What you need to know before you start!
What’s different and special about appointments on NRSA Institutional Training Grants? Before getting started familiarize yourself with the items below.
- A Statement Of Appointment (SOA)is required for every trainee
This is set up through xTrain.
- Know the guidelines specific to your department before you begin
There may be differences between how departments handle payroll for a training grant. School of Medicine has very specific guidelines on appointment types/job classes.
- Review NIH stipend amounts
NIH stipends are as high as a regular Research Assistant (RA) stipend. Many trainees will require a second appointment due to the need for extra compensation.
- Review and understand trainee compensation
Familiarize yourself with the strict NIH guidelines on amounts that trainees can be paid on an institutional grant.
- A trainee is not a UW employee–understand the implications
Due to strict NIH guidelines trainees cannot be treated as employees for work on institutional training grants. It is important to be aware of the legal differences between employees and institutional training grant trainees. For information on this question visit the NIH FAQs where it states that the sponsoring institution may choose to report trainee income on an IRS 1099 form.
- Learn about leave policies
Review the UW and NIH leave policies and understand the differences between UW employees and NIH institutional training grant trainees.
Setting up the Appointment
Setting up your appointment in xTrain within eRA Commons
Before setting up the appointment in xTrain, send out a pre-appointment letter to verify that your trainee can fulfill the terms and conditions of the appointment. See the section on Creating the Offer Letter for more specifics on writing the pre-appointment letter. Set up the appointment in xTrain once you are sure that your trainee can fulfill the appointment.
All participants including trainees must have an eRA Commons account and an assigned role in order to use xTrain.
The steps for setting up an appointment in xTrain are:
- Ensure all participants have an eRA Commons account. Ask whether participants already have accounts to avoid setting up a second account. It is very difficult to deal with duplicate accounts once this mistake has been made. (See role descriptions in the pre-award section Getting Started: The Basics.)
- Initiate the appointment by filling out the Statement of Appointment (SOA) –one per trainee. This function can be performed by the PI or delegated by the PI to the Role of Administrative Assistant (ASST).
- Ask trainee to approve in xTrain.
- Ask the PI to approve the appointment after the trainee has approved.
Forms can be accessed on the NIH Manage Fellows and Trainees page in the NIH Forms Library.
Training Resources for xTrain for Delegates and Trainees
There are numerous xTrain training resources at the NIH website:
- 130 page user guide
- Reference on initiating xTrain appointments
- User Guide, Quick Reference Guides, FAQs, and Training Materials
- For additional resources, visit the eRA Training Page
- Your trainees will set up their profiles in xTrain and may need help. NIH provides a Profile Checklist to assist them. You may also direct them to the web-based tutorial which is worth watching if you are new to xTrain and eRA Commons. Also available is the quick reference guide.
- These Training Grant xTrain email templates contain instructions for all activities the trainees have to undertake in xTrain, including completing their profile and appointment, reappointment and termination notice forms.
- You can experience xTrain from your trainees’ perspective! Add yourself as a Trainee and go through the process they have to follow – just make sure you don’t submit it.
- Follow the correct approval process flow for xTrain: PI delegate initiates the appointment, the Trainee approves, and then the PI approves. Some PIs may “jump the gun” and approve before the trainee, which causes problems. Implement procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen. Send out a pre-emptive email telling PIs what to expect and instruct them to wait to hit the approve button until they receive an ‘Action Item’ email.
Creating the Offer Letter
The offer letter is a formal means of communicating clearly to trainees what to expect regarding their pay, benefits, tuition and other items of their position. In most departments, offer letters are made on an annual basis. There are two basic letters that work well in tandem (they serve two different functions): the pre-appointment letter and the formal offer letter.
The Pre-appointment Letter
This letter comes from the training grant PI to the trainee offering a training grant slot and detailed descriptions of the appointment requirements. This letter is used to assure that the trainee understands the requirements of the position and is in a position to accept the appointment at a specified time. This can help you to more accurately project the number of appointments you will actually make in a given year and, hopefully, help to avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.
