intramural Research Training Awardee (IRTA): for U.S. citizens and permanent residents in NCI (CRTA) and in all other NIH ICs (IRTA)
  • Predoc or postdoc Visiting Fellow (VF): For foreign nationals in all NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs)

Trainees and fellows appointed using IRTA, CRTA and VF mechanisms are not full-time equivalent (FTE) employees of the federal government. Therefore, NIH Human Resources is not involved in establish policies governing your NIH training experience. Instead, policies governing the appointment on IRTAs, CRTAs, and VFs (non-FTE trainees) are set by the Office of Intramural Research in consultation with leadership in the NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs). The NIH OITE works with IC training offices to provide policy guidance and to support all non-FTE trainees and fellows. Here you will find relevant policies in many areas. IC training directors and OITE staff are available to answer questions and provide guidance.

Know who can help

If you have questions about any aspect of your appointment or NIH experience, there are many people who can help, including:

  • Your principal investigator (PI) and others within your group
  • Your administrative officer (AO) who handles much of the paperwork required for your appointment and renewal
  • Your IC training director
  • OITE Staff

Information for IRTAs, CRTAs, and VFs

The OITE publishes handbooks for summer interns and postbacs. There is one handbook for advance trainees, including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and clinical and research fellows.

The Office of Intramural Research publishes important guides with information for trainees, fellows, and other scientists in the Intramural Research Program including:

Up-to-date policies for visiting fellows are available from the NIH Division of International Services (DIS). Visiting fellows should consult DIS before initiating foreign travel, accepting outside volunteer or part-time employment opportunities, or internal transfers between one research group and another.

All trainees and fellows must have adequate health insurance coverage to train at NIH. This requirement may be satisfied by a policy held in the trainee or fellow’s name or a policy held in another's name with the trainee or fellow identified as a family member.

Trainees who work more than 30 hours per week for greater than 60 days may receive insurance from the NIH. This insurance, providing coverage for an individual or family, is provided by the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES). The full premium is paid by the NIH.

Vacation and sick leave
Trainees and fellows are granted 20 weekdays per year for illness, personal emergencies, and vacations when awards are for more than 90 days. Weekend days and government holidays are not included in these 20 days.

Excused absences are prorated for traineeships less than one year, do not accrue year-to-year, and reset every year on the date of renewal. Supervisors should provide flexibility for school and job interviews as this is the goal of the training experience.

Federal holidays and government closures
Trainees and fellows are excused for all Federal holidays and any other time the government is closed.

Parental and family leave
All non-FTE trainees receive twelve weeks of excused absence with stipend for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child or for other family health care issues. If the trainee and their spouse/partner are both NIH trainees, both individuals receive 12 weeks, which can be spilt to best support the family. Trainees and fellows who feel pressured not to take parental leave, or who are told there is no flexibility in the timing of the leave, should reach out to OITE for guidance.

IRTA and CRTA trainees have additional flexibilities, including part-time options, via the Keep the Thread Policy. Visiting Fellows should reach out to OITE for guidance if they need additional flexibilities.

Military leave
Trainees may use additional (above the 20-days) excused absences to accommodate military obligations, i.e., active duty, active duty training, and inactive duty training. Military leave should not exceed six weeks per year.

Extended medical leave 
When a non-FTE trainee requires extended medical leave, the trainee or PI should reach out to OITE for policy guidance on placing trainees in absence with stipend status. Trainees and fellows should not be placed in absence without stipend status without consulting with OITE.

All postdocs are required to complete an annual review or Individual Development Plan (IDP) outlining their scientific and career goals and clarifying expectations between the PI and fellow. In some ICs, postbacs and graduate students are also required to complete an annual review or develop an IDP. If you are unsure of the requirements in your IC, reach out to your training director for information.

Trainees and fellows appointed as IRTAs, CRTAs, and Visiting Fellows are not government employees and are not subject to the Standards of Ethical Conduct in the same manner as are full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. However, some restrictions apply to non-FTE trainees, including rules governing outside and official duty activities.

