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Questions Frequently Asked by Postbacs

What is a reliable source of information for postbacs?
Your Postbac Handbook is a good place to start.  The rules and procedures that govern all programs and activities at the NIH are detailed in Manual Chapters.  If you are a Postbac IRTA, you can find a complete description of your program in the IRTA Manual Chapter. (NOTE: If your appointment is in the NCI, the appropriate document is the CRTA Chapter.)

Where can I find a list of postbac stipends?
Postbac IRTA stipends are are established each March by the Scientific Directors and are published in an appendix to the IRTA Manual Chapter.

How can I meet other postbacs?
Begin by attending an orientation session presented by your Institute or Center (IC) and/or the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE); this will allow you to begin building your postbac network from day one.  Another good way to meet postbacs is to attend career development workshops offered by the OITE.  While you are learning how to read a scientific paper or soaking up advice on getting to medical school, you will be meeting summer interns with similar interests.  Finally, subscribe to the Postbac-L and Club PCR listservs.  These more social listservs will alert you to community service and social events organized by and for summer interns.  (Directions for subscribing can be found in your Postbac Handbook.)

Where should I go if I need help getting my NIH ID badge or completing the other administrative tasks associated with starting work at the NIH?
Administrative details of your postbac appointment are the responsibility of your Institute or Center (IC).  Your Administrative Officer (AO) is the person most likely to be able to assist you.  If you do not know who this is, ask your Principal Investigator (PI) to introduce you.  Another important resource is your IC Training Director.  Make it a point to get to know this person. 

What if I encounter a serious problem while I am at the NIH?
We certainly hope that your postbac experience will be terrific and that you will leave the NIH with only good memories.  However, should you encounter difficulties while you are with us, there are people who can help.  You may want to go first to your principal investigator (PI) or Training Director.  If the problem involves harassment, your being treated badly, or something you suspect may be scientific misconduct, please come to the OITE.  Sharon Milgram and Pat Sokolove, the Director and Deputy Director of the OITE, will be willing to help you work through the problem or will assist you in obtaining the resources you need.

How can I make certain I have a successful postbac research experience?
Here are some simple suggestions:

  • At the beginning of the year, discuss expectations with your supervisor.  Make certain that you know what is expected of you, and do your best to meet those expectations.  It is particularly important to discuss how you will handle graduate/medical/dental school interviews and perhaps the time you need to prepare for standardized tests.
  • Treat this opportunity like a regular job.   Do not be late or absent without letting your supervisor know, preferably in advance.
  • Take the time to observe how the lab works and try to fit in.  If everyone arrives at work at 7:30, you arrive at 7:30 too.  If everyone goes to the WALS lectures on Wednesday, you go too.  If no one uses a cell phone in the lab, turn yours off (unless you are expecting a particularly important call).  The same advice applies to iPods and other electronic devices.
  • Participate actively in lab meeting.
  • Try to learn all you can about the projects going on in your lab, in collaborators' labs, and down the hall.
  • Ask for papers to read, and learn as much as you can about your project.
  • Ask for help when you need it, and write down directions for any complex tasks.
  • Try to contribute more than your fair share to keeping the lab running smoothly.
  • Treat EVERYONE in the lab with respect.

How can I have a successful year?
Remember that science is your first priority this year, but that life is always important.  Consider doing some or all of the following:

  • Think more about your next career steps and the skills you will need to succeed, then work on gaining those skills.
  • Learn more about yourself.
  • Explore the Washington, DC area and the NIH community.

What advice can you give me about taxes?
The OITE cannot advise you on tax liabilities; we are not qualified experts.  If you need assistance, please find one.  We can share the following facts:

If you are appointed as an IRTA/CRTA, you are a trainee and not an employee.

  • Your stipend will be reported on a Form 1099G.
  • No FICA (Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid) taxes will be deducted from your stipend.
  • No payroll taxes (Federal or state) will be withheld, either.
  • You will be responsible for filing Federal and state income tax returns.  This means you should (1) save some funds to pay your taxes and (2) look into filing estimated tax returns.

Can I get any help with applying to graduate or professional school?
Absolutely!  Please check out the following services:

  • The OITE Career Services Center includes a pre-professional advisor.  You can make one-on-one appointments to discuss applications to graduate, medical, or dental school.
  • OITE offers mock interviews and assistance with writing personal statements.
  • OITE presents workshops on "Getting to Graduate School" and "Getting to Professional School" that include very practical suggestions for dealing with issues ranging from selecting a school and a program to preparing for the GRE or MCAT.

What could I be doing to "pump up" my resume?
To improve your credentials, develop some useful skills, meet people, and learn more about yourself, you might like to get involved in some of the following:

  • Join the Postbac Committee and work to improve the NIH environment for postbacs.
  • Participate in or organize postbac community outreach activities.
  • Volunteer and make the lives of someone in our community better.

Can you help me with deferring my educational loans?
YesIf you are appointed as an IRTA/CRTA, the OITE can process loan deferment paperwork. Of course, the final decision rests with the lender.

As a postbac, how much vacation do I get?
If you are an IRTA/CRTA, you are entitled to a minimum of two weeks of excused absence per year, in addition to sick leave and Federal holidays.  However, if you are expecting to need lots of days of leave for interviews, you should save that leave time to cover the interviews.