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GUIDELINES FOR RESEARCH ADVISERS
As a Research Adviser to one or more NRC Research Associates conducting research in your laboratory, you play a key role in assuring a successful outcome for both the Associate(s) and your agency (the sponsor). The primary function of the Research Adviser is to guide, counsel, and otherwise assist the Associate (Postdoctoral or Senior) so that his or her tenure is a highly productive and quality research experience that will enhance his or her career as a research scientist or engineer. At the same time, the Associate's tenure in the laboratory should add value to the overall research efforts of your agency. The Research Adviser is the key to making sure that these objectives are met. The Fellowships Office and its governing body the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the Academies) have a keen interest in maintaining high standards for and the reputation of the NRC Research Associateship Programs (RAP). The following sections, describing certain aspects of the program, should provide you some guidance in your role as a Research Adviser.
The primary path of communication regarding all program matters is between the Laboratory Program Representative (LPR) at the sponsoring agency and the Program Administrator (PA) and Program Coordinator at the Fellowships Office of the Academies. The LPR coordinates the Research Opportunities, nominations of new Research Advisers, and all day-to-day administrative details concerning the program at the laboratory. Any request to the Fellowships Office for expenditure of program funds administered by the Academies must have the approval of the LPR.
An Adviser may call or otherwise contact a Program Administrator or Program Coordinator with special questions or suggestions. However, the LPR is the Adviser's primary program representative and should be kept informed of any such contacts. An Associate may contact the Fellowships Office as needed; however, the Program Administrator or Program Coordinator normally will call upon the LPR to assist in the resolution of any problems related to the Associate's research.
New or revised Research Opportunities for approved project areas at the laboratory must be submitted through the LPR for approval. The Research Opportunity is then posted on the RAP website. At any time during the year, a Research Opportunity may be revised, deleted, or added.
All funds for the conduct of the program at a laboratory are provided to the Academies by means of a contract or cooperative agreement (CA) with the agency. The contract or CA provides the following monies paid to or on behalf of Associates: stipend, relocation of household goods and travel to the vicinity of the laboratory, funds for travel for professional development while on tenure, and contribution to a health insurance program.
Postdoctoral Stipend - The annual base stipend for new doctoral graduates receiving an Associateship award is determined by the sponsor agency within lower and upper limits set by the NRC Research Associateship Programs Advisory Committee. This stipend is published on the RAP website for the laboratory or agency. In addition to the base stipend, an increment may be added for each year an awardee has held the doctorate at the time of application, for the field of study, and for a cost of living differential. The sponsoring laboratory determines the amount of and criteria for these supplements.
Senior Stipend - An Associate is reimbursed for expenses incurred in relocating from their current place of residence to the vicinity of the laboratory (if more than 50 miles from the address shown on the application form). For appointments of six months or longer, travel expenses for immediate family members are also reimbursed. Those relocating from and returning to foreign countries and Seniors on leave from a permanent position are usually reimbursed for return relocation. For a Senior Research Associateship award, the stipend is increased above the postdoctoral level by an amount determined by the Academies based on the awardee's professional experience, academic rank or its equivalent, and overall quality of the research proposal. The Senior stipend is not related to the individual's current salary and is not reduced by non-service awards such as paid sabbatical leave.
Relocation Travel - An Associate is reimbursed for expenses incurred in relocating from their current place of residence to the vicinity of the laboratory (if more than 50 miles from the address shown on the application form). For appointments of six months or longer, travel expenses for immediate family members are also reimbursed. Those relocating from and returning to foreign countries and Seniors on leave from a permanent position are usually reimbursed for return relocation.
Relocation of Household Goods - For appointments of six months or longer, the Academies pays for relocating household goods of persons moving within the United States. Individuals relocating from overseas are limited to an unaccompanied baggage allowance as described in the NRC Research Associateship Programs Policies, Practices, and Procedures handbook.
Travel Reimbursement - Travel reimbursement is requested on a Travel Expense Report, which must be submitted directly to RAP Travel, the travel unit of the Fellowships Office. RAP Travel checks these forms for adherence to published policies regarding travel (see the Policies, Practices, and Procedures handbook), and payment is issued directly to the Associate.
