Ph.D. Fellowships + Support

If you have been accepted as a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, you are what is known as “fully funded,” which means that funding will be provided for you that includes tuition, health insurance, and a stipend. Your funding may come from several sources: the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the department of Bioengineering, research grants of the faculty, institutional training grants, industrial sources, as well as funding from direct federal and foundation fellowships to you.

We encourage all students to apply for graduate training fellowships during their graduate studies. Those of you who apply for and win fellowships prior to matriculating to Penn gain tremendous flexibility in choosing a lab for your research.

Any Ph.D. student awarded an extramural individual fellowship may qualify for a one-time $3,000 bonus in addition to the standard stipend.

Below you’ll find some of the most common sources for fellowships and Ph.D. training support. To help you in your fellowship search, the school offers proposal writing workshops annually.


Special University of Pennsylvania Fellowships


Government and Foundation Sponsored Fellowships

Other Resources

Fellowship Tips

NRSA information (This information was modified from the NGG Wiki)

The NRSA (technically Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award) is an NIH training grant, meaning the primary purpose of the grant is to fund your training as a grad student. There are 3 flavors of NRSAs for grad students (there ar for postdocs or senior scientists):

Most students submit a F31 (“Parent F31s”), but anyone from a racial/ethnic minority, anyone from a socially/economically disadvantaged background, or anyone that has disabilities should definitely look into the F31 Diversity grant, as these three types of grants get submitted and reviewed separately. MD/PhDs obviously submit F30s. 

Quick note about the NRSA instruction documents:

You can get instructions for the grant in the award announcement (see specific links above for F30 and F31 mechanisms) and in a gigantic .pdf called the SFR&R application guide. Most NIH grants have the same overall structure with specific parts specialized for the individual awards. That means that most grants use the SFR&R instruction packet, but some parts of it are modified specifically for the NRSA. At the time of writing, this is the relevant SFR&RLinks to an external site. guide for the NRSA, with the NRSA-specific info colored in purple.

You can also use this page on Grants.govLinks to an external site. to download the most up-to-date info packet, just enter the award announcement number (PA-14–147)

Chronological Steps

The steps to completing an NRSA application are enumerated below.

  1. Design a Project

As is true for all grant writing, the underlying consideration for all parts of your grant should be how well it fits with the purpose of the particular award. The NRSA is a training grant; while it’s important to propose a compelling and feasible project, your proposal will ultimately be judged based on it’s training potential (i.e. how well this particular project will help you transition into becoming an independent researcher).

From the program announcement:

It is expected that the mentored research training experience will provide:

  • A strong foundation in research design, methods, and analytic techniques appropriate to the proposed dissertation research;
  • The enhancement of the applicant’s ability to conceptualize and think through research problems with increasing independence;
  • Experience conducting research using appropriate, state-of-the-art methods, as well as presenting and publishing the research findings as first author;
  • The opportunity to interact with members of the scientific community at appropriate scientific meetings and workshops;
  • Skills needed to transition to the next stage of the applicant’s research career; and
  • The opportunity to enhance the applicant’s understanding of the health-related sciences and the relationship of the proposed research to health and disease.

While a lot of these points would be covered in the accessory documents, you should keep this in mind when designing your specific aims. It can be a good idea to include an aim or subaim where you would learn a new technique, and then explicitly lay out in the proposal and supporting documents who will teach you this technique, what resources you have in this training, etc. Select sponsors, co-sponsors, and (potentially) collaborators carefully. Emphasizing the unique training experience a sponsor/co-sponsor/collaborator can provide can boost the training potential of a proposal.

  1. Choose a Submission Date

There are three submission due dates for the NRSA (F31 and F31 Diversity) every year (check hereLinks to an external site. under “F Series Fellowships” for updated information):

  • April (8 for F31, 13 for F31 Diversity)
  • August (8 for F31, 13 for F31 Diversity
  • December (8 for F31, 13 for F31 Diversity).

Penn has an internal deadline that is normally 1 week before the NIH submission due date.

  1. Contact the SEAS PEFS Preward office

Once you initiate an application with PEFS, they will:

  • Create a Commons ID/password for you on eRA Commons.
  • Set up your application in PennERA (login info will be your PennID)
  • Provide you with the current application guidelines and key dates.

It’s a good idea to contact PEFS as soon as you know you will be submitting in a given cycle, but at a minimum you should email them ~1 month before the submission due date.

