The goal of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Institutional Research Training Grant (T32) is “to develop and/or enhance predoctoral and postdoctoral research training, including short-term research training, to help ensure that a diverse and highly trained workforce is available to meet the needs of the Nation’s biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research agenda.”
Note that unlike the NIH F series, or most of the R series or mentored K series, the organization (not the individual researcher) applies for the T32. The organization will choose the trainees for the T32 training slots.
There is a parent T32 NOFO, but many ICs offer their own version of the T32 with specific foci. For example, NHLBI has a T32 for “institutions that promote diversity.” NIA has a T32 specifically for translational research on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and AD-Related Dementias. Additionally, some NOFOs allow clinical trials, but others do not. When clinical trials are allowed, it means that trainees can obtain research experience working on a trial led by a mentor or co-mentor. Trainees on T32s are not allowed to lead an independent clinical trial.
There is also the Jointly Sponsored Kirschstein NRSA whose official title is the Jointly Sponsored NIH Predoctoral Training Program in the Neurosciences (JSPTPN). It supports broad and fundamental research training in the neurosciences via institutional NRSA research training grants (T32) at domestic institutions of higher education. Trainees appointed to this training grant are financially supported for either one or two years, during the first 2 years of their graduate research training. The participating ICs are listed in the JSPTPN NOFO.
T32 Trainee Obligations
Trainees must work on the grant full time, normally defined as 40 hours per week. They need to remain in the training program for at least 2 years. No trainee may be appointed for less than 9 months except with prior approval of the awarding IC (for short-term training grants, see the T35 mechanism). Trainees must be U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents and must be enrolled in a research or clinical doctoral or postdoctoral program in order to be eligible to train on a T32.
The T32 budget covers stipends, tuition/fees, training-related experiences, and health insurance for the trainees.
There is specific guidance for trainees who are pursuing clinical work, so be sure to read the NOFO carefully.
Trainees on T32 grants must repay the government for their initial 12 months of grant support. Payback may be completed through continued research or teaching on at least a half-time basis (20 hours per week). Unless there are serious extenuating circumstances, the payback must be completed within two years after termination of support.
A trainee may not receive more than 5 years of aggregate NRSA support at the predoctoral level, and 3 years of aggregate NRSA support at the postdoctoral level, including any combination of NRSA support from institutional research training grants and individual fellowships, inclusive of NRSA support from another agency.
T32 Application Specifics
T32 grants provide funding for 5 years. They can be renewed, but prior success is evaluated before renewal funding is awarded. The principal investigator on a T32 should be an established investigator.
T32 application deadlines differ from the NIH standard deadlines. Therefore, be sure to check the NOFO.
If you are more familiar with R-series grants, then the T-series application may seem like something of a different beast. For T32 applications, the 25-page Training Program Plan must be completed. The application must address the proposed training, program administration, program faculty, training program evaluation, plan for recruitment of trainees, their engagement in research career development, and mentoring and skills development. Additionally, the application must include transition plans for trainees, institutional environment, commitment to training, and a recruitment plan to enhance diversity.
Additionally, T32 applications require data tables. The tables aggregate information about the environment where the proposed training will take place, including participating department/program, number of faculty, number of participating faculty, and number of pre- and post-doctorates. At some organizations, the sponsored research or proposal development offices have some of the organization-wide data readily available. NIH has a page dedicated to table information.
For help writing a T32 application, we will release an update to our Master the T32 writing course in autumn 2023.
Other training mechanisms
There are a number of other NIH funding opportunities for trainees. For example, there are Kirschstein NRSA Fellowships — known as the F-series mechanisms. Unlike the T32, an individual trainee (pre- or post-doctoral researcher) applies for the F.
The R25 mechanism funds educational activities that complement and/or enhance the training of a workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research needs. The research activities proposed in an R25 application must also align with NIH’s mission areas. Trainees on R25 awards can range from undergrad to early career faculty.
There is the Kirschstein NRSA Short-Term Institutional Research Training Grant (T35), specifically for predoctoral and post-doctoral, short-term training. We will tell you more about the T35 in another post.