Frequently Asked Questions for Current Fellows

Are you a current or incoming NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellow with questions about your fellowship? Browse the following frequently asked questions regarding renewing your fellowship, eligibility, requirements of your appointment, and more.

General Information

The renewal process must be initiated by the Fellow and the advisor at least two months prior to the Fellow's appointment termination date. The Fellow completes the online application for renewal form through their NPP Portal account. Once this form is submitted, the advisor is notified of the pending renewal, reviews the Fellow’s renewal form and enters their evaluation in their NPP Portal account. After their evaluation is submitted, the NPP Center representative is notified of the pending renewal, and accesses both the Fellow’s renewal form as well as the advisor’s evaluation form through their Center representative portal account. The Center representative is responsible for approving the renewal request. ORAU will be notified automatically of the renewal decision, and the Fellow will be notified of the decision by email. The first and second years of the appointment are most commonly supported by NPP program funds. Support for a third year, however, must be provided by the NPP advisor’s project funds or by funding provided by the Center.

NPP Fellows may not be selected for two consecutive awards at either one Center or two different Centers, but they are eligible for another award five years after the end of a previous appointment.

See the Eligibility page for complete eligibility information. Citizenship requirements are provided with each NPP research opportunity. Even those opportunities that are open to most foreign nationals may not be available to all foreign nationals, (for example, persons who are citizens of designated countries may be excluded). Researchers who are affiliated with an institution in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or who intend to collaborate with researchers in the PRC are not eligible for an NPP award. Applicants who think they will fall into one of these categories should contact ORAU.

Non-U.S. citizens with J-1 Visa status as a research scholar, lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, or an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with pending LPR status are eligible to receive an NPP Fellowship. Non-U.S. citizens selected for an appointment must contact ORAU concerning their Visa status and provide evidence that they have the required Visa status before they can begin an NPP appointment. An H-1 B status is not acceptable because the NPP is not an employment program. Non-U.S. citizens selected for an appointment must contact ORAU concerning their immigration status and provide evidence that they have the required status that will allow them to participate for at least two years.

NASA Centers require a background investigation before you start your appointment. You will be notified in advance by the Center regarding background investigation requirements and need for security clearances.

Your appointment start date (the first day you report to the appointment facility to officially begin the appointment) should normally be no later than six months from the date of the ORAU offer letter. The offer letter will include the approximate start date for the appointment. If there are special circumstances, such as Visa requirements, that require you to change the start date or delay the start date beyond six months, you must notify the NPP advisor, the NPP Center representative, and ORAU to confirm whether the start date can be amended. The Center may rescind the offer of appointment if you and your advisor cannot agree on a start date. The termination or end date is the last day you will be at your appointment facility. It may be amended for a variety of reasons, including early departure, appointment renewals, etc.

If the Fellow resides more than 50 miles from the assigned NASA facility, relocation assistance may be provided by ORAU. Before you make any arrangements to relocate, you should contact ORAU NPP staff. Relocation travel arrangements must be approved by ORAU and must adhere to federal travel regulations and ORAU Travel Guidelines. ORAU staff can provide information, assistance, and approvals for your relocation travel arrangements.

Coordinate your arrival with your Center representative. Normally, you will report to your advisor and your Center representative.

The NPP advisor serves as a mentor and professional colleague, but does not act as a supervisor. The advisor guides the postdoctoral Fellow in all aspects of the research or management activity and provides office space, equipment, office supplies, publication costs, and expendables required to accomplish the proposed research; information on security and safety; expected attendance schedules; and other requirements relevant to the location of your appointment.

NPP Fellows are not allowed to supplement their stipends through simultaneous employment, grants, or other sources of income that compete with the fellowship activities. Fellows are expected to work full time on their NPP research and should not have time during their appointment to conduct another research project.

To be successful, Fellows must conduct research and publish the results in peer-reviewed journals. NASA dissuades first-year NPP Fellows from spending time on proposals lest it distract from these important goals. Fellows should not need to raise funds to conduct their NPP research since advisors and host organizations provide the required office, laboratory space, instruments, computers, access, data, supplies, books, publication charges, poster printing, etc.

NASA understands that proposal writing is part of a science career, and therefore, encourages Fellows to write and submit proposals during the second year of the NPP appointment. General guidelines regarding proposals can be found in the Proposal Support section on the Policies and Procedures page. For additional details or questions, please contact your Center representative.

Yes, Fellows may affiliate with another organization to propose for post-NPP funding. The budget for support after the end of the fellowship should be provided by that organization and included with the proposal submission.

NASA has invited NPP Fellows to volunteer to serve as peer reviewers through the NSPIRES process. When registering on NSPIRES, the Fellows should “affiliate” themselves with the NASA Center at which they reside, not with ORAU. Also, the Fellows should identify themselves in NSPIRES as peer reviewers, rather than principal investigators.

A supplemental activity is allowed if the following criteria are met:

  • Fellow is able to remain fully involved in the research and educational opportunities available in the NPP appointment while engaging in the supplemental activity.
  • Any associated payment for the supplemental activity does not represent dual payment for the same activity.
  • Fellows do not utilize any of the NASA resources available as part of their appointment while engaging in the supplemental activity.

For more information, see Duplicate Receipt of Benefits Prohibited section of the Policies and Procedures page. Questions regarding the allowability of specific activities should be directed to npp@orau.org.

NPP Fellows can receive a plaque or certificate of appreciation or recognition, but are not allowed to receive monetary awards in any form for research being supported by the NPP Fellowship. NPP Fellows are not allowed to supplement their stipends through simultaneous employment, grants, or other sources of income that compete with the fellowship activities. NASA requires that the Fellow be fully involved in the research and educational opportunities available in the NPP appointment. During the appointment, the Fellow may not provide services for compensation to a third party. But awards, prizes, review panel honoraria, scholarships, Veterans Administration benefits, sabbatical compensation, and similar payments may be accepted by an NPP Fellow, provided these payments do not represent dual payment for the research being supported by the NPP Fellowship. Monetary awards given by the Center for research activities may not be accepted.

