Paying for graduate school can be especially daunting for STEM graduate students.They are often contractually prohibited from seeking outside employment because attaining their degree requires them to spend a substantial amount of time conducting research in a laboratory. Students whose advisors do not have funding to cover their tuition and expenses are often forced to take on time consuming teaching positions that detract from their time in the lab. This series will discuss the many scholarships and fellowships available to graduate students to help offset costs.

In this episode, we will discuss one of the most prestigious fellowships: the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral (F31) Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health.

The primary mission of the NIH is to uncover knowledge that will lead to improved health for all. Accordingly, their graduate fellowships will be open to applicants in labs studying health-related problems.

About: The Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31) is open to U.S. Citizens and permanent residents who are enrolled in a clinical or graduate doctorate program. The fellowship is open to all students, with a subsector for underrepresented minorities to increase diversity in academia.

Award: Individuals may receive up to 5 years of predoctoral support or 6 years for dual degrees (MD/PhD). The award covers tuition and fees, living expenses, and a research materials stipend. The value of the award can vary depending on number of awardees and total budget, but support is commonly guaranteed for at least 3 years. It will not fund students proposing only clinical trials as a basis for their research, though clinical trials can be a part of the proposal.

Requirements: In addition to the program application, applicants must submit a statement of proposed research and a personal statement. The submitted application packet will be judged based on five major aspects:

  • Significance:The proposed work should addressa problem or a critical barrier to progress in the field.Successful completion of the project should mean that there is a major shift or impact in concepts, methods, technologies, etc., in the field.
  • Investigator(s):The principal investigator and collaborators should be well suited to help the applicant facilitate the successful completion of the project, both financially (advisor should have funded projects) and with regard to expertise.
  • Innovation:The proposed research should utilize novel theoretical concepts that refine or improve a specific aspect of the field in a broad sense.
  • Approach. The proposal should be well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the project aims in an unbiased way. It should address potential pitfalls and propose alternative strategies.Clinical research should include appropriate regulatory paperwork is in place at the time of application.
  • Environment: The applicant should have relatively easy access to all necessary materials and machinery to carry out proposed research

An applicant doesn’t necessarily need to be strong in every category to be awarded; the most important aspect is that it advances its field of study.