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Policy for Reassignment or Early Termination of Awards to Postdoctoral Fellows

A postdoctoral fellow's assignment to a specific research group may be appropriately changed (situations a and b, below) or terminated early (situation c) prior to the end of the formal award period for several reasons:

  1. "incompatibility" between the postdoctoral fellow and the preceptor
  2. documented unsatisfactory performance by the postdoctoral fellow
  3. serious misbehavior on the part of the fellow.

Fiscal consideration should not be the basis for early termination within the NIH Intramural Research Program.


In situation (a) above, a transfer is generally appropriate and is the responsibility of the Laboratory/Branch Chief or, if necessary, the Scientific Director (SD), to negotiate. In appointing a fellow, the Institute or Center (IC) assumes the responsibility of providing a suitable training experience for a specific period. Therefore, the IC must find a more suitable situation for the fellow and be ready to support the fellow, even in the intramural program of another IC, should there be no mutually satisfactory place within the original IC. The OITE and the IC (generally the Training Office) are available for advice on these transfers and often can help facilitate the transfer of the fellow.

For situation (b) above, termination prior to the completion of the appointment period must be based on rigorous documentation of unsatisfactory performance. Twelve months’ written notice of the intention to terminate the appointment is standard practice. The fellow must be notified in writing that the performance is unsatisfactory. Such notification must be specific and must outline suggestions for achieving a satisfactory level of performance. Three months or more should be allowed for improvement. If the improvements are insufficient, a final written notice of termination is required at least six months prior to the termination date. This final termination notice should include a plan to ensure that any remaining scientific activities are completed and the trainee has a career plan for a transition out of the NIH. The OITE and the IC (generally the Training Office) will work directly with the fellow to ensure that proper documentation is provided. The fellow should also be referred to the OITE early in this process to access career resources.

In the case of a Visiting Fellow in the third year of a J-1 visa, when a full year notification is not possible, the fellow should be granted the terminal six-month extension that the NIH can provide.

The decision to terminate the appointment early rests with the SD of the IC in which the fellow is appointed but can be delegated to the fellow's Laboratory/Branch Chief. The fellow may appeal the contemplated action to the SD, who is encouraged to consult with the OITE. With careful selection procedures, early termination of appointments for unsatisfactory performance should rarely be necessary. In all cases of early termination, the fellow should be directed to OITE career resources to assist the fellow in the transition from NIH.

Decisions not to renew appointments do not constitute early termination in the context of these guidelines and do not require formal justification to the fellow. Nevertheless, it is strongly preferred that the fellow be notified in writing 12 months in advance of non-renewal (i.e., at the time appointment paperwork is processed). For exceptional circumstances, a minimum of 6 months written notice is acceptable. Again, the fellow should be directed to OITE career resources to assist the fellow in the transition from NIH.

In situation (c) above, swift disciplinary action or even termination may be appropriate, and standard NIH procedures should be applied. The IC should communicate with the appropriate NIH offices including IC leadership, OITE, Office of Intramural Research, DIS, and/or NIH Civil.

The page was last updated on Thursday, April 16, 2020 - 11:24am