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Search Process for Senior Investigators, Tenure-Track Investigators, Senior Clinicians and Senior Scientists

Principles and Procedures for Identifying Candidates for Laboratory/Clinical Investigator Positions

It has long been recognized that despite some of the difficulties arising from the decentralized structure of the NIH with its multiple semi-independent Institute or Centers (ICs), this organizational diversity is also one of its greatest strengths. It naturally leads to a variety of approaches in developing effective intramural and extramural research programs since there is no single way that can be shown to be optimal. Nevertheless, it is appropriate for the central NIH managers (Office of Director (OD)) to monitor and if necessary intervene in order to assure that overall standards of high productivity, equal opportunity, integrity, matters of safety and many other general aspects of the research establishment are met throughout the NIH organization. It is with the purpose of achieving an appropriate balance between permitting and even encouraging a diversity of approach while at the same time promoting uniformity of excellence in the outcome, that we have considered one of the most important functions of the intramural program: the selection of new investigators.


Based on this philosophy we consider the following principles paramount:

  • The ICs must be held fully accountable for their hiring actions and be periodically reviewed for both the appropriateness and, ultimately, the effectiveness of their procedures.
  • The ability of all qualified investigators to be seriously considered for professional openings is the best way to maximize the ability of an IC to meet its programmatic needs.
  • The OD should closely monitor the actions of the ICs and must be able to intervene at critical points before serious procedural lapses occur.


Based on these principles we suggest the following:

  • Each IC will send to the DDIR for approval a brief memorandum (with appropriate attachments) describing the general procedures that will be used for searches to fill vacancies.
    It is recognized that these general procedures may differ, even in principle, depending on the seniority and the nature of the desired or necessary expertise of the individual being sought. Some general guidelines are attached. It is expected that the ICs will adopt these guidelines but that in individual cases modifications can be made as long as they fall within the spirit of the guidelines.
  • Prior to a new search, specific information will be sent to the DDIR regarding such matters as the names and credentials of the proposed Chairperson and members of the Search Committee, specific instructions contemplated for the Committee, a draft of the vacancy announcement and where it will be placed, a draft of the proposed agreement to be negotiated with the successful candidate and any other pertinent information. It is anticipated that the DDIR will designate an additional member of the Search Committee and work with the IC to modify the Search plan when that seems advisable.
  • A report about the Search, including the number of applicants, as well as the name of the selected individual will be sent to the DDIR for approval. The DDIR will regularly report to the Board of Scientific Directors the total NIH experience with these searches and chair a discussion designed to identify problems and solutions.

Guidelines for Procedures Used in the Selection of New Senior Investigators, Tenure-Track Investigators, Senior Scientists or Senior Clinicians

  1. The IRP should have a clearly articulated written policy with respect to the procedures used to decide that a new position is to be created or a vacant position filled, as well as with respect to the timing and manner by which vacancies will be publicized.
  2. The IRP should have a written policy with respect to the formation of a Search Committee. This policy should be flexible enough to allow for modifications when this seems appropriate. It is not appropriate to have the selecting and approving officials as members of the Search Committee. The Scientific Director is normally the selecting official. The IC Director is normally the approving official. Generally, the Committee should include among those chosen for their professional expertise, individuals from outside the administrative unit in which the vacancy exists and if possible outside the IC.
    The Search Committee should be chaired by an expert in the scientific/clinical discipline in which the candidate is being recruited, and should consist of persons representing the professional interests of the Laboratory/Branch as well as others chosen to maximize the possibility that all qualified individuals will be able and encouraged to apply. A letter from the selecting official directed to the Chairman and members of the Search Committee should outline the nature of the search and what is expected of them.
  3. While it is appropriate for the selecting official to define the professional criteria necessary for the position, it is strongly recommended that the search committee review the advertisement(s) with the selecting official prior to distribution to ensure that the broadest pool of qualified candidates is encouraged to apply and in order to clarify ambiguities.
  4. The IRP should have a written policy about measures to be used to avoid the appearance or actual conflicts of interest.

Search Committee Process for Tenure-Track, Tenure, Senior Clinician And Senior Scientist Positions

Step 1: The Scientific Director (SD) (or IC Director), after consultation with Lab/Branch Chief and senior investigators in the IC and/or the BSC or other advisory group, determine the need for a new position in keeping with the long-term scientific goals of the IC.

