INFORMATION 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 National 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.
Role of a Research Adviser
The role of a Research Adviser to an NRC Postdoctoral Research Associate is similar to that of a major professor/principle investigator to a postdoctoral fellow at a major research university. For an NRC Senior Research Associate, the relationship with an Adviser is that of a professional colleague.
A Research Adviser is expected to furnish scholarly stimulation, provide encouragement and scientific and technical advice, and offer any other types of support that will help an Associate develop into a mature researcher. A Research Adviser should be an experienced scholar/researcher with an ongoing research program and professional recognition attained through recent publication in refereed journals in his or her field.
A Research Adviser should recognize that a Research Associate's later career will be profoundly affected by his or her publication record in the open literature and should also have a personal commitment to the development of the Research Associate who chooses to work with him or her. A Research Adviser should have enough experience and stature at the laboratory to be able to assist the Research Associate in acclimating to the laboratory environment, locating work space, purchasing and/or assembling equipment, securing technical shop support, and obtaining access to library and computer resources.
At times, a Research Adviser may be called on to help or advise with personal issues such as finding suitable housing, establishing bank accounts, choosing medical and dental providers, establishing credit, or registering automobiles.
The primary path of communication regarding all program matters in the NRC Research Associateship Programs 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 National Academies. The LPR coordinates the Research Opportunities, approves new Research Advisers, and handles 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 National Academies must have the approval of the LPR.
A Research Adviser may contact a Program Administrator or Program Coordinator with questions. However, the LPR is the Research Adviser's primary program representative and should be kept informed of any such contacts. A Research 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 award.
New or revised Research Opportunities for approved project areas at the laboratory must be submitted online and are approved by the LPR. 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.
Fiscal Matters (Please note: This section does not apply to NIST Advisers and Associates.)
All funds for the conduct of the program at a laboratory are provided to the National 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, movement of household goods and relocation to the vicinity of the laboratory, funds for travel for professional development while on tenure, and contributions to a health insurance program.
Stipend - The annual base stipend for new doctoral graduates receiving a Research Associateship award is determined by the sponsoring agency. 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 amounts of and criteria for these supplements.
Relocation - A Research 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 Associate’s address at the time of the award offer). 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 senior Research Associates on leave from a permanent position are usually reimbursed for return relocation.
Movement of Household Goods - For appointments of six months or longer, the National 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.
Professional Travel - An allotment for professional travel by a Research Associate to attend scientific meetings and for professional training is provided by the sponsor. All professional travel is approved using a Travel Authorization form, signed by the Research Adviser. Travel expense reimbursement is requested on a Travel Expense Report (TER), which must be submitted directly to RAP Travel, the travel unit of the Fellowships Office. Travel reimbursement adheres to Federal Travel Regulations, the Fly America Act, and other published policies regarding travel (see the NRC Research Associateship Programs Policies, Practices, and Procedures Handbook); payment is issued directly to the Associate.
Health Insurance - The National Academies negotiates coverage for all Research Associates with a health insurance company on a cost-participation basis with each sponsoring agency. Under this plan, a Research Associate pays part of the premium, and the balance is paid by the sponsoring agency. Like all health insurance plans, premiums are adjusted periodically and are published for each program year.
The Fellowships Office conducts periodic staff visits to participating 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 Research Advisers and Research 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
The Application and Review Process Flowchart provides an overview of the application and review processes for the NRC Research Associateship Programs.
Preparing the Application - As an initial step, prospective applicants are encouraged to select one or more Research Opportunities from the RAP website (www.nas.edu/rap), and then to contact the prospective Research Advisers to discuss ideas for specific research projects. The idea for the proposed project should be generated by the applicant; however, Research Advisers may give scientific or technical advice and, if time permits, provide an informal review of the proposal.
Laboratory/Center Review Form - Prior to National Academies’ panel review, the applicant's proposed Research Adviser reviews the candidate’s application and 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. A laboratory recommendation of an application for review by the NRC Research Associateship Programs panels is not a commitment for funding.
The NRC Research Associateships Panel Review - The Fellowships Office staff assembles panels of scientists and engineers to evaluate and score applications during 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 application 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 applications are reviewed and scores 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.
The Award Process Flowchart provides an overview of the awards process from the time an Associate starts to their end of tenure.
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 by the Fellowships Office. The award notification is sent via e-mail and includes a link to the Associate’s module in InfoRAP where the awardee can accept the award and enter a start date as well as access the terms of the award and the details for completing certain contingencies and laboratory requirements. New awardees are provided information and guidance on program policies and procedures including relocation, movement of household goods (if applicable), professional travel, health insurance, and direct deposit payments.
Terms and Conditions of Awards - The awardee must fulfill certain contingencies prior to 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 NRC Research Associateship Programs Policies, Practices, and Procedures Handbook, found on the RAP website, further document the terms and conditions of the award.The award offer obligates the National 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
Start Date Notification - On the first day in the laboratory the Research Associate must complete the Start Date workflow in InfoRAP. Upon submission by the Research Associate, the Research Adviser is requested, via e-mail, to confirm the physical presence of the Research Associate in the laboratory. This confirmation certifies that the Research Associate has reported to the laboratory and that stipend payments can begin.
Stipend Advance - If a Research Associate has requested an advance on his or her stipend, the check will be delivered to the Research Associate by the LPR. In some agencies, the LPR is located at a different laboratory, and the check may be delivered to the Research Adviser to give to the Research Associate. In no case should the check be delivered to the Research Associate before the Research Adviser has confirmed that the Research Associate has officially begun tenure.
Insurance Form - The Research Associate should complete the health insurance form for individual (single) coverage and dependent (family) coverage, if elected. The health insurance form must be uploaded to the Research Associate’s module in InfoRAP (even if declining health insurance) before the Research Associate can confirm his or her start date.
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 Research Adviser.
Each Research 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 Research Adviser and the LPR. After approval by RAP Travel, the Research Associate is authorized and encouraged to order prepaid tickets from the travel agency with whom the National Academies has contracted. Foreign travel requires additional approval by the National Academies, and in some cases, the sponsoring agency headquarters.
Travel to collect data or use equipment or facilities at other locations is sometimes paid by the sponsoring laboratory, either directly to the Research Associate through invitational travel orders or by a supplement to the National Academies’ contract or CA.
Travel Authorization (TA) forms - All requests for professional travel originate with the Research Associate and his or her Research 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 Research 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 notifications are sent to the Research Associate and Research Adviser about 90 days before the expiration date of the Research Associate's tenure. If the Research Associate and the Research Adviser/sponsoring agency express mutual interest in renewal or extension, the Research Associate must complete and submit an online application form.. Both the Research Adviser and the LPR must authorize the renewal or extension. If a laboratory does not plan to recommend renewal or extension, the Research 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, a Research Associate is required to submit a Final Report. These reports assist the National Academies in assessing the overall quality of the Associate's research experience and the benefits of the Research Associate's scientific productivity to the laboratory. The National 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 Research 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. Research Advisers play an important role in guiding postdoctoral Associates toward challenging and rewarding professional employment. Research 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 Research Associates seeking career placement. The National Academies encourage Research Advisers to play an active role in assisting Research Associates nearing the end of their tenure with obtaining permanent employment consistent with their professional qualifications. A successful long-term career outcome for an 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).