The pre-appointment/pre-offer letter should contain the terms and conditions of the appointment. Terms and Conditions may include NIH requirements such as training in the Responsible Conduct of Research, program requirements, and requirements for participation in certain courses or events. If the student agrees to the terms and conditions, she/he will sign and the appointment goes forward. You are welcome to use this New Trainee PreOffer Template as a model.
Formal Offer Letter
A formal offer letter should come from the trainee’s home department. Three templates are supplied here for you to use as models A) Predoc Trainee Offer Letter Template 1, B) Predoc Trainee Offer Letter Template 2, and C) Senior Fellow Offer Letter. Your letter should include:
- Job description
- Academic Student Employee (ASE) Union requirements (if the trainee is a pre-doctoral student)
- A requirement for an individual development plan, if appropriate. Beginning on October 1, 2014, annual progress reports are required to include a description of whether the institution uses IDPs or not and how they are employed to help manage the training and career development of those individuals. Trainees can get guidance on developing an IDP at the NIGMS webpage.
- Payback requirements for postdoctoral trainees. Confirm that postdoctoral trainees understand that their appointment to a training grant obligates them to serve a second year in a similar context. Payback requirement can pose a significant burden for a trainee who is appointed toward the end of the program and has only one year of funding. They may have to fulfill the payback requirement even when they are no longer a trainee.
- Tax status of trainee stipends (no taxes are deducted)
- Signature lines for the chair, the PI, the training grant PI, and the student.
Setting up the Appointment in OPUS
Unless you are a payroll coordinator it’s unlikely you’ll be setting up the trainee appointments in OPUS. Make sure you have appointed your trainees in xTrain prior to communicating with your payroll coordinator. Setting up these appointments can be quite complex so coordinate with the payroll coordinators well ahead of time in order to assure that students get their stipends on time.
Before you begin
- Have the effective start date of the trainee’s appointment, the year of the training grant, the award for that year and the NIH stipend level for that specific training grant year. (It is essential that you communicate the appropriate stipend level to the payroll coordinator. Even though the NIH stipend levels have been determined for the current year, your award may be for the previous year.)
- If you will be providing additional compensation or a supplement you will need to address the complexities of this and be quite clear as to the NIH guidelines for acceptable sources of funding on the second appointment.
- If the trainee’s home department is different from the training grant program’s home department, contact the payroll coordinator from the trainee’s department to notify them of the appointment. Ask the payroll coordinator if they have experience in payroll entries for training grants. Options:
- If they have experience, they may want to enter the training grant information for that department’s own students/postdocs with your detailed instructions.
- If they do not have experience, the preference may be to have your department make the payroll entries. Clear communication between the departments is essential so there is no confusion regarding the OPUS entry.
- The correct entry of the information in OPUS is your responsibility. Review the Post Entry Review Message (PERM) and OPUS to ensure accuracy of the entry.
- Email a detailed PERM note that the payroll coordinator may paste into the notes section of OPUS. This email will serve two purposes: to instruct the payroll coordinator regarding the entry, and to serve as the documentation of the training grant appointment approval in the OPUS note history.
- Trainees are generally appointed for 12 months. The appointment period may begin at any time during the budget period and may extend beyond the budget period end date. The award does not close out until all appointments have ended. Funds directly associated with support of the trainee’s current appointment-stipend, health insurance and tuition & fees for the remaining appointment period are carried forward to the next funding period as an unliquidated obligation which may be spent without requesting sponsor approval. Other unexpended funds generally require sponsor approval to carryover as available funding in the next budget period.
- Job Class and Expense Object Codes
- Trainees must be paid the exact stipend amount as shown on their Statement of Appointment (SOA). For early termination the stipend should be prorated. Payment of the stipend should only occur in one of the following expense object codes: 01-50 post-doc stipend, 01-90 pre-doc stipend, or 08-02 stipend (without health insurance); SOM mandates job class code 08-59. (Due to union contracts, other schools may allow different job codes.) “Trainee A recipients (non-union) are distinguished from their union counterparts by the fact that they spend less than 110 hours per-year conducting research or other activities that are considered service in support of a faculty member’s project.” (The 110 number ties back to reasonable expectations regarding number of hours a student can be working.)