Official duty activities are those activities that are performed as an extension of your regular (or official) duties at NIH. Examples include serving on a committee at a scientific society, reviewing manuscripts, collaborating with researchers outside NIH with consultation of your PI, or writing a letter of recommendation on behalf of someone you mentored at NIH. Consult here for guidance regarding approval for official duty activities.

An outside activity is work that is outside of, or not related to, your current NIH position. It is typically done outside of your assigned working hours and using your own resources. It can include volunteer or paid activities such as tutoring, teaching, serving on the board of a non-profit, being a hospital translator or scribe. Many outside activities are allowable, as long as you do not use your NIH email address, NIH affiliation, or NIH resources (for example, computer, copier, office or research supplies). Outside activities should not interfere with research and other training responsibilities. If you participate in outside activities during the work day, you must seek approval from your PI or daily supervisor. Some outside activities are more closely related to your work duties and may require written approval from your PI or others; consult the Guidelines for Non-FTEs (Trainees) for NIH-Related Activities, Outside Activities, and Awards portion of the NIH IRP sourcebook for guidance.

If you have questions about official duty and outside activities and want clarification before talking to your PI, reach out to us at OITE-private@nih.gov. We will offer guidance and work with you to consult your PI and IC training director. Visiting Fellows should also consult the NIH Division of International Services in advance of participating in any outside activity to ensure visa compliance.

Completing and publishing research that you conducted prior to your time at NIH cannot be considered an official duty of your NIH position. This means that if you want to continue to contribute to the completion, submission, and/or publication of your prior work, you must get permission from your current NIH supervisor.

The publication must clearly state that the previous work was not performed while you were at NIH. You should use a personal or prior professional email address as your contact information for this publication. If you want to use your NIH email address, your supervisor must give approval and you must also include a statement that while your NIH email address is current, the work was performed at your previous institution. It is critical that you are careful not to create a false impression that implies NIH is responsible for the data and work that you completed at another institution. All work done at NIH and published with NIH affiliation is required to be reviewed internally using the manuscript clearance process.

For more information see:

If you receive a travel, best poster, or other similar award outside NIH, you may accept the award. You may also be able to accept funds associated with the award; however, this requires specific reporting and approval process in advance of accepting money, free meeting registration, or reimbursement of your travel expenses. If you receive an award at a meeting, you may accept the award but should not cash any checks you receive until you return and consult your PI who will assist you in reporting the award and determining whether you may accept the funds. Consult the Guidelines for Non-FTEs (Trainees) for NIH-Related Activities, Outside Activities, and Awards portion of the NIH IRP sourcebook and reach out to your training director or the OITE at oite@NIH.gov if needed.

The federal government has very strict rules on giving gifts to your supervisors. While these rules generally do not apply to you, they DO apply to your supervisor or other NIH officials, who may be prohibited, by law, from accepting a gift from a subordinate, except in limited circumstances. Please limit gifts to personal tokens of appreciation and heart-felt cards. Tokens of appreciation may be home-made or small gifts under $20 value.

The Hatch Act restricts certain political activities of Government employees. While these rules generally do not apply to trainees and fellows appointed as IRTAs, CRTAs, and Visiting Fellows there are some general restriction to be aware of. For example, you may not engage in partisan political activity in the workplace and you may not use your government email or affiliation when involved in partisan political activities outside of the workplace. Consult your IC training director or email the OITE at oite@NIH.gov with questions regarding the Hatch Act and your behaviors in the workplace.

NIH trainees and fellows may not speak on behalf of the NIH without prior written approval. This includes doing media interviews, publishing articles, blogs or podcast using your NIH affiliation, or giving a talk about your training experience or work at NIH at an outside institution. You must seek permission to perform an activity as an official duty; this must be done in advance with sufficient lead time (typically one-month or greater). If permission is granted, all materials must be approved in advance by relevant supervisors as noted in the approval process. You should also be clear about your role at NIH and avoid addressing NIH policy or offering expert advice on or NIH training programs the application process.

You should seek immediate guidance before accepting media interviews about NIH-related business. If you give an interview about non-related activities be clear that you are speaking in a personal capacity and limit information about your NIH position. If you choose to share that you are currently a trainee or fellow at the NIH, it is important to remember the “rule of threes” and share your NIH position as part of at least three general biographical descriptors. It is also important to include a disclaimer that you are not speaking on behalf of NIH. For example, “I am a computational biologist who majored in biology and am currently a fellow at the NIH. I am sharing my own opinions and am not speaking on behalf of the NIH.” if you do not mention your NIH affiliation, you do not need to include any disclaimer.