Health Insurance - The Academies negotiates coverage for all Associates with a health insurance company on a cost-participation basis with each sponsoring agency. Under this plan, an Associate pays part of the premium, and the agency pays part with the funds provided in the NRC Research Associateship Programs contractor CA. Like all health insurance plans, premiums are adjusted periodically and are published for each program year.The Fellowships Office conducts periodic staff visits to laboratories as needed to maintain good communication and to ensure that program objectives are being met. Staff visits are usually arranged and conducted by the LPR and Program Administrator. Together, communicating with the Advisers and Associates, they set the agenda, date, talking points, presentations and/or individual lab visits. Occasionally the Program Coordinator or other office staff members, such as the Fiscal Officer, may accompany the Program Administrator on a visit.
The Fellowships Office conducts periodic staff visits to laboratories as needed to maintain good communication and to ensure that program objectives are being met. Staff visits are usually arranged and conducted by the LPR and Program Administrator. Together, communicating with the Advisers and Associates, they set the agenda, date, talking points, presentations and/or individual lab visits. Occasionally the Program Coordinator or other office staff members, such as the Fiscal Officer, may accompany the Program Administrator on a visit.
Program Promotion and Recruitment of Applicants
Fellowships Office staff and laboratory/agency staff work together to attract applications from highly qualified scientists and engineers. The NRC Research Associateship Programs widely publicize opportunities in its participating programs; however, successful programs rely to a large extent on active recruiting by Advisers.
The professional reputation of the Research Adviser is one of the most important factors in attracting prospective Associates. An Adviser should make known the opportunities in his or her laboratory to appropriate groups in the scientific community through personal contacts and by mentioning the opportunities during seminars or when presenting papers at meetings.
The NRC Research Associateship Programs promotional functions include publishing and distributing posters and flyers, publishing Research Opportunities on the RAP website, recruiting applicants at national professional conferences and meetings (through exhibits and interviews with Ph.D. candidates), advertising in scientific and engineering publications, and a wide range of web based outreach activities including social media.
Application and Review Processes
Preparing the Application - Applicants are encouraged to select one or more research opportunities from the RAP website (www.national-academies.org/rap), and then to contact prospective Advisers to discuss ideas for specific research projects. The idea for the proposed project should be generated by the applicant; however, Advisers may give scientific or technical advice and, if time permits, provide an informal review of the proposal.
Laboratory/Center Review Form - Prior to Academies’ panel review, a copy of the research proposal, is forwarded to the applicant's proposed Research Adviser. The Adviser provides his or her scientific evaluation of the project, its relevance to the scientific interests of the sponsoring organization, the availability of support facilities, and an indication of his or her willingness to serve as a Research Adviser. Approval to review an applicant is then endorsed by the LPR and /or Laboratory Program Committee to affirm its interest and support for the project should the applicant be recommended for an award. The laboratory is encouraged to recommend more applicants than funds can support in order to preserve the competitive nature of the program. A laboratory recommendation of an application for review by the NRC Research Associateship Programs panels is not a commitment for funding.
The NRC Research Associateship Panel Review - The Fellowships Office staff assembles panels of scientists and engineers to evaluate and score the applications for each of four annual reviews. Panels are convened in mid-March, and off-site reviews are performed in May-June, August-September, and November-December, respectively, for the February, May, August, and November 1 deadlines. Each application is read by at least three panelists; multidisciplinary proposals may be read by two or more panels.
Roster of Recommended Candidates - After all scores are reviewed and certified, rosters of recommended candidates are made available to the LPR on the RAP website. Applicants are divided into Quality Groups of A, B, and C on each roster. Applicants in the A and B categories are recommended for awards, with the higher scoring applicants being given priority. Applicants in the C category are not recommended but may reapply in any subsequent review.
Processing Awards - After receiving a roster of approved applicants, the LPR may authorize awards through the web-based InfoRAP system. Usually, awards are made first to applicants in Quality Group A, then to applicants in Quality Group B to the extent that funds are available. It is possible for persons in Quality Group A not to receive an award if an Adviser has too many Associates or for other logistical or funding reasons. To assure ongoing program quality, every effort should be made to ensure that the highest quality applicants are the first to receive awards.
Notification of Awards - When applicants have been approved by the LPR, an award offer is extended. The award package is delivered online and includes the terms of the award, and details for the applicant to complete certain contingencies and laboratory requirements, as well as establishing a starting date. New awardees are a provided information for relocating including movement of household goods if applicable, information on obtaining health insurance, direct deposit information, along with guidance on program policies and procedures including travel.
Terms and Conditions of Awards - The award package may list contingencies that must be fulfilled before starting tenure, such as completion of all degree requirements, clearance for unescorted access to the laboratory and its facilities, and obtaining an appropriate visa (for foreign nationals). The Policies, Practices, and Procedures guidelines, found on the RAP website, further document the terms and conditions of the award.