- The cost of benefits typically exceeds the awarded amount NIH pays. For many units, the practice for dealing with this budget issue is to make a split appointment. This involves setting up two appointments for a trainee: one with a minimal stipend amount in the 01 category to trigger benefits and another in the 08 category to avoid paying any further benefits costs.
- Splitting the job codes can help to spread the training grant program dollars further, but policies differ between schools so check with your school’s policy before beginning. (Note that this approach is no longer allowed for appointments on training grants housed in the School of Medicine.)
If the level of compensation on the training grant is not comparable to other graduate students in your department who have similar academic status, the student may request to be assigned additional research duties for additional salary as a part-time research associate. Review the Mentor Additional Compensation Agreement and the Mentor Trainee Additional Compensation Signature Form templates to assist you in formalizing additional compensation arrangements.
NIH delineates two types of additional funding: supplements, and compensation for additional work. The first class of funding cannot come from a federal grant and cannot require any additional service expectation. The second class of funding can come from a federal source and does allow for additional service as long as that service does not overlap or interfere with the trainee’s institutional training grant research activity. Some departments may provide supplements to postdocs, while providing compensation for additional work to the pre-docs. Pre-doctoral trainees can be hired in labs to do tasks that do not overlap with their NIH training grant duties.
- In order to remain NIH compliant, the institutional training grant coordinator and the payroll coordinator should discuss how the trainee can manage the overlap of work projects. For the current NIH policy on stipend supplementation or compensation from part-time employment or outside activities, please visit NIH Grants Policy and Guidance Statement section 11.2.10 Supplementation of Stipends, Compensation, and Other Income.
- School of Medicine has very specific policies and guidelines on setting up appointments and extra compensation for pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees which are outlined on their training grant information website.
- In your PERM notes indicate that [Student Name] has been granted this position to compensate her at the same level as other graduate students in the department. One way to handle the need for extra compensation for a postdoc is to create two appointments, one for a Senior Fellow and one a Senior Fellow Trainee. Combine the total amount of compensation in one full-time rate and use that full-time rate for both appointments. Then in the distribution line for each appointment, use a different percent FTE for each appointment.
- Example: If you wanted to pay a postdoc $8,000 on a stipend and $2,000 on a non-federal grant, you would create the two appointments using a full-time rate of $10,000 for each appointment. Then for the stipend appointment you would use a distribution FTE of 80%, and for the non-stipend (REG) appointment you would use a distribution FTE of 20%.
- Trainees are required to be enrolled full-time, all quarters. Ten credits per quarter during the regular academic year, and two credits during summer quarter (considered full-time enrollment).
- There are several issues to note with the budgeting of tuition since the NIH educational allowance is not high enough to cover UW tuition and fees. (See section on Managing the Institutional Training Grant Award Budget, Shortfalls in Tuition and Re-budgeting.)
- Paying tuition via the Student Database (SDB)
- There are two options for training on the Student Data Base (SDB). There is online training and in-person training. Contact the office of Student Fiscal Services for their training schedule.
Tuition and some fees are covered per NIH requirements, other fees are waived. UW Office of Planning and Budgeting provides updated information. The Operating Fee Waiver gets charged to grants; the Tech Fee Waiver is paid by a central UW budget. Graduate student financial responsibility is a combination of the S&A Fee, IMA Bond Fee and Facilities Renovation (FR) Fee. Institutional training grant trainees are generally required to pay the UPass Fee as well.
There is also helpful information at the GCA website on graduate operating fees.
If trainees are in a job class code covered by union policies (08-59), they are part of the union and pay union dues; they have the same leave policy as a Research Assistant (RA). Access the list of job class codes covered by the union contract for more information. If your department appoints trainees under a non-union job code, the NIH has specific leave policies that may accrue to the position (see below).
