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5-Year / 8-Year Duration Rule


  1. It is the general policy of the NIH that postdoctoral trainees should not remain at NIH for more than five years.
  2. There is an overall limitation of not more than eight years at NIH (with time in excess of five years requiring a Full-Time Equivalent Employment (FTE) appointment), regardless of appointment mechanism, unless a scientist is approved for tenure-track, tenure, staff scientist, staff clinician, or other continuing staff appointment.

The operative principle is that a postdoctoral scientist should not be retained for an excessively long period in NIH facilities (with NIH funds possibly inappropriately funneled through a contract or via the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) mechanism) in a temporary status (except for appointees to tenure-track). Excessively long appointments in temporary positions can undermine both the career of the individual and the vitality and excellence of intramural research programs.

Extensions Beyond 5 Years

If an Institute or Center (IC) wishes to retain a trainee beyond five years, a justification must accompany the requested appointment that:

  • Articulates the proposed career course, e.g., expectation to recommend the trainee to compete for a Staff Scientist/Clinician position or tenure-track appointment,
  • Defines an overriding programmatic need for the individual to stay beyond 5 years, with a specified termination date,
  • Gives the FTE appointment mechanism selected to retain the scientist.

A copy of the above justification will be provided to the employee and archived with the IC.

Foreign Scientists

The accommodation of foreign scientists within the above policy will depend on their visa status. Please consult the NIH Division of International Services (DIS), Office of Research Services (ORS) for additional information.


This policy applies to all temporary, non-tenure-track, postdoctoral level individuals at NIH, including Special Volunteers. If such a person returns to NIH after being away for a period, the clock will resume ticking and not be reset to zero. The 5-year/8-year rule applies to postdoctoral trainees, so any time spent working at NIH before receipt of a doctorate does not count.

The 5-year/8-year rule does not apply to Adjunct Investigators who have a permanent position outside of the NIH intramural program. It also does not apply to a company employee, (i.e., someone paid by company funds) who may happen to be a Guest Researcher at NIH, or to a university professor, who typically is a more senior scientist on sabbatical at NIH, or to outside Research Collaborators.


  • Monday, November 8, 1999 - 9:00am

The page was last updated on Thursday, April 16, 2020 - 11:21am