The award offer obligates the Academies, through its Fellowships Office, to pay the stipend and other allowances for the period of the award. An award can be withdrawn only if an awardee is unable to begin tenure within the period provided or, if after beginning tenure, the Associate is not able to perform the proposed research because of unforeseen developments.
An Associate's First Day at the Laboratory
Starting Date Notification - On the first day in the laboratory the Associate completes the Start Date workflow in InfoRAP. Upon submission of this date, the Adviser is requested to confirm the physical presence of the Associate in the lab. This process certifies that the Associate has reported to the laboratory and that stipend payments can begin.
Stipend Advance - If an Associate has requested an advance on his or her stipend, the check will be delivered to the Associate by the LPR. In some agencies, the LPR is located at a different laboratory, and the check may be delivered to the Adviser to give to the Associate. In no case should the check be delivered to the Associate before the starting date form has been sent to the Fellowships Office.
Insurance Form - The Associate should complete all insurance forms for individual (single) coverage and dependent (family) coverage, if elected. The insurance form should be returned at least 30 days before the start of tenure if possible.
Orientation to the Laboratory - Introductions and orientation to the laboratory as a whole and its processes is the responsibility of the Research Adviser and the LPR. Introductions and orientation to the specific laboratory and personnel, to laboratory procedures for obtaining supplies and equipment, and accessing computer and library resources, and to safety and health training is the responsibility of the Adviser.
Professional versus Programmatic Travel
Professional Travel - Each Associate is expected to attend and/or participate in appropriate professional meetings. A modest amount has been budgeted for this purpose. Prior to travel, a travel authorization (TA) form is submitted to RAP Travel after recommendation and approval by the Adviser and the LPR. After approval by RAP Travel, the Associate is authorized and encouraged to order prepaid tickets from the travel agency with whom the Academies has contracted. Foreign travel requires additional approval by the Academies, and in some cases, the sponsoring agency headquarters.
Programmatic Travel - Programmatic travel typically involves travel to collect data or use equipment or facilities at other locations. These travel expenses are sometimes paid by the sponsoring laboratory, either directly to the Associate through invitational travel orders or by a supplement to the Academies contract or CA. Consult with the LPR regarding authorization and funding of program travel.
Travel Authorization (TA) forms - All requests for professional or program travel originate with the Associate and his or her Adviser and are forwarded via the LPR to RAP Travel using the Travel Authorization (TA) form. No travel, aside from relocation, will be approved by RAP Travel without the approval of the Adviser and the signature of the LPR.
Request to Renew or Renew an Award
An initial award for a postdoctoral Research Associate is for 12 months, renewable for additional 12-month periods, up to a maximum of 36 months, depending on the laboratory or agency. In special cases, renewals for periods of less than twelve months can be considered. Senior Research Associate awards and renewals may be as short as three months and may include a "split" of up to one year between the initial award and the renewal.
Reminder letters are sent to the Associate and Adviser about 90 days before the expiration date of the Associate's tenure. If the Associate and the Adviser/sponsoring agency express mutual interest in renewal or extension, a request form should be submitted to the Fellowships Office. Both the Adviser and the LPR must authorize the renewal or extension. If a laboratory does not plan to recommend renewal or extension, the Associate should be so advised at least four to six months before the end of tenure to allow for the arrangement of follow-on employment.
Before the last day of tenure, an Associate is required to submit a Final Report. These reports assist the Academies in assessing the overall quality of the Associate's research experience and the benefits of the Associate's scientific productivity to the laboratory. The Academies are contractually obligated to submit periodic reports to the sponsoring agency. Among a number of items, the periodic reports summarize information provided in the final reports of Associates completing their tenure.
Assistance with Career Placement
One of the primary objectives of the NRC Research Associateship Programs is to enhance the careers of the participants. Advisers play an important role in guiding postdoctoral Associates toward challenging and rewarding professional employment. Advisers frequently have extensive professional contacts with other scientists and administrators at universities, in private industry, and in other government agencies. These contacts can serve as a network for Associates seeking career placement. The Academies encourage Research Advisers to play an active role in assisting Associates nearing the end of their tenure with obtaining permanent employment consistent with their professional qualifications. A successful long-term career outcome for an Associate is a credit to the mentorship of the Research Adviser.
*Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies (2000), The National Academy Press (Also published on the Internet at www.nap.edu).