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This page provides information for a federal agency, research laboratory or center, or other research entity that wishes to initiate sponsorship of a NRC Research Associateship Programs with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the Academies). The NRC Research Associateship Programs are managed at the Academies by the Fellowships Office in the Policy and Global Affairs Division.

The NRC Research Associateship Programs (RAP) have two objectives: (1) to provide postdoctoral scientists and engineers of unusual promise and ability opportunities for research on problems, largely of their own choice, that are compatible with the research interests of the sponsoring laboratories and (2) to contribute thereby to the overall research efforts of these laboratories and to the national scientific and technological welfare.

The development of a successful postdoctoral program requires a continued commitment at a level of participation that is cost effective for the sponsor. A research laboratory or center that develops a reputation in the academic community for outstanding postdoctoral research opportunities and excellent support from the administrative and professional scientific and technical staff, attracts high quality applicants. A prospective new sponsor should examine carefully its expectations for the program and be prepared to make a sustained commitment to ensure success.

NRC Research Associateship Programs

The NRC Research Associateship Programs were initiated in 1954 in response to a request from the National Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The NRC was requested to develop a program wherein postdoctoral scientists and engineers would be selected on a competitive basis to conduct research projects of their own design in NIST laboratories. In 1959 a derivative of this initial program was developed wherein the Research Associates become guest investigators, not employees, at the sponsor research facility conducting research on the project proposed as part of their application to the NRC. The eligibility requirements were broadened to include, at the sponsor's option, non-U.S. scientists and engineers and, in addition to "regular postdoctoral Associates," applicants who have held the doctorate for more than five years (senior Associates).

In managing the NRC Research Associateship Programs, the Fellowships Office solicits and accepts applications, convenes review panels, recommends awardees, and handles the administrative affairs for the Research Associates. These administrative functions include disbursement of stipends, management of travel, insurance coverage, and relocation payments as well as preparation of visa documents for non-U.S. nationals. The Fellowships Office provides quality oversight to each sponsored program with site visits, staff visits, and required reports from the NRC Research Associates.

Because of the special nature of the Congressional charter for the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences (the Academies parent organization), funds are generally provided by means of a sole source contract or cooperative agreement between the sponsor and the Academies.

In developing a proposal, a sponsor or prospective sponsor informs the Fellowships Office of the number of NRC Research Associates it wishes to host, and the Fellowships Office develops a budget to include monies paid to and on behalf of Associates and the indirect costs of conducting the program.

Responsibilities of the Research Associate

An NRC Research Associate is expected to devote 100 percent effort to the research program approved by the laboratory and the review panels and not be involved in any other compensatory activity. The NRC Research Associateship opportunity is expected to provide a stimulating intellectual experience, and activities that would detract from concentrating exclusively on the research program, such as part-time teaching or other work, are not permitted.

Associates, while not being employees of either the host laboratory or the Academies, are expected to conform to all established policies of the host laboratory. They should keep the regular laboratory hours as their research allows. Associates normally take the posted holidays; however, they do not receive or earn "annual leave" as such. Recognizing that each Associate will of necessity need to be away from the laboratory (or center) from time to time, the Fellowships Office expects that the Associate will discuss such needs with his or her Research Adviser and take time away as agreed upon.

Each Associate is required to submit a six-month report and to submit a research progress report at the end of each period of tenure. Associates are highly encouraged to publish research results in appropriate refereed journals giving proper credit to the host laboratory, to the Research Associateship Programs, and to other collaborating scientists or engineers involved.

Responsibilities of the Sponsor

A sponsor is expected to provide the intellectual support necessary for the timely completion of the research project proposed by the Associate. It is expected that the NRC Research Associate will not be assigned laboratory duties unrelated to his or her research proposal so that total effort can be devoted to the approved project. The intellectual support for an NRC Research Associate comes primarily from a Research Adviser who has been nominated by the laboratory to serve in that role. Research Advisors are senior staff who are engaged in research as their primary assignment. Each Research Adviser is individually approved by the Fellowships Office.