  1. Contact References

You will need at least three, but no more than five, letters of reference – your sponsor does not count. Contact these people as soon as you can. Be sure to include the due date for the letter in your initial request for a reference. For advice on choosing these references, talk to your sponsor and consult pg. I-96 of the application guidelines.

  1. Contact your NIH Program Officer

Discuss with your sponsor to decide which NIH institute to submit your NRSA application. Review both paylines and the missions of the institute and contact the program officer to confirm if your work is a good fit for that institute.

  1. Write the Research Strategy (the science)

This process is up to you and your sponsor(s). Find a way to get it done. The page limits and formatting rules can be found on pg. I-22 and the instructions on pg. I-81 of the application guidelines.

  1. Write the accessory application documents

A complete NRSA submission requires much more than a research strategy and letters of reference. Both the applicant and the sponsor have additional sections to complete. Consult the checklist of the required (and optional) documents and pg. I-22 of the application guidelines. There are a lot of extra documents that will take time, especially when you are submitting for the first time. Make sure you give yourself time to carefully work on these documents.

  1. Assemble and Submit

All of the documents get uploaded as PDFs into PennERA. You need to have draft versions of all documents uploaded into PennERA by Penn’s internal deadline, at which point you assemble and submit the application internally. You will then have a few days to swap out the draft versions with final versions. Penn then finalizes the internal review and submits the application to NIH.

  1. And then. Wait (for what feels like an eternity)

Check the status of your application on the NIH eRA Commons site. The most up-to-date information relevant to your application will be posted here.

  • ~2–3 weeks after submission, it’ll be assigned to a Scientific Review Group (SRG) and it will be given to 3 reviewers.
  • ~2 months after submission, the SRG will meet, and you’ll know if your application was scored / the overall score that it received.
    • Scores will be posted ~2 days after the SRG meeting date
  • ~3–4 months after submission, you’ll receive a summary statement with reviewers’ comments and scores.
  • ~6 months after submission, Advisory Councils meet to set paylines, at which point you’ll know if the grant was funded.

NRSA: Document Checklist

This page is meant to contain all possible documents that might need to be attached to your application.  Each document is specified by it’s “name” and page limit, and examples of some documents are attached.  When you go to write these documents, you will definitely want to look at the guidelines for them.  If the format of the NRSA changes such that another document becomes required or one of the listed documents ceases to exist, please update the list accordingly.

A note on formatting: All documents require margins (top, bottom, left, right) of at least half an inch and a font size of at least 11.  The allowable fonts are Arial, Helvetica, Georgia, and Palatino linotype, of which Arial is the smallest. Because space can sometimes be an issue, it is probably best to set your margins, font size, and font type before you start writing. 

A streamlined 2-page application guide/checklist can also be found here: NRSA F31 Application Guide.pdfDownload NRSA F31 Application Guide.pdf. Finally, be sure to carefully read NIH’s official instructions for applications Fellowships (F), found here.

Documents that YOU are REQUIRED to write and attach to the application form

Documents that your ADVISOR is REQUIRED to write and attach to the application form

  • Sponsor and co-sponsor information (6 pages, attach to appendix). 
  • Sponsor Biographical Sketch (5 pages)

Documents that you have to write IF:

  • You will use human subjects: Human subjects (no limit)  
  • You will use vertebrate animals: Vertebrate animals (no limit)
  • You are inventing stuff: Resource sharing plan (no limit)
    • Include this if you will be writing any custom code (e.g: MATLAB, Python, R) for data collection, analysis, stimulus presentation, etc. 
  • You are getting dangerous: Select Agent Research (no limit)
  • You are applying for money elsewhere: Application for concurrent support (1 page)

Other documents that you might want to attach:

  • Letters of Support from Collaborators, Contributors, and Consultants (6 pages)
    • If you are collaborating with another lab for a technique or experiment, or need extra expertise via a consultant, include letters from those people. It will definitely strengthen the application
    • People who are writing your reference letters can also additionally provide a Letter of Support

Reference Letters are REQUIRED, but referees submit them directly 

  • Referees submit their letters directly to the NIH. Instructions can be found hereLinks to an external site.. Be careful to provide referees with all relevant information, including your commons user name and the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) number. You will get a confirmation e-mail when they successfully submit. Send reminders to letter writers if you do not get a confirmation.