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Career Flexibility for Postdocs

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The transition from postdoc to faculty (see Heggeness et al., 2016, Acad Med 91[8]:1164 - 72) is a stage identified as being vulnerable to career disruptions. Of biomedical scientists and engineers, women are far more likely than men to cite family responsibilities as a reason for leaving the work force. In recognition of these challenges, ORWH has compiled a conspectus of NIH programs and policies that are relevant to NIH-supported predoctoral and postdoctoral workers at their home institutions. For additional information on the programs and policies below, as well as additional resources, please visit the links below.

Paid Parental Leave on Fellowships and Training Grants: National Research Service Award (NRSA)

Recipients of National Research Service Award (NRSA) support are currently permitted 8 weeks of paid parental leave for the adoption or birth of a child. Either parent is eligible for parental leave. In addition, if an extramural institution permits longer periods of parental leave from the principal investigator's grants than currently permitted for individuals funded through the NRSAs, typically that period is also permissible for NRSA trainees and fellows. Currently, if the extramural institution does not permit 8 weeks leave for postdocs and students funded on other sources of support than the NRSA, the NRSA recipient is still allowed to take the 8 weeks of paid leave. The NRSA trainee or fellow is required to provide advance notice to their grantee institution and their supervisor according to their institution's policy, and the use of parental leave must be approved by the training program director. For more information, see policy notices NOT-OD-18-154 and NOT-OD-16-105.

Flexible Policies on Career Development (K) Awards

Awardees may request adjustments to their appointment status or percent effort for a personal or family reason such as parental leave, child care, elder care, a medical condition, or a disability. For example, awardees may request to reduce their appointment to less than full-time (but not less than three-quarter time) for a period not to exceed 12 continuous months during the award project period. For more information, see policy notice NOT-OD-18-156 and the applicable leave policies in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

Extension Policy for Eligibility Window for Pathway to Independence Awards (K99/R00)

The 4-year postdoc eligibility window for K99 applicants will be extended by 1 year for those who apply for an extension for childbirth. NIH considers requests for extension of the K99 eligibility window for various reasons, including medical concerns, disability, family care, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, and active-duty military service. See NOT-OD-20-011 for details on how to request an extension.

Supporting Reentry through Supplements

Postdocs and faculty members who have taken time off to care for children or attend to other responsibilities and who want to bring their research skills and knowledge up to date are eligible to apply for these supplements. The commitment could be full- or part-time, and at completion, it is anticipated that the individual would be competitive for a career development award, a research award, or some other form of independent research support. For more information, see the funding opportunity announcement PA-18-592.

Specific Institute Programs

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Primary Caregiver Technical Assistance Supplements (PCTAS) support postdoctoral research scientists who are taking care of a child or sick family member. PCTAS provide additional funds for NIAID grantees to hire a mid-to-senior-level technician at a full-time or part-time level of effort to help maintain their projects when they are required to be away from the lab to fulfill caregiver obligations. See the Primary Caregiver Technical Assistance Supplements (PCTAS) (Admin Supp Clinical Trial Optional) funding opportunity announcement.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)

The new NINDS postdoctoral fellowship program (PAR-20-021) highly discourages the inclusion of preliminary data in the application, accepts applications up to 12 months prior to starting in the specified lab or research environment, and allows for a 6-month paid extension of the fellowship for childbirth upon prior request and approval.

Additional Resources


This page last updated: December 9, 2019

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