supported in a previous year, which indicates that the actual number of trainees is about 3,700 individuals per year. This is consistent with NIH data on the number of Ph.D.s with some form of NRSA support, which, allowing for attrition, stands at about 3,000 Ph.D.s.

The relative distribution of trainee support between the biomedical sciences (70 percent) and all the other areas supported by the NRSA mechanism has changed little over the years. However, the number of NRSA-supported trainees in the social and behavioral sciences has declined recently. Until 2000 the percentage of trainee slots in this area was almost constant at 10 percent, but by 2007 it had fallen to 7.1 percent. In contrast, during this interval the number of supported trainee slots in clinical training increased from 18 percent to 21.3 percent.

Evaluation of the NRSA Program

A number of attempts have been made to quantify the value of NRSA training. In 1984, NIH conducted an extensive evaluation of the program, with a follow-up evaluation in 1998.

These evaluations showed that NRSA trainees and fellows graduated 3 months sooner than those without NRSA support at the same institutions and 7 months sooner than their counterparts at institutions without any NRSA grants. In addition, nearly 58 percent of the NRSA trainees and fellows had received their doctorate by the age of 30, as compared with 38.9 percent and 32.3 percent for the non-supported doctorates from NRSA and non-NRSA institutions, respectively. One factor that may play a role in the difference is that if students are not NRSA supported, they may have significant teaching assistantship responsibilities, which may contribute to a longer time to degree.

Following graduation, NRSA predoctoral trainees and fellows were more likely to move quickly into research positions. In fields where postdoctoral study was common, 93 percent of the trainees and fellows reported having definite postdoctoral commitments, compared to 80 percent of graduates in the same fields at non-NRSA institutions. It is difficult to report career path progression accurately, since people move in and out of positions and postdoctoral appointments tend not to be for fixed time periods, but NRSA trainees and fellows appeared to be more likely to move into faculty or research positions. About 37 percent of the NRSA recipients held faculty positions 7 to 8 years past the doctorate, compared to 16 percent from non-NRSA institutions. Also, 87 percent of previous NRSA trainees and fellows, compared to 72 percent from non-NRSA institutions, were in research-related positions in academia, industry, or other research settings.

If one examines research grants and publications as measures of research productivity, one finds that the NRSA trainees and fellows were more likely to have grants and more publications. For example, among the 1981-1988 Ph.D.s who had applied to NIH by 1994 for research grant support, the success rate for NRSA recipients was 67 percent, compared with 47 percent for non-NRSA institution graduates. With regard to publications, NRSA predoctoral trainees and fellows in the 1981-1982 cohort had a median number

BOX 1-3

NIH Evaluations of the NRSA Program

A 1984 evaluation of formal NIH-sponsored research training (which included programs existing before the establishment of the NRSA) found that a larger percentage of participants in NIH training programs completed their doctoral programs and went on to NIH-supported postdoctoral training than among their counterpart trainees. Furthermore, those supported by the NIH during their predoctoral studies were more likely to apply for and receive NIH research grants, authored more articles, and were cited more often by their peers.

At the postdoctoral level, both those appointed to institutional training grants and recipients of individual fellowship awards were more likely to pursue research careers than their colleagues without formal NIH research training, and the former were more successful by such measures of achievement as obtaining research funds, publication, and citations by their peers. These differences were true for M.D.s with postdoctoral research training as well as for Ph.D.s.

A follow-up to the 1984 evaluation of the NRSA Predoctoral Program was conducted in 1998, and many of the findings from the earlier study were found to still hold true. The 1998 study examined the characteristics of NRSA-supported doctorates between FY 1981 and 1992 against their Ph.D. counterparts at institutions with NRSA training grants who did not receive this type of support and at another group at institutions without NRSA grants.a The study found that 80 percent of the NRSA trainees or fellows received their Ph.D. from 50 institutions that ranked in the top quarter of all biomedical sciences programs, and nearly 60 percent received their degree from the top 25 institutions. The completion rate for students supported by the NRSA program was an estimated 76 percent and was comparable to that of other merit-based, national fellowship programs and of students in high-quality doctoral programs.


a National Institute of General Medical Sciences, 1998. Available at

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