Discontinuing Our Participation in the NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (Parent F31) Program

We recently issued an NIH Guide notice informing the community that we will discontinue participation in the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (Parent F31) (PA-16-309). As stated in the notice, we will not accept new or resubmission applications for this program, and its subsequent reissuances, starting with the April 8, 2018, receipt date. We will continue to accept NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (F31) (PA-16-308) and NRSA Individual Predoctoral MD/PhD or Other Dual-Doctoral Degree Fellowships for Students at Institutions Without NIH-Funded Institutional Predoctoral Dual-Degree Training Programs (F30) (PA-16-306). This decision does not affect those F31 (parent) applicants who have already received an award from NIGMS or whose applications have already been received by NIH and have been reviewed or are currently pending review.

NIGMS supports approximately 3,000 graduate students on our T32 training grants in basic biomedical sciences disciplines and the Medical Scientist Training Program each year. This investment represents nearly half of the total number of graduate student T32 NRSA slots that NIH as a whole funds. We feel that T32 grants supporting early-stage, fundamental training for graduate students provide NIGMS with its biggest impact on biomedical research training because they positively influence programs and institutions as a whole, rather than simply supporting individual trainees. Because the T32 and F31 programs necessarily compete for funding with each other, in order to limit negative effects on our graduate student T32 grants, our investment in the parent F31 awards has been very limited since Fiscal Year 2014 when the Institute was first required to participate in the parent F31 fellowship program. Thus, we have made only 86 F31 (parent) awards to date, and over 90% of these awards went to individuals at institutions with at least one NIGMS predoctoral T32 grant. In fact, the average number of NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants held by institutions that received at least one NIGMS F31 (parent) award was nearly four, and institutions that received three or more NIGMS F31 (parent) awards had, on average, over six NIGMS predoctoral T32 grants. Given the tight budget and correspondingly low success rate (~9.6%) for these fellowships, along with the fact that most institutions receiving them were already well-supported by NIGMS predoctoral training grants, we concluded that the F31 (parent) program was not serving our community well, and the Institute made the decision to refocus these resources on supporting additional graduate students through NRSA T32 Institutional Predoctoral Training Grants.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

4 comments on “Discontinuing Our Participation in the NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (Parent F31) Program

  1. Would it have been a sensible alternative to make them available to individual trainees only at institutions that do NOT have a training grant? Seems a shame for some stellar students at lesser-privileged institutions to not have access to this opportunity anymore, even if the number that went to such was low overall in practice. I suppose they have the option of applying via other institutes if their research fits.

    • Agreed on several fronts. As a former director of a GM-supported T32 training grant who has since moved to an institution without an equivalent in place, I’d actually suggest that F31 support in such settings could have broader impact (on both the individual student being supported and program overall) than in settings with T32s in place.

    • We agree that there’s value in providing funding opportunities to graduate students from institutions that currently do not have NIGMS-funded predoctoral training grants. However, we should note that many of these institutions are currently supported by programs in the NIGMS Division of Research Capacity Building. Further, M.D.-Ph.D, and graduate students from underrepresented groups are eligible to apply for the F30 fellowships, and Diversity-focused F31 FOA, respectively. In addition, our predoctoral T32 FOA now supports training in a new area, namely Transdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences, which was created specifically in an effort to increase efficiencies, and broaden the scope and geographic distribution of NIGMS training dollars.

  2. What this misses is the enormous value of students writing their own research proposals, especially in a time when PIs are pressured -and pressure students- to just get the experiments done. As a community, we need to decide if we are simply training students to carry out experiments, or training them to be thinkers and innovators who can identify new questions and take on new challenges. While I acknowledge the limitations in funds, this is a step in the wrong direction.

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