A Staff Scientist is a NIH employee generally appointed to a time-limited, renewable position, or in extremely rare situations, to a permanent appointment (for retention or recruitment purposes). The individual holds a doctoral degree and is selected by an Institute or Center (IC) to support the long-term research of a Senior Investigator (with outstanding Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) reviews). Staff Scientists do not receive independent resources, although they often work independently and have sophisticated skills and knowledge essential to the work of the laboratory. Staff Scientists should be capable of independently designing experiments, but do not have responsibilities for initiating new research programs.
Staff Scientists may be nominated to receive the honorific title of Associate Scientist or Senior Associate Scientist to professionally recognize individuals who are functioning at a more senior level. However, Associate Scientists/Senior Associate Scientists continue to function under the Intramural Professional Designation (IPD) of Staff Scientist. Further, it should be noted that these are honorary titles and are not in themselves a commitment for an associated pay increase or sole justification for a pay increase. However, the performance/achievements that resulted in approval of the honorary title may be used to support a pay increase that is within the Title 42 Pay Model provisions. In 2022, OIR working with the Staff Scientist Advisory Committee developed principles for the fair review of nominations for the Associate Scientist and Senior Associate Scientist titles.
Fair Review Principles for Nominations of Staff Scientists for Associate Scientist and Senior Associate Scientist Titles
A Staff Scientist (Clinical) is a NIH employee generally appointed to a time-limited, renewable position. The individual traditionally holds a non-M.D., non-D.O., or non-D.D.S. doctoral degree and is selected by an IC to support the clinical care functions, most commonly in one of the patient care services of the Clinical Center. The appointment is to a Clinical Center department that has been reviewed and approved by the Director, CC. Conversely, they may alternatively be appointed to an IC laboratory or branch that has been reviewed and approved by both the Scientific and Clinical Directors to assure the needs for service positions. In the Clinical Center, the performance of a Staff Scientist is included in the Operation Review process. The Clinical Center or IC Review should address inclusion of the resources for support of the individual who is being recruited. This review should support inclusion of the resources for support of the individual who is being recruited. Staff Scientists (Clinical) do not receive independent resources, although they often work independently and have sophisticated skills and knowledge essential to the work of the laboratory, branch, or department.
The Staff Scientist 2 designation is reserved for individuals who not only fulfill the definition above, but also possess the following HHS-required scientific and/or clinical criteria:
- Recognition as a national or international expert in the field, such as: specific experience; invited manuscripts, presentations and/or consultations; receipt of honors and awards or other recognition for noteworthy performance of contributions to the field
- Original scientific or scholarly contributions of major significance in the field
- Leadership in the field
- Special knowledge and skills of benefit to the IC or NIH
Both Staff Scientists (1 and 2) and Staff Scientists (Clinical) (1 and 2) are Full-Time Equivalent Employment (FTE) positions.
All Staff Scientist positions must be advertised (see Policy for Advertisement of All Staff Scientist Positions), all applications received must be reviewed, and the selecting official must explain why the selected candidate was the best choice in the memo to the IC Promotions Committee that must review all Staff Scientist appointments that are not done from a national search and committee. Transfer of an existing Staff Scientist either within an IC or between ICs is considered retention and does not require advertisement of the position.
An IC-based (not DDIR-approved) search process is encouraged but not required when selecting a Staff Scientist. However, for a Staff Scientist who will be a Facility Head, Core Director, or any such equivalent position, a national search is required. Review and approval of the selectee by the IC’s Scientific Director (SD) is always required. A Staff Scientist 2 must first go through the Title 5 exhaustion process, established through the Office of Human Resources (OHR). If a suitable candidate is selected, then the individual must be reviewed and recommended by the Title 42(f) Peer Review Committee (T42FPRC) and approved by the DDIR. If a suitable candidate is not selected through the Title 5 exhaustion process, as certified by OHR and approved by the NIH Principal Deputy Director, then the recruitment of a Title 42(f) candidate can continue. All Staff Scientist 2 appointments are made following peer review and recommendation by the T42FPRC and approval by the DDIR. This committee is chaired by the DDIR.