If you are invited to speak or serve on a panel at your alma mater, at a local educational institution, or as part of a non-profit organization promoting STEM career, and participate as an outside activity, you should follow similar guidelines. Remember the “rule of threes” and include a disclaimer that you are sharing personal opinions and not speaking on behalf of the NIH.

We are happy to offer guidance and will help you make the best decisions that allow you to participate in activities that are meaningful to you, while maintaining your integrity as an NIH trainee or fellow. Reach out to us at oite@NIH.gov before you move forward.

Social media can be a great way to share opinions and stay in touch with friends and family. Social media also presents opportunities to share your research with others. However, social media use also presents risks, personally and to the NIH. Please read Guidance on Private Account Social Media Use for Individuals at NIH before including your NIH affiliation in your social media accounts. For personal accounts, where you choose not to list your NIH affiliation in the biography section, you should avoid prominently featuring photos or logos of the NIH.

For professional networking sites, you may wish to include your NIH affiliation in the biographical information your provide. This is acceptable as long as you add a disclaimer noting that you are not speaking on behalf of NIH and that the opinions and posts you share are your own. Appreciate that even with this disclaimer, members of the public may reach out to us with concerns regarding your online behavior. Be thoughtful regarding what you post, and how you express opinions, or you may be found in violation of NIH social media policies.

We are happy to offer guidance and will help you make the decisions that allow you to participate in activities that are meaningful to you, while maintaining your integrity as an NIH trainee or fellow. Reach out to us at oite@NIH.gov before you move forward.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) natural language processing programs, such as ChatGPT and Bard, do not meet NIH authorship criteria and cannot be listed as authors. It is important to review journal policies regarding use of such programs. Any use of natural language processing programs to write, edit, review literature, or interpret data should be fully disclosed and described in the manuscript to promote research transparency and accountability. If you use natural language programs to aid your research, you must take proper steps to avoid errors, flawed logic, and plagiarism.

Disclaimer: External/public generative AI tools can only be utilized for public data (information already in the public domain) and cannot be used for Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or consented clinical research data. For more information regarding what types of information can and cannot be entered in external/public generative AI tools see: NIH Artificial Intelligence (AI) Cybersecurity Guidance (Note: to view this link, you must be connected to the NIH network).

For more information see: Guidelines and Policies for the Conduct of Research in the Intramural Research Program at NIH

NIH trainees and fellows benefit from regular in-person interactions on site at NIH. Therefore, NIH training experiences should be primarily in person with options for limited telework, generally no more than one day per week. Additional information and telework forms can be found in the Telework Policies for IRTA/CRTA and Visiting Fellows section of the NIH IRP sourcebook. You should direct questions to your IC training director and if they are unable to provide guidance, reach out to OITE at oite@NIH.gov. The NIH does not allow non-FTE trainees to be hired for permanent remote work.

The OITE can process loan deferment forms for postbacs, postdoctoral fellows,  and students in the Medical Research Scholars Program. Students in the Graduate Partnerships Program should reach out to their educational institution for loan deferment information. Detailed information on the loan deferment process can be found on the about loan deferments page.

A reasonable accommodation is a change or exception to an Agency policy or individual office rules and/or procedures, to enable an otherwise qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a position and/or enjoy equal employment opportunities.

The reasonable accommodation process for trainees and fellows is handled by the NIH OITE in collaboration with the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Supervisors, trainees and fellows may contact OITE at OITE-private@nih.gov for information on the process.

All NIH training positions are temporary positions with limited opportunities for exceptional extensions beyond the stated appointment limitations. Extensions beyond the stated term limits are at the discretion of the PI and require approval from the IC (office of the IC Scientific Director and/or the training director) and OITE who will consult with the Division of International Services and the Office of Intramural Research as needed. Term limits are reset when a trainee transitions from one type of training appointment to another.

