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Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Hiring Mechanism for Postdoctoral, Pre-Doctoral, Post-Baccalaureate, Technical, and Student IPDs

Please note that the primary policy source for the NIH IRTA Fellowship program is located within NIH Policy Manual 2300-320-7.

This authority is exclusively for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Fellowship Program is designed to provide advanced training and practical research experiences to investigators early in their professional research careers. IRTA Traineeships are established for the principal benefit of the participant and to provide opportunities for developmental training and practical research experience in a variety of disciplines related to biomedical research, medical library research, and related fields. Traineeships are designed to provide research training “for which fellowship support is not provided under Section 487 of the Public Health Services (PHS) Act, and which is not residency training of physicians or other health professionals.”

Training must be carried out at a facility of the NIH, but may be supplemented by additional training acquired at another institution, if it is found by the Director to be directly related to the purpose of the traineeship and necessary to its successful completion. Training outside of NIH must not comprise a majority of the training.

The IRTA Program encourages the participation of individuals from groups who are underrepresented in biomedical research: women, persons with disabilities, and individuals of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Service is a by-product of the IRTA Program, unlike Research and Clinical Fellowships where service is a dominant part of the training objective. Please note that IRTA Trainees may not independently engage in patient care activities (any clinically-related activity must explicitly be under the direct supervision and control of an NIH employee), be assigned official supervisory responsibilities, or sign documents (e.g., requisitions) on behalf of the Government.

IRTA opportunities are available through the following programs:

  • Postdoctoral
    • Provides advanced practical research experience to doctoral researchers and physicians. Traineeships are not available to scientists who have more than 5 years of relevant research experience since the receipt of their most recent doctoral degree. Additionally, the Intramural Keep the Thread Program offers Postdoctoral IRTAs an increased level of flexibility in their work schedules during times of intense family needs.
  • Pre-Doctoral (Graduate Partnerships Program [GPP] and Medical Research Scholars Program [MRSP])
    • Provides practical research training and experience to students, by supplementing academic course work and/or encouraging pursuit of professional careers in biomedical research to 1) students enrolled in doctoral degree programs in biomedical sciences. The research experience, which frequently involves dissertation research, is undertaken as an integral part of the student's academic preparation and will involve close cooperation and planning between NIH and the academic institution (GPP) or 2) students who are enrolled in medical or dental school and who have written permission from their school to interrupt their academic experience and to return within one year to their degree granting program (MRSP).
  • Post-Baccalaureate
    • Provides an introduction to biomedical research, encourages the pursuit of professional careers in biomedical research, and allows additional time to apply to either graduate or professional (medical, dental, pharmacy, etc.) schools for individuals early in their careers. The following groups are eligible to apply: (1) college graduates who received their bachelor's degrees less than three years prior to the date they begin the program, (2) individuals who are more than three years past the receipt of their bachelor's degree but received a master's degree less than six months before they begin the program, and (3) students who have been accepted into graduate, other doctoral, or medical school programs and who have written permission from their school to delay entrance for up to one year to pursue a biomedical research project at the NIH.
  • Student (Summer Internship Program [SIP] in Biomedical Research)
    • Provides a developmental training experience to promising high school, undergraduate, professional school, and graduate students who have expressed a strong interest in or are studying disciplines related to biomedical sciences, generally during the summer. Students who find internships during other parts of the year are appointed as Student IRTAs as well. Additional information may be found by visiting the Student Opportunities section of this Sourcebook. Please note that the Community College Summer Enrichment Program (CCSSEP), the High School Scientific Training and Enrichment Program (HiSTEP), and the Graduate Summer Opportunity to Advance Research (GSOAR) are components of the more general SIP program.

An IRTA Fellowship is a non-Full-Time Equivalent Employment (FTE) position.

Approvals (Process)

Please refer to the NIH Policy Manual 2300-320-7 for approval requirements and information.

In recent months, there has been an increasing trend of predoctoral students being assigned as Special Volunteer (SV) or Guest Researcher (GR). The Office of Intramural Research (OIR) is concerned about how this can lead to reduced oversight for these vulnerable trainees and about misuse of the SV/GR authorities. Thus, we are implementing the following clarification:

For IRTA Fellows that require clinical credentialing, an additional approval must be received from the Director, CC (or delegate) after recommendation by the Clinical Center (CC) Credentials Committee and the Medical Executive Committee (MEC). For further information, please contact the Office of Credentialing Services, Clinical Center (OCS/CC) at or 301-496-5937.