Depending on salary level and other pay components proposed, review and approval is required from both the IC Title 42 Standing Committee and the NIH Compensation Committee (NCC). Please consult the Title 42 Pay Model for additional information.
On October 31, 2018, the DDIR delegated the authority to approve more than one Staff Scientist-1 under a given PI to the Scientific Director (no redelegation allowed) using specific criteria and processes.
- Delegation of Approval for a 2nd (+) Staff Scientist with a Responsible PI from the DDIR/OIR to the SD
For Staff Scientists that require clinical credentialing, an additional approval must be received from the Director, CC (or delegate) after recommendation by the Clinical Center (CC) Credentials Committee and the Medical Executive Committee (MEC). For further information, please contact the Office of Credentialing Services, Clinical Center (OCS/CC) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-496-5937.
Check Sheets / Checklists
Below are the check sheets and checklists that have been developed and approved by the DDIR for the Staff Scientist designation.
- Staff Scientist-1 Appointment (Including Facility Head) Check Sheet
- Staff Scientist-2 Appointment (Including Facility Head) Check Sheet
- Promotion of Staff Scientist in GS Appointment Check Sheet
Individual ICs may have additional requirements and check sheets. Please contact your Administrative Officer (AO) or HR Specialist for additional guidance. For examples of IC-specific check sheets and checklists, please visit:
Intramural scientists at the NIH, as is true for all scientists, should be committed to the responsible use of scientific tools and methods to seek new knowledge. While the general principles of scientific methodologies are universal, their detailed application may differ in various scientific disciplines and circumstances. All research staff in the Intramural Research Program should maintain exemplary standards of intellectual honesty in formulating, conducting, presenting, and reviewing research, as befits the leadership role of the NIH.
Within the NIH IRP, the ethical conduct of researchers is governed by the following three disciplines:
Ethics information may also be available through your specific IC. Please contact your Ethics Counselor for additional guidance.
Pay / Compensation
Pay and compensation for Title 42(g) appointed Staff Scientists is based on the Title 42 Pay Model. A Staff Scientist’s minimum salary should be equivalent to GS13-Step 1 level. Depending on salary level and other pay components proposed, review and approval is required from both the IC Title 42 Standing Committee and the NIH Compensation Committee (NCC). Please contact your Administrative Officer (AO) or HR Specialist for additional guidance.
Recruitment Process / Appointment Mechanisms
Recruitment of a Staff Scientist is generally made via Title 42(g). For Staff Scientist 2 appointments, please consult the Title 5 exhaustion requirements identified in the Approvals (Process) section above.
Additionally, several recruitment caveats for a Staff Scientist include:
- If the lab/branch identifies a proposed candidate and does not plan to perform a competitive national search, the Staff Scientist’s package must be reviewed and approved by an IC Promotions Committee for recommendation.
- If the lab/branch has not identified a leading candidate and does plan to perform a competitive national search, please refer to your IC’s search process. This approach does not require DDIR approval.
- If the lab/branch is recruiting for a Facility Head, a competitive national search that has been requested by a Scientific Director (SD) (or IC Director), after consultation with Lab/Branch Chief and Senior Investigators in the IC and/or the BSC or other advisory group is required.
For information regarding appointment mechanisms, please visit:
Recruitment and Retention of Staff Scientists as Permanent GS Employees with Salaries Less Than Executive Level IV
For recruitment or retention purposes, and in extremely rare situations, a Staff Scientist may be appointed to a permanent GS position. Based on the needs of the IC, there are three situations where the use of a permanent mechanism (General Schedule Civil Service or Commissioned Corps) may be necessary or appropriate:
- For recruitment of Staff Scientists from outside the NIH
- After an appropriate search has occurred, and using the same process used to identify tenure-track candidates, the Scientific Director (SD) can request to the DDIR that a permanent mechanism be used for recruitment. Traditionally this request is based on the long-term necessity of the program/project, the likelihood that the candidate’s skills will be relevant for the foreseeable future, and the difficulty in recruiting the candidate to the NIH using Title 42 at an appropriate salary.
