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The NIH Fellowship Application

As a student or postdoc, you are likely to apply for fellowships to support your stipend, research or travel. These resources are designed to assist you with this process. 

This section focuses on the NIH F31, F31 Diversity, and F32 applications open to US citizens and permanent residents. 

  • NIH F31 (parent, predoctoral). The purpose of this program is to help predoctoral students to obtain mentored research training while conducting dissertation research.
  • NIH F31 (diversity, predoctoral): The purpose of this program is to support research of predoctoral students from underrepresented populations in biomedical, behavioral, or clinical research.  
  • NIH F32 (postdoctoral): The purpose of this program is to provide postdoctoral researchers with the opportunity to strengthen their scientific background and increase their potential for health-related research.

Note that many of the tips are also applicable to foundation fellowship applications that often have broad eligibility:

The BMSC 8219 Writing the Grant-Style Qualifier course covers many of these points as you prepare a draft application.

These tips are here to assist you, but should never substitute for checking the most recent funding announcements and instructions. 

GW students and postdocs can also contact Associate Dean for Research Workforce Development Dr. Alison Hall to address questions or for individual assistance.

Are you ready? Completion of an on-topic, grant-style qualifier sets a graduate student up for parts of the fellowship application. Depending on the particular fellowship, postdocs might apply after 6-12 months in the lab (note that some fellowships do not require preliminary data, or limit postdoctoral experience at application). There are three standard application due dates for the F31 or F32

Receipt Date Review Date Potential Start State

April 8

August 8

December 8







Document What is This? Resources Done?
Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Web-based career planning tool for STEM PhD students and postdocs

My IDP, AAAS Science Careers  
Clinician IDP Clinical career planning tool CTSI-CN Mentoring Toolkit   
eRA Commons account  NIH system to manage grant info  GW form
(Begin at least 6 weeks prior to deadline)
eRA Commons
ORCID ID A persistent identifier that connects you with your affiliations and contributions  Register for a ORCID iD  
My NCBI Creates database of publications

My NCBI overview (video)

Register for My NCBI

Administrative Support/Cayuse at least 5 business days before the grant deadline  GW System tool for sponsored project proposals GW Cayuse 424  
NIH program officer Your contact person within NIH to advise on grant application process

Tool for finding your PO

Questions for program officer (slide 8)


Example F31/F32 Timeline 

Preparation of the application while also pursuing research or classes is likely to take 3-6 months, so consider the timeline below: 

The When The What
3 months from due date Meet with your mentor and start discussions about submitting a fellowship application. Find co-sponsor(s) if your sponsor does not have a training track record
3 months from due date Read the funding announcement for the desired fellowship; identify the correct NIH Institute and program officer who manages fellowships in your area. Tool for finding your PO.
3 months from due date Review sample applications 
3 months from due date Complete and update your Individual Development Plan (IDP) [My IDP, AAAS Science Careers] or Clinician IDP [CTSI-CN Mentoring Toolkit].
3 months from due date Request an eRA Commons account [GW form]
3 months from due date Draft your Specific Aims and Biosketch, request comments to improve proposal. Expect to make numerous revisions as you address review criteria.
2 months from due date Get to know your NIH Program Officer. Send a draft of Specific Aims and Biosketch and be prepared with questions that you would like to ask.
2 months from due date Prepare all remaining sections of your application (some sections will be done by you, some by your sponsor/co-sponsor(s).
2 months from due date Ask your 3-5 references for letters of recommendation (note: these cannot be your sponsor/co-sponsor(s)). Plan to gently remind them as the due date approaches
5-7 days from due date Submit application through GW Cayuse to GW Sponsored Projects. This must be done about a week in advance to give time to process. You may substitute an updated, revised file before final submission to NIH.
Afterwards Follow your Application in eRA Commons.

As of July 2019, the fellowship instructions are in Fellowship Instructions for NIH and other PHS agencies (Dec 7, 2018).

Note that the page limits for NIH applications are listed. This chart is advisory only. 
Examples of successful fellowships and other grants are posted on the University of Alabama Birmingham Grants Library website. 

Document What is this? Length Who writes it? Resources Done?
Biographical Sketch  Highlight of your qualifications (includes personal statement, positions and honors, contribution to science etc.) 5 pages each Each key person (you, your sponsor(s)

NIH Biosketch


ChemToolman Blog: Fellowships Do’s and Don’t’s

Title of Project Brief descriptive title of project 1-2 lines (200 char. Including spaces) You Update the title from your Qualifier Exam.  
Cover Letter
Letter to program officer listing title and must contain a list of referees (including name, departmental affiliation, and institution). Can also include IC and study section you want. None Specified You/PI

BioScience Writers 
When is a CL required?

