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Tenure Overview

The need for a balance between (1) employment security to drive long-term programs in the intramural program and also, in some cases, to recruit or retain tenured scientists, and (2) programmatic flexibility needed by scientific managers, has led to the following modified, updated definition of tenure. The following definition applies irrespective of the personnel mechanism used.

Tenure at the NIH is the commitment of salary to an independent Senior Investigator who is granted tenure by the Central Tenure Committee. Tenure conferred or approved by earlier NIH-wide review bodies (e.g., Board of Scientific Directors until ~1993 or SBRS Policy Advisory Board) is considered equivalent. Tenured Senior Investigators are granted independent resources (personnel, budget and space) by their Institute, and are required to have regular outside, expert review by Boards of Scientific Counselors. Resources may be adjusted up or down by the Institute, based on productivity and the quality of their work, as determined by these and other reviews. The granting of tenure at the NIH will continue to be a vote of confidence in the achievements and potential of the Senior Investigator, and it is the policy of the NIH that such scientists will be renewed in one or another of the five personnel mechanisms available, and that long, stable, productive careers will continue to be the rule.

There are four distinct personnel mechanisms available for the employment of tenured Senior Investigators:

  1. Title 42 - This is a personnel mechanism that provides indefinite (i.e., no time limitation but not permanent) appointments (Title 42 - 209f) for senior scientists. Salaries are set and adjusted in a flexible fashion.
  2. Senior Biomedical Research Service (SBRS) - This is a personnel system authorized by Congress in 1990 to provide flexible salaries of up to Executive Level I for outstanding researchers. There is no distinction between physicians and Ph.D. scientists, but the number of positions is limited.
  3. Commissioned Corps - The Corps has for decades been a mechanism of choice for physician scientist researchers, for reasons including physician and dentist special pays and tax advantages of the system. Higher pay is possible through longevity, promotions, bonuses, tax advantages, and other benefits. Promotions are restricted, the system is generally not flexible, and advantages are greatest for physicians and dentists.
  4. General Schedule - This Civil Service mechanism has been used for many years to hire tenured scientists at the NIH. Positions are permanent, but salaries are tied to the General Schedule; salary increases are dependent on time-in-service and promotions, and are given in a lock-step fashion. One-time or limited duration recruitment and retention bonus incentives of up to 25% of base pay are available. Use of Title 38 for physicians involved in direct patient care provides for higher salaries dependent on the medical specialty.

Additional Tenure Resources


The page was last updated on Thursday, January 20, 2022 - 1:52pm