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Guidelines for Early Termination of Awards to Postdoctoral Fellows

A postdoctoral fellow's assignment to a specific research group may be appropriately terminated early prior to the end of his/her formal award period for several reasons:

  1. "incompatibility" between the postdoctoral fellow and the preceptor
  2. documented unsatisfactory performance by the postdoctoral fellow
  3. serious misbehavior on the part of the fellow.

Fiscal consideration should not be the basis for early termination within the NIH Intramural Research Program.


In situation (a) above, a transfer is generally appropriate and is the responsibility of the Laboratory/Branch Chief or, if necessary, the Scientific Director (SD), to negotiate. In appointing a fellow, the Institute or Center (IC) assumes the responsibility of providing a suitable training experience for a specific time period. Therefore, the IC must find a more suitable situation for the fellow and be ready to support him/her, even in the intramural program of another IC, should there be no mutually satisfactory place internally.

For situation (b) above, termination prior to the completion of the appointment period must be based on rigorous documentation of unsatisfactory performance. Furthermore, the fellow should have been notified in writing that his/her performance is unsatisfactory. Such notification must be specific and must outline suggestions for achieving a satisfactory level of performance. The decision to terminate the appointment should be communicated to the fellow approximately 11 to 12 months prior to the termination date where feasible. In the case of a Visiting Fellow in the third year of a J-1 visa, when a full year notification is not possible, there is the expectation that the fellow would be given the terminal six months extension that the NIH can provide. The decision to terminate the appointment rests with the SD of the IC in which the fellow is appointed, but can be delegated to the fellow's Laboratory/Branch Chief. In the latter instance, the fellow may appeal the contemplated action to the SD. With careful selection procedures, early termination of appointments for unsatisfactory performance should rarely be necessary.

A decision not to renew an appointment does not constitute early termination in the context of these guidelines. Nevertheless, every fellow should be notified in writing, where feasible, approximately 12 months in advance that he/she will not be reappointed. Decisions not to renew appointments do not require formal justification to the fellow.

In situation (c) above, swift, no-nonsense disciplinary action or even termination may be appropriate, and standard IC procedures should be applied.

The page was last updated on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 10:20pm