Chapter 7, Hollenbach

Project Summary/ Abstract Succinct project summary 30 lines You    
Introduction Introduction to Resubmission or Revision (when applicable) 1 page You Chasan-Taber, UMass Amherst: Information and Tips about your Introduction for your Resubmission  
Applicant Background and Goals

Goals – Personal Essay on long-term and short-term goals




6 pages Total
(Includes Research Experience, Goals, Activities planned







Hall, GW: Applicant’s Background and Goals Info about what to include in research experience (slide 14)

JEFworks Blog: Research Experience Example

GW SMHS: The Training and Career Development Plan (F31) updated

  Activities planned under this award. “Training plan”: conferences, courses, lab meeting, collaborations, seminars, etc.   You/PI

Hall, GW: Tips for Training Plan: Info about what to include in Training Plan (slide 21)

GW SMHS: The Training and Career Development Plan (F31) updated

Specific Aims  This will concisely state the goals of the research and summarize the expected outcomes, including impacts (2-3 aims) 1 page You

SMHS Specific Aims

UCLA Youtube Video 

Chapter 5, Hollenbach

Hall, GW: Specific Aims (slide 16)

UCLA Hahn: Specific Aims (slide 19-22)

BioScience Writers: Anatomy of Specific Aims Page

Research Strategy  “The Grant”: For each Specific Aim or all together, explain significance, and describe overall approach (includes preliminary data) 6 pages You 

Chapter 5, Hollenbach

ChemToolman Blog: Fellowships Do’s and Don’t’s

JEFworks Blog
Research Strategy Example

University of Colorado F31 Sample - Specific Aims and Research Strategy

Bibliography  References cited in research strategy and aims No limit You NIH Formatting Guidelines  
Respective Contributions  Describe collaborative process between you and sponsor and respective roles 1/2 page You/PI

JEFworks Blog Respective Contributions Examples

Selection of Sponsors and Institution  Personal essay on why you selected the sponsor and the institution 1/2 page You Chapter 3, Hollenbach  
Facilities & Other Resources  Institutional resources available to support this research None Specified You/PI

GW SMHS Cores, Facilities, and Other Resources 2018

Example template from Emory University: Facilities and Other Resources Template

Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research Addresses the five required instructional components in NIH’s responsible conduct of research policy 1 page You/Dean of Graduate Studies/PI

OVPR Responsible Conduct of Research

GW SMHS Template: Conduct of Research

Sponsor and Co-Sponsor Statements Each sponsor will address  training environment (ex: funding, mentoring record, etc.) 6 pages PI

Chapter 3, Hollenbach

PPT: (Davani, NIH): info on Sponsors and collaborators 

Letters of Support 3-5 letters of recommendation (can’t be from PI or co-sponsors) 2 pages each Verify letters have been sent to NIH NIH Reference Letters  
Description of Institutional Environment and Commitment to Training  This describes the research program to show opportunities for training and intellectual interactions as well as resources that will support research 2 pages Dean of Graduate Studies/PI GW SMHS Template: Institutional Environment and Commitment to Training  
Resource Sharing Plan   Certain proposals need to describe how research will be shared 1 page PI JEFworks blog:
Resource Sharing Plan Example
Vertebrate Animals (if necessary – will need IACUC)   Describe the use of vertebrate animals to ensure humane treatment.  1 page You/PI

GW Office of Animal Research

NIH checklist regarding vertebrate animals section

NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare: Description for what is required for this section

Human subject use (if necessary – will need IRB)  Describe the use of human subjects 1 page You/PI

NIH FAQs about human subjects


Estimated Project Funding  The total amount requested for the period of support (includes stipend amount, tuition and fees, and standard institutional allowance) None Specified You/Dean of Graduate Studies/PI GW SMHS Sample Budget for Doctoral Candidate  
Document What is this? Resources Done?
Diversity supplement – Letter from institution

A letter from the institution explaining how your participation will further the goals of the predoctoral fellowship program to promote diversity in health-related research. 

The PDF of the letter must be on institutional letterhead, scanned so institutional official signature is visible, and the file named "Institutional_Ltr.pdf".

NIH Diversity Supplement

Fill out the Candidate Eligibility Statement Template

and send to Alison Hall, PhD, Associate Dean for Research Workforce Development (


•    NIH Guide on How to Apply
•    NIH training Modules about rigor and reproducibility and transparency when designing your experiment
•    The University of Alabama includes samples of grants to emphasize the importance of Rigor, Reproducibility & Transparency
•    The Predoctoral Fellowship Toolbox Video and Predoctoral Fellowship Toolbox PDF describe the process for developing an NIH F31 or AHA pre-doctoral fellowship (Hall PowerPoint provided Jan 30, 2018).
•    The Postdoctoral Fellowships Video and Postdoctoral Fellowships PDF describe the process for developing an NIH F32 or AHA postdoctoral fellowship (Hall PowerPoint provided Mar 28, 2018).
•    For tips on creating additional sections of the F31 and F32, see the "What's in the Rest of Your Fellowship Application" Video and "What's in the Rest of Your Fellowship Application" PDF (Hall)
•    Download A Practical Guide to Writing a Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Grant (2014) by Andrew Hollenbach here, especially:

Chapter 3: Who Are You? The Fellowship Applicant. Prompts you to consider your 1) Biosketch, including personal statement, publications, scholastic performance; 2) Goals for Fellowship Training and Career; 3) Selection of Sponsor and Institute; 4) Previous Research Experience; 5) Letters of Recommendation 6) Respective Contributions, and 7) Activities under the award.

•    NIAID Fellowship Grants -tips
•    NIH Formatting guidelines can be found HERE