Frequently Asked Questions: Presidential Management Fellows (PMF)

How is NIH structured and where do NIH PMFs fit into the organization?

The NIH is comprised of 27 Institutes and Centers, each centered on a particular health issue, system, or function. For example, NIH has a National Institute of Mental Health, as well as a National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities. Each Institute and Center varies in size and activities, however each is compromised of similar working parts – each has offices dedicated to management, budget, communications, and other central offices. In addition to these 27 Institutes and Centers, there is a central NIH nucleus called the Office of the Director. NIH “at-large” PMFs are housed in the NIH Training Center under the Office of the Director. A designated PMF’s home base is within their specified Institute or Center.

NIH PMFs find their position highly regarded throughout the Institutes and Centers. Many doors are opened to them and they enjoy exposure and interaction with many high-level executives and directors, many of whom are PMF alumni.

The NIH is offering several positions. How are these positions different and how do I know which one is right for me?

There are two types of PMF positions at NIH. The “at-large” position, and the “designated” positions within a specific Institute and office.

The NIH “at-large” position is a two-year rotational experience during which fellows typically rotate through six to eight offices. Fellows in this program have the opportunity to rotate anywhere at NIH, experiencing not only different fields, but numerous different organizational cultures. This program offers the largest selection of opportunities, with hundreds of rotational options. For example, when an NIH “at-large” fellow decides they want to do a grants management rotation, they have 20+ grants management offices to choose from. This program is fast-paced and is well-suited to decisive individuals with the ability to adapt to various work settings and who wish to experience a breadth of job roles and organizations. We also seek individuals who are adaptable and willing to try new things, especially in administrative careers.

The NIH offers “designated” positions within a specific Institute or Center (IC). Fellows in this program rotate only within the designated IC. Like all of the positions, fellows have the opportunity to negotiate one rotation outside of their office, but all of the rotations are structured under the guidance and direction and within the limitations of that IC’s designated PMF program. These opportunities are great for fellows who have a clear picture of their interests and are able to match those interests with a specific IC or position up front. For example, individuals with particular interest in cancer may wish to look into the designated program within the National Cancer Institute (NCI), or individuals with specific interest in infectious diseases may choose to apply to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). Because these positions concentrate the rotational options within the organizational culture of a single Institute, they provide a more consistent and structured opportunity.

What makes the NIH PMF program different from the programs at other agencies?

The NIH is the nation’s top biomedical research agency, hosting innovative scientists on our campus and funding cutting-edge researchers at schools, hospitals, and small businesses across the nation and around the world.

Multiple rotations: The NIH program capitalizes on the NIH culture of discovery and collaboration by making rotational developmental assignments the cornerstone of its at-large program. Many agencies hire PMFs for a single position and offer them a single external rotation. However, all “at-large” fellows and some “designated” fellows at NIH create a two-year rotational experience which may include a rotation to another agency or organization.

Training opportunities: NIH provides additional training opportunities beyond the OPM PMF Orientation. Each PMF is given an annual training budget to support their leadership and development needs.

Mentoring: The NIH values mentoring as an important component in developing their fellows. Each PMF will choose a mentor that will help guide him or her throughout the 2 year fellowship. Early in the program, NIH provides training for all mentor/protégé pairs to ensure that both individuals can get the most benefit out of the partnership.

Community: Just as our scientists collaborate to discover new cures, our fellows collaborate with their peers, PMF alumni, mentors, and supervisors to move the agency (and their careers) forward. NIH is home to several intern and fellowship programs which foster a true spirit of community and collaboration. NIH was one of the first agencies to participate in the PMF program, and the extensive network of alumni frequently turn to current fellows to help with committees and projects above and beyond rotational assignments. Many of our fellows view their interaction with PMF alumni as an invaluable highlight of their PMF experience.

Campus environment: NIH is set on a 300-acre campus where Nobel laureates are not uncommon. The atmosphere at NIH is often as much like an academic environment as it is a government agency. Continuous learning is highly valued at NIH, so fellows have numerous and often free trainings, seminars, and workshops.

According to your website, the NIH is located in Maryland. How far is this from D.C. and do all fellows have to live in Maryland?

NIH is located in Bethesda, MD, which is part of the D.C. metro area. In fact, the “Medical Center” stop on the D.C. metro’s red line drops you off at the new NIH Welcome Center. Most of NIH’s offices are located either on the Bethesda campus or in office buildings located in nearby Rockville, Maryland. While not all of these auxiliary office buildings are accessible by metro, they can all be reached by either NIH shuttles from the main campus or the public bus system. NIH fellows are free to live wherever is most convenient is for them, be it in the District, Bethesda, or elsewhere. Living car-free and commuting to these office buildings is possible, if not always effortless.

The NIH also has one Institute located in Durham, North Carolina, and various research centers in Baltimore and Frederick, Maryland, as well as in Hamilton, Montana. While previous fellows have secured rotations at the Baltimore and North Carolina locations, all fellows begin the program at the Bethesda campus.

To help new fellows transition to the area, current PMF fellows serve as “buddies” for incoming fellows. Additionally, a detailed orientation is designed to help fellows acclimate to the area and to NIH.

When do NIH PMFs begin their position?

NIH At-Large PMFs will start their position on Monday, July 29, 2013. This start date is non-negotiable for At-Large PMFs because of the extensive orientation that has been planned. Designated PMFs should also plan to start on or before Monday, July 29, however their precise start date will be included in the job offer letter from the designated Institute or Center.