Check Sheets / Checklists

There is currently no Deputy Director for Intramural Research (DDIR) -approved check sheet or checklist for the Intramural Research Training Award designation. Individual ICs may have additional requirements and check sheets. Please contact your Administrative Officer (AO) or HR Specialist for additional guidance. For examples of IC-specific check sheets and checklists, please visit:


Intramural scientists at the NIH, as is true for all scientists, should be committed to the responsible use of scientific tools and methods to seek new knowledge. While the general principles of scientific methodologies are universal, their detailed application may differ in various scientific disciplines and circumstances. All research staff in the Intramural Research Program should maintain exemplary standards of intellectual honesty in formulating, conducting, presenting, and reviewing research, as befits the leadership role of the NIH.

Within the NIH IRP, the ethical conduct of researchers is governed by the following three disciplines:

Ethics information may also be available through your specific IC. Please contact your Ethics Counselor for additional guidance.

Pay / Compensation

Please refer to the NIH Policy Manual 2300-320-7 for specific pay and compensation information.

Recruitment Process / Appointment Mechanisms

Please refer to the NIH Policy Manual 2300-320-7 for recruitment and appointment criteria.


It is the policy of NIH to limit the Postdoctoral training period to 5 years so as not to unnecessarily extend training and delay employment. Appointments are typically renewed in one-year increments. However, a 6th year of training is occasionally needed to complete training in-progress and/or to complete applications for jobs outside of the NIH. Additional information can be found on the Exceptional Extensions of IRTA and Visiting Fellowships to a 6th Year page of this Sourcebook. The Scientific Director (SD) can grant a Postdoctoral IRTA Fellow a 6th year of training under the following circumstances:

  1. Extensions are limited to select high-quality fellows based on well-articulated career plans. Please note that training plans are required for fellows entering their 4th year, so that an additional extension is less likely to be needed.
  2. The fellow is not being considered for a position at NIH and understands that the 6th IRTA year is a terminal extension. For instances in which application for a tenure-track position or staff scientist position is being considered, a Research Fellow appointment is the appropriate mechanism. Once an IRTA has been at the NIH for a 6th year, s/he may not remain in the Intramural Research Program (IRP) in any capacity (although an IRTA Fellow can move to a job in an extramural office at the NIH) and may only return after a two-year period has elapsed.
  3. The supervisor and fellow must prepare a "Career Development Plan" that describes how the 6th year will be used to complete work in-progress and to arrange for subsequent employment for the fellow. This must be reviewed and approved by the SD during the 4th year.
  4. The fellow must show appropriate promise for a scientific career, including evidence of publications, or publications in preparation, and/or substantial evidence for preparation for a career in a science-related field. The 6th year extension for additional training is not intended as a means to provide stipend-support to someone who will subsequently choose a non-science career direction.

Pre-Doctoral IRTA appointments are generally renewed in one-year increments. Beyond five years, renewal requires a written student justification requesting additional time, followed by a rigorous review that includes the SD’s approval, an interview with the Deputy Director of the Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) to establish a timeline for completion, and a review by an Assistant Director, Office of Intramural Research (OIR). Occasionally, additional extensions are requested, but obtaining approval requires justification beyond six years.

Post-Baccalaureate IRTA appointments will be for one year, with the possibility of renewal for a second year. It is expected that postbacs will and should move on to their graduate/professional education after two years. Postbacs may request permission to remain at the NIH for a third year. This will require (1) submission of a plan for the third year that demonstrates that they will make good use of the time and (2) signatures of their PI and SD indicating their support for the plan and belief that the postbac possesses the talent and potential to make good use of the time in terms of both science and career development. Plans must be submitted to the Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE) for approval at least six months in advance of the requested third year extension. Under no circumstances will a postbac be permitted an extension at the NIH beyond the third year.

For additional renewal information, please refer to the NIH Policy Manual 2300-320-7.


An Intramural Research Training Award Fellowship appointee is not granted independent resources by their Institute.


Please refer to the NIH Policy Manual 2300-320-7 for termination information. For additional guidance regarding the termination of a Postdoctoral Fellow, please visit the Guidelines for Early Termination of Awards to Postdoctoral Fellows page of this Sourcebook.

The page was last updated on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 11:36am