Section 1. Medical Leave/Family Leave/Childbirth/Adoption. The University will grant an ASE’s reasonable request for leave of absence for appropriate duration due to:
- personal illness and/or disability
- care of a family member as defined below in Section 2, childbirth, or adoption
- bereavement due to the death of a family member as defined in Section 2
Appropriate documentation may be required for leaves under Section 1 (A) and (B).
Section 2. Definition of Family Member. Individuals considered to be members of the family are mother, father, sister, brother, parent-in-law, spouse, domestic partner, parent of domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, child, step or foster child (including children of domestic partner).
Section 3. Paid Leave. Such leaves shall be paid leaves for Salaried ASEs, and shall be unpaid for Hourly ASEs. The period of paid leave under Section 1 (A) and (B) shall generally be no more than seven (four-hour) days per year for an ASE whose appointment is 50% FTE for the academic year or longer. For ASEs who are employed for fewer than three-quarters or are employed for less than 50% FTE, the amount of paid leave as covered in Section 1 (A) and (B) will be prorated. The period of leave for bereavement (Section 1 (C)) shall be 3 days per occurrence.
Note that ASE policy is 7, 4-hour days, as opposed to 15 (presumably) full-time days as stated by NIH.
Sick Leave and Other Leave. Kirschstein-NRSA fellows may continue to receive stipends for up to 15 calendar days of sick leave per year. Under exceptional circumstances, this period may be extended by the NIH awarding Institute or Center (IC) in response to a written request from an Authorized Organization Representative (AOR). Sick leave may be used for medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.
The University of Washington does not withhold federal income taxes on fellowships and traineeships. This can cause a problem for trainees who might not be expecting a big tax bill at the end of the year. This income will not be reported on a W-2 form; student Fellows and trainees will receive an income statement in a 1099 from the Payroll Office in January. Questions of taxability can be found in the NIH Grants Policy in section 184.108.40.206
You may want to mention this in the appointment letter or in an informal email. This Trainee Stipend Tax Email Sample highlights information you may want to include. Review all student tax information on the Student Fiscal Services webpage and share with trainees.
Termination of Appointments
A PI initiates the termination within eRA Commons using XTrain and electronically files Form PHS 416-7 which can be found in the Manage Fellows and Trainees section of the NIH Forms Library. This must be done within 30 days of the effective date of termination of the final appointment or upon taking a leave of absence.
- The trainee and the PI electronically sign (certify) the Termination Notice, and route it to the Business Official.
- eRA Commons sends an auto-generated e-mail to Grant and Contract Accounting (GCA) as the Business Official (BO).
- GCA will review, approve, or may reject the termination notice.
- Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If an early termination occurs when a trainee is leaving the institution, make sure the trainee completes the termination notice in xTrain prior to leaving.
- Beware of the quirks around recalculating stipend! Early terminations that occur off the payroll-cycle (not ending on the 15th or end-of-month) cause problems, and it is very difficult to get the amounts to match what was on the SOA with the termination notice. (Fortunately, PI’s can enter the final amount manually so it will be matched and GCA can reconcile.)
Appointment Records Retention
There is no need to keep paper copies of termination and appointment documents for active grants if appointments have been terminated with no adjustments necessary and are recorded in XTrain.
Each year you have to reappoint your Trainees in xTrain, and that includes submission of a Statement Of Appointment (SOA).
The SOA form doesn’t reset the stipend amount when you are reappointing a trainee. You have to save the form, back out to the trainee roster, and then set the stipend amount.
Forms, Tools, and Resources
- Individual Development Plan Template
- Student Fiscal Services Departmental Scholarships and Fellowships Page
- Training Grant New Trainee Pre-offer Letter
- Training Grant Pre-Doc Trainee Offer Letter Template 1
- Training Grant Pre-doc Trainee Offer Letter Template 2
- Training Grant Senior Fellow Offer Letter Template
- xTrain for Trainees Email Template
- NIH Manage Trainees and Fellows Page
- Training Grant Trainee Stipend Tax Information Email
- UW Office of Planning and Budgeting Graduate Appointment Waivers
- UW Grants and Contract Accounting (GCA) Training Grant FAQs