Since a major goal of the NRC Research Associateship Programs is the professional scientific or technical development of the individual, an Associate should be encouraged to interact with others in a laboratory research group as an integral part of the "research family" and should not be treated as an outside contractor.

Programmatic support from the sponsor includes items such as: adequate research space; reasonable office arrangements and clerical support; supplies and equipment necessary for the conduct of the research program; reasonable technical support as may be needed; computer and library resources as may be required; assistance with arrangements and travel expenses or other costs associated with field research; use of other laboratory facilities, if required; page costs associated with publication of research results with appropriate credit to the sponsor.

Although the Fellowships Office has the major responsibility for the production and dissemination of program promotional materials, the material to be printed in the various publications or posted in electronic format must originate with the sponsor. This includes: description of the laboratory and units that will participate; descriptions of special facilities or equipment; write-ups of the research opportunities to be offered.

It is very important that the laboratory participates in the promotion of its program and communicates extensively with professors and graduate students concerning its participation in the NRC Research Associateship Programs and its interest in attracting postdoctoral scientists or engineers. As staff members of the sponsor participate in the appropriate national and international meetings or give university seminars, they should bring to the attention of their peers and others, particularly graduate students, the research opportunities available. Emphasis on how a research experience at the laboratory could assist in the development of their research careers is important.

Each sponsor is requested to designate an appropriate scientist or engineer, preferably at a high level in the research organization, to provide administrative coordination with the NRC Research Associateship Programs. This individual is called the Laboratory Program Representative (LPR) and together with Fellowships Office staff, forms the primary basis of communication. An annual meeting of LPRs is held in Washington, DC.



The role of a Research Adviser to a NRC Research Associate is analogous to that of a major professor to a postdoctoral fellow in a major research university, although an Associate should not require the level of guidance and supervision a graduate student does.

An 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. Ideally, to fulfill this role, an Adviser should be a mature, experienced scholar/researcher with an ongoing research program and professional recognition attained through recent publication in open journals and literature appropriate to his or her field. For a Senior Research Associate, the relationship with an Adviser is that of a professional colleague. An Adviser should have enough experience and stature at the laboratory to be able to assist the 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.


An Adviser nominee should hold a research doctorate in the appropriate field.


An Adviser nominee should have a minimum of five years research experience beyond the doctoral degree. This experience may be in a government or industrial laboratory or at a university, providing research was integral to a faculty appointment.

Professional Focus

Although administrators, such as section heads or branch chiefs, may have outstanding research records and play an important role in providing a good climate for Associates, the most effective Advisers are staff members who spend their major effort at research and have time available for interaction with Associates. Nomination of an administrator is therefore not encouraged unless evidence can be provided that the nominee is an active investigator with time available to devote to an Associate.


A nominee should have a reasonable number of publications that are referenced in appropriate open journals and literature and should have been published within the past five years to reflect peer acceptance of his or her research productivity. In-house technical reports, while helpful, are not regarded as sufficient evidence of external peer acceptance of research output.


The following steps are recommended for laboratories interested in initiating an NRC Research Associateship program: 

  1. Potential sponsors should contact the NRC Research Associateship Programs at

  2. The Director will communicate with the person or persons initiating the contact, will provide a number of documents for review, and will be available to answer initial questions. Arrangements may be made for an informal staff visit to the facility of the prospective sponsor to discuss the many details of program operation with the appropriate persons, tour the research facilities, and meet the professional research scientists or engineers who would serve as mentors or Research Advisers to postdoctoral scientists should a program be established. The Fellowships Office staff members making the visit will be able to counsel with the staff of the laboratory relative to the next steps.

  3. If, through discussions or a preliminary visit, a formal application for approval for a new program is recommended, Fellowships Office staff will provide the appropriate forms and discuss with the laboratory personnel the various components of the application and give suggestions for the development of the documentation requested. In most cases, a senior professional in the top laboratory administration is designated the "Laboratory Program Representative" and assigned the task of developing the application for the laboratory/ies to be involved.