Postbac IRTA/CRTAs can be appointed for up to two years with an automatic extension of 3 months without written approval. Postbacs who would benefit from a full third year extension must complete the exceptional extension process with their PI as outlined in the Extension Exceptions portion of the NIH IRP sourcebook.

Students in institutional and individual partnerships who are appointed using IRTA/CRTA mechanisms may be appointed for up to five years, while those appointed as Visiting Fellows may be appointed up to three years. Graduate students are often extended beyond these limits and should follow the process outlined in the Extension Exceptions portion of the NIH IRP sourcebook.

Postdoc appointments are limited to five years for IRTAs, CRTAs, and Visiting Fellows. Postdocs may transition from a postdoc appointment to a Research Fellow position for an additional three years of advanced training as described in the 5-year/8-year-duration rule section of the NIH IRP sourcebook. Postdocs may also be extended using IRTAs, CRTA, or Visiting Fellow mechanisms as described in the Postdoctoral Fellows (IRTA/CRTA/VF) Temporary Exceptional Extensions Policy in the NIH IRP sourcebook, and should discuss benefits of the different extension mechanisms with their PI, training director, and OITE staff. International fellows may wish to also consult with the NIH Division of International Services.

There are clear requirements regarding the non-renewal or early termination of each trainee group; the policies are described in the following documents:

Trainees and fellows must be provided with opportunities to make improvements when performance, attendance, or other work-related issues arise. If your PI or daily supervisor raises performance, attendance or other work-related concerns, please be responsive to their concerns, seek opportunities to remedy the situation, and immediately consult with your IC training director and/or the OITE at OITE-private@NIH.gov. We will help you make a plan for addressing concerns directly with your supervisors and will provide additional resources to support you in remediating issues.

Trainees and fellows may be terminated without substantial advanced notice for research misconduct, violations of the NIH relationship or anti-harassment policies, and other critical policy violations. If you are told that you will be terminated for these types of behaviors, or for any reason, reach out to the OITE immediately at oite-private@NIH.gov. We will reach out to your IC for relevant information and will provide immediate guidance. If you are on the Bethesda campus, you may also come over to our office suite in Building 2 to discuss the situation.

Trainees and fellows may wish to transfer research groups because of poor fit or changes in their career and research goals. PIs and daily supervisors may also encourage, or instruct, a trainee or fellow to find opportunities in another research group immediately or in advance of a decision not to renew your appointment. If you are told that you are not going to be renewed, or that you should seek a new placement immediately, reach out to the OITE at oite-private@NIH.gov. We will consult your IC for relevant information and will provide immediate guidance. If you are on the Bethesda campus, you may also come over to our office suite in Building 2 to discuss the situation.

General policies for all NIH scientists

The NIH is committed to a work environment that is collegial, respectful, safe, and productive, where everyone can grow and learn. Three specific policies outline the NIH’s commitment to a safe and respectable environment for all.

Additional guidance for trainees and fellows can be found here.

As a member of the Intramural Research Program, trainees and fellows are expected to comply with federal and NIH regulations supporting the responsible conduct of research. Policies governing ethical conduct and responsible conduct of research can be found in the Ethical Conduct section of the NIH IRP sourcebook with additional guidance for trainees and fellows on our policies page.

All departing NIH staff (including trainees) must request advance approval to remove copies of notebooks, unpublished research records, or data.

As of June 30, 2024, NIH IRP scientists are required to use only electronic resources to document new and ongoing research. Read information for use of current policies and recommendations for best use of Electronic Lab Notebooks.

The Office of Intramural Research provides comprehensive guidance regarding authorship and publications. Resources include internal policy documents and links to external resources to enhance your understanding of publication ethics.

When there are disagreements over the order of authorship or whether authorship on a manuscript is appropriate, the goal is for all parties involved to work together to resolve issues fairly and collegially. The NIH Intramural Authorship Conflict Resolution Process details the process of addressing authorship concerns. Your IC training director and OITE staff are available to offer guidance as you work to advocate for yourself and to resolve issues. The NIH Office of the Ombudsman is also an excellent resource when considering how you wish to approach an authorship dispute.

The formal policies and NIH rules and regulations are found in the NIH Manual Chapters.

Contact

Reach out to us with questions at oite-private@nih.gov.