The NIH Postbac IRTA program (CRTA, Cancer Research Training Award, in the National Cancer Institute) provides recent college graduates who are planning to apply to graduate or professional (medical/dental/pharmacy/nursing/veterinary, etc.) school an opportunity to spend one or two years performing full-time research at the NIH. Postbac IRTAs/CRTAs work side-by-side with some of the leading scientists in the world, in an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research. The NIH consists of the 240-bed Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center and more than 1100 laboratories/research projects, located on the main campus in Bethesda, MD and in the surrounding area as well as in Baltimore and Frederick, MD; Research Triangle Park, NC; Hamilton, MT; Framingham, MA; Phoenix, AZ; and Detroit, MI.
You can identify NIH investigators with projects that interest you by searching the NIH Intramural Annual Reports. Use the text search feature to find project descriptions that contain the key words you enter. Alternatively, the Intramural Research Program Web page presents investigators sorted by research topic. You can then find contact information for the investigators in the NIH Enterprise Directory.
Each postbac has a scientific "home" in the NIH Institute or Center (IC) of his/her principal investigator (PI). The IC manages all of the administrative details of the postbac appointment and the IC training office provides a variety of scientific and career enrichment activities. The NIH-wide Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE) sponsors a wide range of career and professional development activities for postbacs, including skills workshops on topics such as oral and poster presentations and improving mentoring relationships; workshops on getting to graduate school and getting to professional school; career exploration sessions; wellness activities; a Graduate & Professional School Fair; and Postbac Poster Day. The NIH provides a wealth of additional scientific seminars.
One of the goals of the NIH is to build a highly diverse and inclusive scientific workforce. Toward that end, the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education welcomes applications for a special postbac subprogram, the OITE Postbac Enrichment Program (OITE-PEP). You can read more about this subprogram at the end of this page or go directly to the OITE-PEP webpage.
The Postbac IRTA/CRTA Program is for individuals who meet ONE of the following criteria:
To be eligible, candidates must also be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. In addition, they must intend to apply to graduate or professional school during their tenure at the NIH (if they have not already been accepted).
All postbacs will also be expected to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
In order to be approved for logical and physical access to NIH facilities and systems, candidates must be able to pass a Federal background check, using Standard Form-85 (read SF-85). NOTE: Section 14 of the form asks “In the last year, have you used, possessed, supplied, or manufactured illegal drugs?” The question pertains to the illegal use of drugs or controlled substances in accordance with Federal laws, even though permissible under state laws.
The stipends for trainees are adjusted yearly; the level depends on experience acquired AFTER completion of the bachelor's degree. For details, see the Trainee Stipends page.
Prospective candidates must apply online. Interested individuals are encouraged to apply six to nine months before they wish to begin their training at the NIH. The program has no fixed start date. The application requires submission of
Candidates may also specify keywords that define their research interests. These can be particular diseases or conditions, techniques, or general subject areas.
Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis year round by scientists in the Institutes and Centers of the NIH. Individual scientists select their own postbacs and provide the funding to support them; there is no centralized selection process. For suggestions on how to increase your chances of being offered a position, please read the Postbac IRTA Program Frequently Asked Questions. Visit the OITE YouTube channel to find
Applications are archived (and are no longer accessible to NIH investigators) one year after their submission or when an applicant is no longer eligible to participate in the postbac program, whichever comes first.
The decision to come to the NIH as a postbac is an important one. You are commiting a year or two of your life to an in-depth research experience. Please take the time to review our guidelines on choosing a mentor before making this decision. The document discusses questions you should ask a potential mentor, questions you might ask other students in the research group, and recommendations regarding identifying what you need from a mentor and evaluating your options.
Candidates will be informed of their selection by the hiring Institute. Successful candidates will be required to submit the following documentation to their Institute or Center prior to beginning their training: