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Questions Frequently Asked by Postdocs

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

Where can I find a list of postdoc stipends?
Postdoc IRTA/CRTA and Visiting Fellow stipends are established each March by the Scientific Directors and are published in an appendix to the IRTA Manual Chapter.

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 postdoc 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 postdoc experience will be satisfying and productive and that you will leave the NIH well-prepared for your next career step.  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 support/advice you need.

As a postdoc, what is my status here at the NIH?
If you are an IRTA/CRTA or VF, you are considered a trainee; if you are a Research or Clinical Fellow, you are an employee, albeit temporary.  Research and Clinical Fellows are also sometimes referred to as FTEs, which stands for Full-Time Employee.

What visa status am I entitled to as a postdoc?
As with taxes (see below), visa issues are best discussed with an expert, in this case the staff in the NIH Division of International Services.  Generally, Visiting Fellows are brought to the NIH on J-1 visas.  The H-1B visa is an employment visa; it is therefore typically not given to trainees.

What advice can you give me about taxes?
The OITE cannot advise you on tax liabilities; if you need assistance, please find a qualified tax expert.  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 income taxes, Federal or state, will be withheld.
  • 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) file estimated tax returns.

If you are a Research or Clinical Fellow, you are an employee, and your wages will be reported on a W2 form.

If you are a Visiting Fellow, your tax status will depend on your citizenship.  Please consult with the NIH Division of International Services.

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

What about loan repayment?
The NIH Intramural Loan Repayment Program is an incentive program to bring outstanding researchers and clinicians to the NIH as employees.  If you are a Research or Clinical Fellow, you are eligible to apply for loan repayment.  Depending on your research program, up to $35,000 of qualifying educational debt can be repaid per year.  It addition, the tax liability associated with the repayment will be covered.

As a postdoc, how much vacation do I get?
If you are an IRTA/CRTA or a Visiting Fellow, you are entitled to a minimum of two weeks of excused absence per year, in addition to sick leave and Federal holidays.  This leave does not accrue.  That is, you cannot accumulate leave and carry it over to the next year.

If you are a Research or Clinical Fellow, you accrue annual (vacation) and sick leave at a rate that depends on how long you have been employed by the Federal Government.  The initial rate of leave accrual is four hours each of annual and sick leave per two-week pay period.  After three years of Federal employment, you will accrue annual leave at a rate of six hours per pay period.

Am I entitled to maternity/paternity leave?
If you are an IRTA/CRTA or VF, your stipend may continue for up to 8 weeks of absence for the birth or adoption of a child.  Additional absence without stipend can be requested.

If you are a Research or Clinical Fellow, you may use accrued annual or sick leave to take time off for the birth or adoption of a child.  A Voluntary Leave Transfer Program allows other Federal employees to donate their annual leave to extend your time off.  Additional leave types are discussed in the Postdoc Handbook.

Is there a postdoc association at the NIH?
Yes.  The NIH Fellows Committee or FelCom serves the needs of the postdoc community.  For more information or to get involved please see the FelCom page.

I am not on the Bethesda campus, how can I access OITE resources?
Many workshops are videocast and are available to you as Prior Events.  Additionally, OITE staff members travel to other NIH locations to offer programs.  Finally, if you would like personal career advice, counselors in the Career Services Center can make phone appointments.

Is there a limit on how long I can be a postdoc at the NIH?
Yes.  Postdoctoral training at the NIH is governed by the 5 Year/8 Year Rule. The general principle is that individuals should not remain at the NIH in temporary positions for an excessively long period. Postdoctoral IRTA/CRTA and VF appointments are limited to 5 years.  You can extend your training to a maximum of 8 years (total) if you are subsequently appointed as a Research Fellow.

What is a research fellow?
A research fellow is a temporary full-time employee.  Promotion to this status allows a postdoc to extend his/her stay at the NIH beyond 5 years.  It also allows the fellow to apply for Intramural Loan Repayment or an H-1B visa.  However, your PI would need to have an FTE or Full-Time Employee slot available.  The vast majority of NIH postdocs are NOT research fellows.

As a Postdoc can I do things outside of the NIH?
All Fellows are expected to follow the Office of Intramural Research (OIR) Guidelines for Non-FTEs (Trainees) for NIH-Related Activities, Outside Activities, and Awards.

Are there different rules for Outside Activities for a Visiting Fellow?

Advance approval from the Division of International Services (DIS), the OIR, and other NIH offices is often necessary to engage in an outside activity to ensure that both our Fellows' U.S. immigration status and NIH policies allow the activity.  However, there are certain activities that do not need advance approval.

To help our Fellows better understand this process, please follow these steps:

  1. Complete the Outside Activity Wizard) - After completing the survey, if you are still unsure if your activity requires approval, please feel free to contact the DIS.
  2. Complete the "Approval for Outside Activity" (http://dis.ors.od.nih.gov/forms/approval_outside_activity.pdf) after determining that your requested activity requires advance approval:
    • Complete and sign the form and have both your NIH supervisor/sponsor and Scientific Director sign as well.
    • Submit the completed form and any supporting offer letters to the DIS.

The DIS will determine if the activity is permissible and will forward the request to the OIR if final OIR approval is required. The DIS will notify you if/when you can engage in the activity.

Please leave enough time to obtain all of the signatures if your activity requires advance approval.  We recommend you start the process 4-6 weeks in advance and submit the completed "Approval for Outside Activity" to the DIS at least two weeks in advance.  Do not begin the activity until DIS notifies you of the decision!