Step 2: The SD, who will be the Selecting Official unless he/she serves on the search committee and the IC Director becomes the Selecting Official, nominates a search committee with concurrence of the IC Director. The Search Committee should consist of at least six members, including the following:

  • A chairperson, from within or outside the IC (an expert in the scientific area and not the lab/branch chief).
  • The Chief* for whose Lab/Branch the candidate is being recruited or his/her designee (optional).
  • A representative nominated by the DDIR.
  • There should be at least one female scientist, with expertise in the required area, on the search committee.
  • Although the ideal search committee would include scientists who self-identify as being an under-represented minority (African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native or Hispanic/Latino) or a disabled scientist, this will no longer be a requirement, provided that the overall composition of the search committee is satisfactory to the DDIR/OIR and the committee has an appropriate search plan.
  • An Office of Equity Diversity and Inclusion (OEDI) representative, serving ex officio.

Other than the chairperson, some members may come from the Lab/Branch* to which the candidate is being recruited, but a broader representation on the committee is encouraged. It is expected that all members of the Search Committee, except the OEDI representative, will be expert in the scientific area and/or able to evaluate the scientific credentials of candidates for the position. All members, except the OEDI representative, are voting members.

Step 3: The SD sends a description of the position, the proposed Search Committee membership (except #3) identifying the required members, and the proposed advertisement copy for the position to the DDIR. The ad copy, containing application information, person to contact and proposed closing date, should be broadly written to attract the widest possible range of qualified candidates. The DDIR will designate his representative and approve the position and ad copy. If the ad requires changes, it will be returned to the IC. Once the changes have been made and the closing date has been confirmed, the ad should be returned to the DDIR for final approval. Every search committee member will receive a letter from the DDIR outlining their role on the committee.

Step 4: The Search Committee shall meet to review the ad, as soon as the ad is approved by the DDIR, to develop a search strategy. Additional changes to the ad are possible but must be cleared by the DDIR. The SD or his/her designee should attend this meeting and brief the committee on the programmatic goals and expectations for the position. The designated OIR representative shall be invited to this meeting to advise the committee and answer questions.

Step 5: The SD will advertise nationally. The ad should be posted for a minimum of 30 days (OIR recommends 60 days). The OIR will post the ad to the DDIR Bulletin Board and to the OITE and IRP websites. OIR will also disseminate the ad to NIH constituencies such as the WSAs, NIH Black Scientists and Friends Network, NIH-Hispanic Employee Organization (HEO), NIH Asian American and Pacific Islanders Employment Committee (AAPIEC), NIH-FDA Chinese American Association, OEDI, and the Chairs of Scientific Interest Groups. In addition, a designated OIR representative will work with the committee to ensure broad distribution of the advertisement and all members of the Search Committee shall solicit nominations for the position from a variety of sources and feel free to contact potential applicants.

Step 6: The search committee members shall review all applications received that are judged at least minimally qualified. Likely candidates are invited for presentation of a seminar and interviews as appropriate. These are scheduled so that a majority of the scientists on the search committee can participate. A short list (no more than 2 or 3) of highly qualified candidates, prepared by the Committee Chair, should be reviewed by the Lab/Branch Chief*, who will recommend a candidate to the SD (who is the Selecting Official) and IC Director. The Search Committee chair will send a letter to the SD outlining the process followed and summarizing the candidates reviewed and recommended.

Step 7: The SD will in turn forward to the DDIR for review and approval, as part of the package the checksheet: the name of the selected candidate and a draft copy of the tenure track agreement; the Committee Chair's description of the search process, including where ads were placed, how many applications were received and reviewed, how many candidates were interviewed, how the short list (including names and affiliation) was chosen; and the SD's description of how the decision was reached.

*This is a sample of the sort of document that each IRP would file with the DDIR. Each IC is encouraged to make any modifications it feels appropriate to promote a maximally effective recruitment. If desired, the procedures for the recruitment of senior as opposed to tenure-track investigators may differ. As noted in the cover memo, when substantive modifications in the filed procedures for a particular search are contemplated, they must be discussed with the DDIR.

First Established:
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - 9:00am
  • Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 9:00am

The page was last updated on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 10:36am