I have extensive work experience in addition to graduate school. Does the NIH take that into consideration?

Experience can be a good thing both in the interview process and on the job. Many of our fellows have had previous careers as teachers, social workers, research scientists, or administrative staff. However, you should be aware that NIH looks for people interested in pursuing new career tracks and stretching themselves. If you are looking to build on your experience by taking a new direction, we may be the perfect opportunity. With the wide array of rotational opportunities, the at-large program is meant for those who wish to explore a variety of career tracks, roles, and responsibilities.

I have a J.D./Ph.D./previous experience/etc., and want to start at above the GS-9 pay level. Can I do that at the NIH?

The NIH uses the PMF program as an opportunity to develop future leaders and assist them in gaining a broad understanding of the organization and career tracks available. While previous experience or an advanced degree may prepare you for one or more of your rotations, it probably will not (and should not) prepare you for all that you will do here. The PMF program helps junior professionals to develop new skills and expertise. For this reason, every fellow in the at-large program, as well as most fellows in designated positions, will begin at the GS-9 pay level.

I have no experience with science, research, or health care, is the NIH program still a good match for me?

You do not have to be a scientist to work at NIH. As an at-large PMF at the NIH, you will have the opportunity to explore numerous fields. NIH employees in administrative career tracks such as budget, human resources, contracts, IT, and grants management support the scientific mission of the NIH.

However, you should be aware that we at NIH feel very strongly about our mission to save lives and improve the nation’s health through scientific discoveries. While you don’t have to be a scientist, your experience at NIH will be far richer if you also feel passionate about the NIH mission.

I’ve always been interested in health care policy. Can I do that at the NIH?

The answer to that question is a qualified maybe. As part of the executive branch, the NIH is not in the business of creating health care policy. Our mission is to fund and promote the best biomedical research, so our primary stakeholders are often research scientists or the general public, and the types of policies that we typically handle concern research conduct, rather than health care delivery for the general public. For example, we will not be one of the major agencies involved in Medicare/Medicaid reform.

That said, some NIH PMFs have rotated through offices grappling with important research policy issues such as embryonic stem cell research and public access to research data. If your interest in policy is from an implementation standpoint, (e.g. asking “How do we explain the new stem cell research law to our grantees?” or “How can our scientists at the NIH Clinical Center adapt current practices to meet the new patient privacy laws?”), then there are opportunities for you at NIH. If, however, you are more interested in policy generation (e.g. asking “How can we change the way hospitals and insurance companies charge the elderly for basic care?”) you may want to look for a position in the legislative branch.

I have a background in social work. Will the NIH allow me to direct practice or perform clinical work?

The NIH is the component of the Department of Health and Human Services that primarily focuses on research. While the NIH sometimes partners with other agencies such as SAMHSA to carry out public health interventions, to find such opportunities on a rotation are rare. PMFs with social work backgrounds have found fulfilling rotations at NIH completing assignments such as:

  • Organizing work/life programs for NIH and the public such as Yoga Week.
  • Working in an Institute’s communication office to help relate scientific discoveries to broader public audiences.
  • Evaluating programs at NIH, such as our graduate student research training program.
  • Completing a rotation in hospitality services in NIH’s Clinical Center and interacting with the many patients, families and physicians who visit the Clinical Center each day.
I have a J.D. Will a PMF position with NIH allow me to practice law?

NIH is a research agency rather than a regulatory or policy agency, so opportunities to litigate or practice law in a traditional way are rare. Employees of NIH are classified as ‘attorneys’ only if they work for the Office of General Counsel. However, there are opportunities to use legal training at NIH such as:

  • Working in our Ombudsman’s Office, Employee and Labor Relations branch, and the EEO Office to uphold fair labor policies and foster an open working environment
  • Analyzing policies, procedures, and cases in the ethics office, contracts office, or general counsel’s office
  • Helping scientists and grantees understand their intellectual property rights through our Office of Technology Transfer
  • Serving as a liaison between advocacy groups, Congress, and the NIH at one of our institutes’ public affairs offices.
I have a Ph.D. in a scientific field. Will the NIH allow me to still publish and maintain a scientific professional career?

While scientific research is being conducted at NIH, fellows in the PMF program are not recruited to work in laboratory research, and opportunities to publish are rare.

Although becoming a PMF often means closing the door on an academic scientific career, you will find that your scientific background is valued at NIH, and your experience will open many other doors for you. Several PMFs with science degrees have found fulfilling rotations and careers at the NIH, such as:

  • Managing portfolios of research grants in the role of scientific program officer or grants manager
  • Analyzing NIH’s investments in various fields, and synthesizing the results for the annual Congressional Budget Justification
  • Working in communication offices to translate scientific research into layman’s terms for the general public
  • Working with the Center for Information Technology to help develop new programs and tools to be used by the scientists on campus.
I have a background in International Affairs; are there opportunities for me at NIH?

PMFs at NIH typically do not have the opportunity to travel abroad as fellows, and there are not as many opportunities here for careers in internationally-focused work. However, there are a few opportunities to work on global health issues and international scientific collaborations. Some examples of possible rotations include:

  • Working with the Division of International Relations at Fogarty International Center to help international collaborations get embassy clearance
  • Helping to coordinate international epidemiology projects with NIAID’s Office of Global Research
  • Developing informational resources for foreign scientists working at NIH with the Division of International Services
  • Working with the Office of Latin American Cancer Program Development at NCI in developing groundbreaking partnerships with research institutions in five Latin American countries