Skip to main content

Roles of Lab and Branch Chiefs (or Equivalent)


The Laboratory or Branch (L/B) is a civil and respectful community of PIs whose work synergizes to achieve more than the individual PIs and is the scientific, medical, administrative, and educational core of much of the Intramural Research Program (IRP) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). An L/B Chief is a senior scientist who leads the Laboratory or Branch and, as such is a central figure in the fulfillment of the IC mission worthy of both support and careful evaluation.

To clarify expectations for these important positions—distinct from the roles played by these scientists as Principal Investigators (PIs)—we set out the following general principles. It is understood that each IRP has different needs and circumstances, and thus can provide proposals to the Deputy Director for Intramural Research (DDIR), consistent with the principles outlined in this document, for modifications of the expectations and review process detailed below.

Expectations for L/B Chiefs

Overall, the L/B Chiefs should create an environment that fosters scientific excellence and innovation, encourages collegiality and cooperation, extends leadership opportunities, promotes an inclusive environment, and provides scientific/clinical input for the Scientific Director (SD) and other Institute leadership.

Scientific Management:

  • Scientific Vision: The L/B Chief should promote and support innovative, independent science by members of the L/B.
  • Education/Training: The L/B Chief should create and contribute to a positive training environment and the career development of the L/B staff. The L/B Chief must ensure a rigorous but nurturing environment for trainees and staff at all levels of career development.
  • Mentorship: The L/B Chief should mentor ALL colleagues in the L/B, advising them scientifically, enhancing career development, and sponsoring or advocating as appropriate. This mentoring primarily involves support of tenure-track investigators, support staff, other PI’s in the L/B, but can extend to trainees seeking advice.
  • Recruitment: The L/B Chief should assist in recruiting exciting new science into the L/B, demonstrating a commitment to seek a diverse pool of applicants for open L/B positions.
  • Collaborations: The L/B Chief should support and promote collaborations both within and outside the L/B that advances science and creates productive teams both within the L/B and across the NIH.
  • For Clinical Programs: The L/B Chief should oversee and evaluate new clinical research protocols, facilitate scientific and IRB review, and assure the diversity of clinical cohorts used in human subjects’ research and compliance with human subject regulations.

Administrative Management:

  • Stewardship of Resources: The L/B Chief should manage resources (including personnel, contracts, equipment, and space) in an equitable, merit-based, and transparent manner to encourage scientific advances and innovation without bias or favoritism.
  • Communication: The L/B chief should meet or communicate regularly with the Scientific Director, the L/B Administrative Officer (AO) and administrative team, and communicate relevant information to members of the L/B.
  • Personnel Evaluations: The L/B Chief should fairly and accurately evaluate performance of direct reports and oversee the PMAP process within the L/B.
  • Safety Privacy, IT Security, Tech Transfer: The L/B Chief should support a culture of laboratory safety, IT security and appropriate tech transfer practices, ensuring information is communicated and prescribed practices are followed.
  • Leadership Change: The L/B chief should participate in succession planning as appropriate to promote outstanding science.

Ethical Leadership:

  • Role Model: The L/B Chief should exhibit ethical and professional behavior of the highest standards, demonstrate integrity, and have strong interpersonal skills.
  • Diversity and Inclusiveness: The L/B Chief should make every possible effort to create and sustain an inclusive research environment in the L/B and to recruit a diverse pool of candidates for open L/B positions, including women and members of groups under-represented in biomedical research. The L/B Chief should be proactive in all aspects of recruitment activities, such as supporting implicit bias awareness training, and trans-NIH programs including the Distinguished Scholars Program.
  • Research Integrity: The L/B Chief should foster a climate of the highest research integrity.
  • Interpersonal Issues: The L/B Chief should address interpersonal issues including harassment (both bullying and sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior) and inappropriate relationships quickly, appropriately, and effectively, including required reporting or intervention at the level of Civil and/or OITE to resolve disputes.
  • Workplace Climate: The L/B Chief should facilitate and manage a workplace environment that is respectful of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

Review of L/B Chiefs

The evaluation of the effectiveness of leadership is important for the vitality of any institution. Thus, it is the responsibility of each SD to oversee the review of all the L/B Chiefs in an IC for effective adherence to the above principles. These reviews are separate from the L/B Chief’s review as a scientific PI. Principles for these evaluations are the following:

  • Each IC will review their L/B Chiefs at least every 4 years, either as part of a normal BSC review or as a separate review. If outside of a standard BSC review, this Review Committee should include at least one member of the standing BSC roster.
  • The L/B Chief review results will be presented to the full BSC and shared with the DDIR and the NIH Equity Committee (NEC) as part of the NEC’s regular review of each IC’s intramural program.
  • The L/B Chief evaluation process should be one in which the Review Committee has access to relevant information about resources and training in the L/B to allow the assessment of equity and effectiveness.
  • The L/B Chief evaluation process should be one in which all Principal Investigators (PIs), trainees and other members of the L/B can speak or report freely about their concerns, including the option for providing anonymous feedback.

Changes to L/B Chief Positions

While it is expected that SD decisions regarding continuation of the L/B Chief’s administrative roles or changes to L/B structures will be informed by the reviews described in this document, changes consistent with the mission of the NIH or the IC can take place separate from the review process described in this document. Recruitment for L/B Chiefs will be public and open, with a transparent process that is communicated before the search is initiated. All L/B Chief searches will be under the oversight of the Deputy Director for Intramural Research (DDIR). For searches restricted to the IC or NIH due to limited resources, special permission must be obtained from the DDIR.


Information that should inform the Review Committee:

  • IC expectations of L/B Chiefs based on the expectations listed above.
  • Information on how L/B Chiefs were appointed and their appointment length.
  • From each L/B Chief, an up to 5-page narrative addressing how each of the elements defined by the IC (scientific management, administrative management and ethical leadership) are being addressed.
  • Summary reports for each PI in the L/B and any other L/B functions that are being reviewed. This should include any existing Site Visit reviews of leadership or Blue Ribbon Panel reports in ICs where these have occurred in the last 5 years.
  • Reports from the SD, EO, and head AO specifying any persistent areas related to leadership that need improvement.
  • Information regarding what L/B resources L/B Chiefs control and how those resources were allocated.
  • Anonymous feedback solicited from trainees and other scientific staff (including all PIs) in the L/B about the performance of the L/B Chief as a survey or by requesting that anonymous comments be sent to the chair of the review committee (not to be shared with the L/B Chief). 
  • In cases where the L/B Chief is responsible for PI hiring decisions, information regarding search, candidates considered, demographics and how final selection was reached.
  • A summary of the career trajectory of previous L/B fellows for up to the preceding 10 years of tenure of the L/B Chief.

First Established:
Saturday, March 14, 2020

The page was last updated on Thursday, April 16, 2020 - 11:26am