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FAQs for References


I have been asked to write a reference for a student applying to an NIH training program. Where should I send my letter?
When the student has completed his/her application, you will receive an e-mail requesting that you submit a letter. The e-mail will contain login credentials and directions for submitting your letter. You will be most successful if you compose the letter first and then paste it into the application. NOTE: for security reasons, we accept only plain text submissions. Fancy formatting will be lost when you paste your letter in.

To whom should I address my letter?
Any of the investigators in the NIH Intramural Research Program may read your letter. Therefore, something like

  • To Whom It May Concern:
  • Dear Sir/Madam:

are the only choices. We realize they are neither good nor satisfying.

How will I know if my letter has been received?
When you successfully submit your letter, both you and the student will receive confirmation e-mails.

A student asked me to submit a letter on his/her behalf, but I have not received an e-mail request to do so?
There are several possible explanations for this scenario.

  • The student may not have completed his/her portion of the application. Only when the application is complete are requests for letters generated.
  • The student may have incorrectly entered your e-mail address or may have used an e-mail account you are not monitoring. He/she can access the application to determine whether this is the case. He/she can then correct the e-mail address and resend the request for a letter.
  • The request may have been filtered out by your computer SPAM or Junk filter. Check that folder. 
  • One or more servers may have timed out. If the first three explanations do not apply, ask the student to resend the request for a letter. (His/her e-mail confirming receipt of a completed application contains directions for doing this.)

I cannot get the application system to accept my login credential. What should I do?
This situation can arise in two very different ways.

  • Our system-generated passwords are complex. Try copying and pasting yours into the password field. 
  • After asking you to write a letter, the student may have turned to another reference and eliminated you. We advise students to share this information with former references, but they often do not. Check with the student.

I tried to submit a letter and something went wrong. Now my login credentials don't work. What should I do?
Login credentials allow you to access a student's application ONCE. If you need to access an application again, request a password reset.

I am having a hard time making the online system work. Can I just send you a PDF or WORD file?
All application materials must be posted to the online application site making them available to all 1150 NIH investigators. We do not have the person power to post letters individually for our thousands of applicants.

I am unclear about the deadline for submission of reference letters.
For the Summer Internship Program (SIP) the absolute deadline for receipt of letters in March 15. No letters will be accepted after this time. There are no deadlines for the Postbac Program. When your student applies you will receive a request for a letter. It will suggest that you submit the letter within two weeks.

Some SIP subprograms have their own deadlines for receipt of letters, which are earlier than the general SIP deadline (May 15). This is true for CCSEP, the Community College Summer Enrichment Program, for example. Check with the applicant for hard deadlines.

The deadline for receipt of SIP reference letters has passed and I forgot to submit mine. I don't want the student to suffer. What should I do?
Unfortunately, for SIP our deadline for receipt of letters is firm. We cannot accept late letters. You can advise the student to persist in searching for a research position. In the event that the student identifies interested NIH researchers, you can submit your letter to them directly.

My son [cousin, neighbor, congregant] has requested a letter of reference for your program. Would my submitting a letter be OK?
This would not be a good idea. Letters that help build a successful application will come from practicing scientists or teachers who know the student well and can speak in a confident way about his/her potential to do high quality biomedical research.