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NIAAA Sabbatical Program

NIH has the mission to rapidly address emerging health issues, often by taking on high-risk projects. This requires considerable flexibility that is not well served by the existing recruitment system that provides 'life-time' tenure to intramural scientists who often find it difficult to change research directions and approaches when the need arises. To begin to address this issue, Dr. Kunos, Scientific Director, NIAAA, began a sabbatical program for prominent extramural scientists whose recent work has the promise to open new leads in alcohol research. Such individuals (up to two per year) are invited to spend a year of research in the intramural program that would provide part or all of their salary and the cost of research supplies. If successful, this program could considerably enhance the ability of NIAAA to serve as the focus of progress in alcohol research and could also serve as a model for the intramural NIH program in general. If successful, such a program may also decrease. If successful, such a program may become a more cost-effective way to do cutting-edge research at NIH than hiring an ever-increasing number of scientists into permanent (tenured) positions.


Another way of improving the flexibility of the intramural program is to implement a sabbatical program for intramural scientists to conduct research for periods up to one year at a time at an extramural institution. These scientists will be allowed to use part of their intramural budget for salary support as well as research costs while on sabbatical. This program would offer a number of advantages. First, the sabbatical is to be a time for intellectual refreshment when one can develop new ideas and new research approaches. Second, the intramural scientist would gain first-hand experience of the workings of the extramual research world. Third, this program could be used to encourage tenured scientists, whose work no longer serve the programmatic needs of NIH, to explore relocation to the extramural community. If the intramural scientist and the host facility work out such an arrangement, the scientist may be allowed to take a mutually agreeable component of his/her intramural budget (for up to two years) for support purposes. This would make such scientists more attractive for host universities and would also reduce some of the anxieties of intramural scientists (who have never written grants) about joining the extramural community.

Such a program can be initiated without any new costs. The intramural program could absorb the costs involved, the benefit being the possibility of renewal by hiring new investigators after a lag period determined by the size of the budget transfer. A similar program proposed by George Kunos, M.D., Ph.D., at Virginia Commonwealth University was approved (incentives for early retirement) to free up tenured positions.


This program provides an opportunity for a limited number of scientists and physicians in the NIAAA intramural program to enhance their professional skills and research programs through independent or collaborative research at domestic or foreign educational or research institutions. It is similar in its goals to sabbatical programs offered by universities. This program has been created for tenured independent scientists. Investigators are encouraged to engage in activities that will expand their research. Scientists will take advantage of such a program no more than once every six years.

Criteria for Selection

Applicants will be considered on the basis of the following:

  1. Perceived potential for professional growth and career development as a result of program participation.
  2. Scientific merit and/or promise of applicant's proposal, including the appropriateness of the designated academic institution or research facility in providing an environment suitable for the proposed study or research.
  3. Scientific accomplishments as assessed by publications and honors, including service on grant review groups and editorial boards.

Duration and Funding

Sabbaticals may be as short as three months or as long as a year. Support for the sabbatical will include the investigator's full salary and benefits. The investigator will submit a proposal and reach mutual agreement with the Scientific Director on the percentage of the investigator's annual operating budget that can be used at the host institution, i.e., 50% of the housing per diem up to a maximum of 3 months for the sabbatical location or an allowance for travel and moving of some personal belongings; purchase of supplies, etc. No intramural money will be directly transferred to the university or research institution. Sabbaticals at foreign institutions must be cleared by various government agencies in addition to DHHS, i.e., Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury.

Application Process and Evaluation

The application will consist of the following:

  1. Recommendation letter from the investigator's supervisor;
  2. Three to four page proposal that contains:
    • approximate dates of departure and return,
    • description of the project to be undertaken and scope of work,
    • rationale for the selection of the site and the sponsor,
    • anticipated gains from the experience and relationship to individual's career development,
    • updated curriculum vitae and bibliography, and
    • budget proposition outlining the use of the investigator's annual budget including details on how the NIAAA laboratory activities will be maintained.

Reporting Requirements

Each tenured scientist, upon returning from sabbatical, will debrief the Scientific Director regarding his experience. Each returning scientist will write a report regarding the progress of his or her research conducted while on sabbatical.

The page was last updated on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 9:30pm