    The Laboratory Program Representative will be asked to make decisions such as: the number of postdoctoral scientists to be supported; the laboratory scientists or engineers to be nominated to serve as Research Advisers; the units of the laboratory that are to participate; stipend levels to be offered; whether non-US nationals would be eligible; whether senior Associates would be accepted, etc.

  4. The Fellowships Office staff will arrange with the laboratory a date for a formal site visit. For a site visit to a single site, a one-day visit is usually sufficient; where multiple geographic locations are involved, the visit may extend over two or three days with the team travelling overnight, or broken into multiple visits. The logistics and detailed agenda are worked out cooperatively between the laboratory and the Fellowships Office well in advance of the visit.

  5. While the laboratory staff is preparing the formal application, the Fellowships Office staff, assisted as appropriate by program consultants, will select, nominate, and invite approved nominees to serve as a site visit team to conduct a formal NRC site visit to the laboratory/ies. Prior to nomination of a possible site visitor, the Fellowships Office staff will check with the laboratory for possible bias concerns that could affect the visit outcome.

  6. The purpose of the site visit is to assess as much as possible: a) the likelihood that a high-quality postdoctoral researcher would have a very productive career building research experience; b) that by the presence of the quality postdoctoral researcher, the laboratory would be assisted in its scientific or technical programs.

    At the close of the visit, an executive session is held with the appropriate laboratory administrators to convey the initial impressions of the team; however, it is to be made clear that the final decision rests with the Academies’ Governing Board. In some cases, additional information may be requested by the team members.

  7. After the site visitors return home, a report is developed by the Chairperson with input and review by each member. The team may recommend approval of the entire program as requested, parts of the program, individual research opportunities with deferment of others until strengthened, approval or deferment of individual adviser nominees, or deferment of the entire program with recommendations for strengthening prior to initiation of any postdoctoral activity. The team may recommend that a program be initiated with senior Associates only until such time that programs are strengthened and can be revisited for approval to host regular Associates also. Outright disapproval is now extremely rare since the preliminary staff visit serves to help defer formal applications until the organization is able to participate at some reasonable level of cost and quality effectiveness.

  8. Following a favorable recommendation for a new program, the Academies’ Office of Contracts and Grants, with assistance from the Fellowships Office, develops a proposal for sole source funding to the contracting authority for the new sponsor. After completion of a cooperative agreement of other form of the contract and the receipt of initial funding authorization, the Fellowships Office undertakes its responsibilities to the new sponsor.


The formal site visit to a single geographic location is usually accomplished in one day. If the research units to be visited are at different locations, the visit may be conducted on different days, either in succession or with some delay between visits. In the case of a very large research complex, embodying several major units, the visit may possibly extend into a second day.


8:00 - 8:30 am

Site visit team arrives at laboratory

8:30 am Introductory comments and introductions
a. By laboratory visit coordinator
b. By Fellowship Office Program Administrator or Director
9:00 am Overview of the total research activity of the laboratory with emphasis on the place of the Research Associateship Program, laboratory commitment to the program, and outlook for the future
9:20 - 10:30 am Brief presentations by division or branch heads of the research programs of the units that will participate in the Research Associateship Program, with emphasis on the NRC Research Associateship Program
10:30 - noon

Team meets with Research Advisers.
The team may split, with individual members visiting particular research areas or, depending upon the number of Research Advisers to be visited, the entire team may choose to remain together. At any point, the team chair may ask for a brief executive session.

12:00 - 1:00 pm Lunch break - The Chair will probably call for a brief executive session following lunch.
1:00 - 3:00 pm Continuation of meetings between the team, Research Advisers.
3:00 pm Team executive session
3:30 pm Exit interview with laboratory staff
4:00 pm Team departure