- For retention of Staff Scientists already at the NIH
- In exceptional circumstances, and based on a long track record of high quality research or clinical support, productivity, and adaptation to changing program, projects, and technologies, a Staff Scientist can be given a permanent appointment. The request would require review by an Institute Promotion Committee, and would be followed by a request and approval from a SD, through the IC Director, to the DDIR.
- For scientists already at the NIH in a permanent GS-12 position
- Appointment to a Staff Scientists position would be made using Title 42. Special consideration would be needed for an appointment to a permanent GS-13 position.
Required Periodic Reviews of Staff Scientists Regardless of Appointment Mechanism
In most cases, Staff Scientists are not reviewed by the BSC. However, an IC Promotion Committee must review a Staff Scientist’s work at least every four years for all Staff Scientists, regardless of appointment mechanism (e.g., Title 42, Title 5, etc.; NOTE: Only Staff Scientists approved by the DDIR to be in Title 5 or any other FTE pay system, that is not Title 42, are legitimate Staff Scientists). A CV and bibliography, letter of evaluation from the supervisor, and two letters of evaluation from collaborators or other scientists in a position to review the Staff Scientist’s work, should be provided during this review. Performance is measured against the following elements:
- Interactions with other scientists
- Scientific productivity
- Other achievements
- Evidence of being up-to-date scientifically and technically, as outlined by the employee and confirmed in letters of reference
Measures of performance include collaborations, awards, presented lectures, course work, mentoring/teaching, participation in Special Interest Groups (SIGs), etc. The functions of this review are to look at the continuation/placement of the Staff Scientist, possible salary adjustment, and to enable the SD to report to the BSC on allocation of these personnel resources. The quality of the Senior Investigator’s laboratory is reviewed by the BSC, including the resources for support of the Staff Scientist(s) assigned to the Senior Investigator. Presentation of the Staff Scientist’s IC reviews to the BSC is made at the discretion of the SD or at the request of the BSC.
Promotion Criteria for Staff Scientists in GS Appointments
Traditionally used as the first appointment after completing a training position or a promotion from a GS-12 position, this appointment is based on the expectation that the individual will be able to function as a Staff Scientist with minimal supervision and, in addition, has the ability to work effectively with others (e.g., trainees, technicians, colleagues, and supervisors). It is also expected that such individuals will promote their supervisor’s research program by independently informing themselves of new approaches, technological or otherwise, and by being knowledgeable about scientific resources (both human and material) at the NIH and elsewhere.
For promotion to a GS-14 level, the individual is expected to have developed a substantial record of achievement at the GS-13 level or its equivalent, and to have played a major support role within a quality research program. The individual will have made major contributions to peer-reviewed publications, as evidenced by co-authorship on a reasonable number of publications in journals acknowledged to be of high quality, and exhibited other evidence of being held in high regard by peers, such as being consulted by others at the NIH or elsewhere for advice and/or assistance. The expertise of the Staff Scientist and evidence of high regard by peers should be documented by at least three letters of reference. Outstanding grasp of subject material should be evidenced in a seminar presented to the IC Promotion Committee. Given these criteria, promotion of Staff Scientists to GS-14 will be infrequent.
Promotion to the GS-15 level reflects exceptional achievement or other contributions that significantly promote the mission of the individual’s own IC and/or other ICs. Such individuals will be expected to have considerably exceeded the GS-14 criteria, including evidence of an extraordinary grasp of subject material in the presentation of a seminar to the IC Promotion Committee. As distinguished from a GS-14, the GS-15 may be required to supervise doctoral-level or senior staff if the laboratory or the facility in which they work. Further, the individual must have developed a record of high achievement for a substantial number of years, documented by at least five letters from referees who are not recent collaborators, including at least three letters from outside the IC; and/or the individual must have made significant methodological or other contributions to scientific literature. Given these criteria, promotion of Staff Scientists to GS-15 is rare.
Staff Scientist renewals must follow the policies and processes appropriate to the specific appointment mechanism.
A Staff Scientist is not granted independent resources by their Institute.
Termination of a Staff Scientist appointment must follow the policies and processes appropriate to the specific appointment mechanism.
This page was last updated on Thursday, September 1, 2022