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GUIDELINES FOR NRC RESEARCH ADVISERS
As a Research Adviser to one or more National Research Council (NRC) 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 NRC and its governing body the National Academies have a keen interest in maintaining high standards for and the reputation of the Associateship Programs. The following sections, describing certain aspects of the program, should provide you some guidance in your role as an NRC Research Adviser. A more complete discussion of the postdoctoral experience may be found in the publication cited below.*
The primary path of communication regarding all program matters is between the Laboratory Program Representative (LPR) and the Program Administrator (PA) and Program Coordinator at the NRC. The LPR coordinates the submission or revision of Research Opportunities, nominations of new Advisers, and all day-to-day administrative details concerning the program at the laboratory. Any request to the Associateship Programs office for expenditure of program funds administered by the National Research Council must have the approval of the LPR and the Program Administrator.
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 Associateship Programs 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 by the NRC Program Administrator or Director. The opportunity abstract is then posted on the Associateship Programs website.
At any time during the year, a research opportunity may be revised, deleted, or added.
Funding and Fiscal Matters
All funds for the conduct of the program at a laboratory are provided to the National Research Council by means of a contract with that agency. This contract 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 limited travel for professional development while on tenure, and contribution to a health-insurance program.
Depending on the agency, a contract is negotiated either annually or on a multi-year basis and is based on a sole-source proposal from the National Research Council for the support of a specific number of Associates as requested by the agency. Until a signed contract is received by the NRC and funding is authorized by the agency, no monies can be spent; hence, no awards can be made. As a contractor, the NRC cannot recover money spent before or after an effective contract period.
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 National Research Council Associateship Programs Advisory Committee. This stipend is published in the Research Opportunity Booklet 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 - For a Senior Research Associateship award, the stipend is increased above the postdoctoral level by an amount determined by the National Research Council 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 National Research Council pays for relocating household goods of persons moving within the United States and Canada. Individuals relocating from overseas are limited to an unaccompanied baggage allowance as described in the Associateship Programs Policies, Practices, and Procedures handbook.
Travel Reimbursement - Travel reimbursement is requested on a NRC Travel Expense Report, which must be submitted directly to the Associateship Programs travel unit. The travel unit 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 by check from the NRC’s Accounting Office.
Health Insurance - The National Research Council 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 contract. Like all health insurance plans, premiums are adjusted periodically and are published for each program year.
The National Research Council conducts periodic staff and site visits to laboratories as needed to maintain good communication and to ensure that program objectives are being met.
Staff Visits - Staff visits are usually arranged and conducted by the LPR and Program Administrator. Together, communicating with the Advisers and postdocs, 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 Director will visit less frequently, but often enough to maintain familiarity with laboratory personnel and programs.
Site Visits - Site visits are conducted before establishing a program, before expanding an existing program into a new general scientific or technical area, and periodically every five to seven years thereafter. The site visit is conducted by a team of scientists and engineers representing the NRC Associateship Programs Advisory Committee; this team reports its findings and evaluation to the National Research Council's Governing Board. The purpose of the site visit is to determine the appropriateness of the research opportunities
for the Associateship Programs and the success of the laboratory in attracting highly qualified researchers.
Program Promotion and Recruitment of Applicants
The Associateship Programs staff and the laboratory/agency staff work together to attract applications from highly qualified scientists and engineers. The 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 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 Associateship Programs promotional functions include publishing and distributing posters and flyers, publishing Research Opportunity Booklets and posting them on the Programs web-site, recruiting applicants at national professional conferences and meetings (through exhibits and interviews with Ph.D. candidates), advertising in scientific and engineering publications, and visiting universities.
Application Review Procedure
Preparing the Application - Applicants are encouraged to select one or more research opportunities from the Associateship Programs 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. The application procedure is a "self-managed" process. The applicant is responsible for preparing, collecting, and submitting all required documents by the published deadlines.
Laboratory/Center Review Form - This form, along with 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. A second part of the form is 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 contract funds can support in order to preserve the competitive nature of the program. A laboratory recommendation of an application for review by the NRC panels is not a commitment for funding.
The NRC Panel Review - The Associateship Programs staff assembles panels of scientists and engineers to evaluate and score the applications for each of three annual reviews. Panels are generally convened at the end in mid-March, mid-June, mid-September, and early January for the respective 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 by the NRC, 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.
Processing Awards - After receiving a roster of approved applicants, the LPR contacts the Program Coordinator to indicate the number of awards the laboratory is willing to make. Usually, awards are made first to applicants in Quality Group A, then to applicants in Quality Groups B and C 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. However, for the sake of the laboratory's reputation, 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 for awards by the laboratory, the LPR notifies the NRC, and the applicants are notified immediately by the NRC. The award package includes the official award letter, Response Form, tax information, information and forms for relocating household goods, health insurance information and form, direct deposit form, policy and travel handbooks, staff directories, and a starting date form, among other documents.
Terms and Conditions of Awards - The award letter 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 letter obligates the National Research Council, through its Associateship Programs 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 Form - This form certifies that the Associate has reported to the laboratory and that stipend payments can begin. The LPR should make certain the starting date form is completed and forwarded to the Associateship Program Coordinator the day the Associate actually arrives, not before.
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 NRC.
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 before the start of tenure or along with the Starting Date Form at the latest. All pre-existing medical conditions are covered if dependent coverage is requested within 30 days of the first day of tenure. Otherwise, the insurance carrier may not accept pre-existing medical conditions.
Orientation to the Laboratory - Introductions and orientation to the laboratory as a whole and its processes is the responsibility of 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 During Tenure - Each Associate is expected to attend and/or participate in one or two appropriate professional meetings each year with presentation of research results. A modest amount has been budgeted for this purpose. Prior to travel, a travel authorization (TA) form is submitted to the Program Coordinator after recommendation and approval by the Adviser and the LPR. After approval by the NRC, the Associate is authorized and encouraged to order prepaid tickets from the travel agency with whom the NRC has contracted. Foreign travel requires additional approval by the NRC, and in some cases, the sponsoring agency headquarters.
Programmatic Travel During Tenure - 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 NRC contract. 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 the Associateship Program Coordinator using the Travel Authorization (TA) form. No travel will be approved by the NRC 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 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, but not less than six months. Senior 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.
If a brief period, not exceeding six months, is needed to bring an Associate's research project to a logical conclusion, an award extension may be granted by the Program Administrator upon receipt of a renewal/extension form and a letter of justification for this extension signed by both the Associate and the Adviser.
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 Associateship Programs office. Both the Adviser and the LPR must sign the Renewal/Extension Application Form. A completed Adviser Evaluation Form must accompany each request. 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.
Final Report and Evaluation
Before the last day of tenure, an Associate is required to submit a Final Report directly to the Associateship Programs office. In addition, a final evaluation of the Associate is to be made by the Adviser by completing the Evaluation of Associate by Adviser Form. This form should be signed by the Adviser and the LPR and submitted to the Associateship Programs office.
These reports and evaluations assist the NRC in assessing the overall quality of the Associate's research experience and the benefits of the Associate's scientific productivity to the laboratory. The National Research Council is 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 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 contact 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 NRC encourages 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 a Research 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).