Fellows are encouraged to publish their research findings in the peer-reviewed open literature. They are required to adhere to the host facility’s requirements for prior review and approval of all material, whether written or prepared for oral presentation. All publications should include appropriate acknowledgment of the NASA Postdoctoral Program appointment, the host facility, and ORAU. See Reports and Publications Acknowledgement on the Policies and Procedures page for more information.

Guidelines and procedures for publications, copyrights, and patents should be discussed with the NASA advisor and NPP Center representative at the start of the appointment. See Publications, Copyrights, and Patents under the Notification and Terms of Appointment page.

Publication charges are not a part of the NPP award budget. Such costs should be provided by the NPP advisor’s project funds or by the host facility. Fellows should discuss their host facility’s publication policy with their NASA advisor and their NPP Center representative.

Yes. Each NPP Fellow must submit a final report immediately prior to the end of the appointment. The final report should summarize the research accomplishments during the fellowship appointment. The final report is submitted by completing a brief web-based form that includes sections for listing all publications, papers presented, conference participation, and other aspects of the appointment. The release of the final stipend payment is contingent upon receipt of the final report by ORAU. In addition, each Center may also have annual and end-of-appointment reporting requirements. Ask your Center representative for details.

Because the NASA style guide prohibits the use of any logo other than the NASA logo for branding purposes, the round NPP logo cannot be used alone at the top of a poster. The “stacked” NPP logo can be used as a graphic element in the heading of the body of the poster. The NPP Poster Style Guide demonstrates the correct placement of logos. The NASA identification—combination of the spelled out agency name on the left and the NASA logo (meatball) on the right—must always have more prominence than the NPP “graphic header.” It must also always have the same spacing between it and the NPP graphic header.

Fellows must immediately inform their advisor, the NPP Center representative, and ORAU. This written notification should be submitted at least 30 days before the early termination date. If Fellows terminate their initial appointment with fewer than 12 months of participation, the Fellow must repay in full any reimbursed relocation expenses and/or stipend advance they may have received. The Fellow must also submit a final report and settle any outstanding travel expense statements.

Anticipated research needs and special requirements necessary to conduct the proposed research should be identified in the NPP application (see the Research Proposal section of the application). The NPP advisor or NASA Center must provide all hardware, software, books, publication charges, printing/laminating of posters and/or handouts for presentations at conferences or meetings and other equipment needed for the proposed research. Programmatic funds (e.g., travel budget) cannot be used to pay for these and other items needed for the proposed research.

No, the appointment must be continuous; a break between appointment years is not allowed.

Potential applicants should send questions to npp@orau.org.

Stipend and Benefits

The stipend amount for postdoctoral Fellows is based on the location of appointment and degree specialty. The stipend amount for Senior Fellows is based on the location of the appointment, experience (number of years beyond the doctoral degree), and career achievement (academic rank and professional title).

Stipends are paid on the last business day of each month. ORAU encourages electronic deposit to an account of the Fellow’s choice, which ensures regular and timely deposits and documentation. If you begin your fellowship on or after the 24th of the month, your stipend payment for this first month will be paid in the next month’s stipend. Stipend payments will be pro-rated if the Fellow is participating for only part of a month.

If you are enrolled in the ORAU health insurance program, NASA will pay approximately 85% of your insurance premium, and you will pay the remainder. The NASA portion of the monthly insurance premium is considered part of the stipend award. This NASA health insurance contribution is shown as part of the stipend on the “Statement of Earnings” each month. For example, if your monthly stipend is $4,200 and you have elected to purchase insurance coverage through ORAU, your pay stub would reflect the following information:

Amount of check or deposit = $4,200 + NASA’s portion of insurance - full cost of insurance. In addition, a foreign national may have taxes withheld at a rate of 14% from the stipend, unless there is an exemption from withholding based on the tax treaty between the U.S. and the country of origin. If a Fellow only participates in the postdoctoral program for a part of a month, the Fellow’s stipend amount and insurance contribution will be pro-rated.

Monthly insurance premiums are paid at the end of the month.

If your appointment begins after the first day of the month or terminates before the final day of the month, your stipend for that month will be prorated based on the number of days of participation in that month.

The Fellow may request an advance of up to 50% of the first month’s stipend. ORAU must receive a written request to npp@orau.org for the advance at least 30 days prior to the starting date. Once the Fellow has been officially certified to start their appointment, the advance in the amount requested has been approved, and all approved paperwork and banking information has been received and processed by ORAU, the advance amount requested can be included in the next stipend batching process in accordance with the established payment schedules. The stipend advance will be direct deposited into the Fellows banking account. A stipend advance is an allotted payment to defer living expenses until the first full stipend payment is received. To recover the amount of the stipend advance payment, ORAU will reduce the stipend payment by a fixed amount each month for the number of months specified by the Fellow (up to 10 months) beginning with the second month of the appointment. If the Fellow chooses to terminate the appointment before the stipend advance has been repaid, the Fellow must repay the stipend advance in full before the final stipend check will be released.

Yes. If you already have health insurance, all pertinent information must be included on the signed terms of appointment. Before the appointment can begin, you must also provide a copy of your insurance card. If you do not already have health insurance, you may purchase coverage through the health insurance group plan offered by ORAU.

ORAU offers Fellows the opportunity to participate in an NPP group health insurance plan. ORAU also offers optional dental and vision insurance coverage for NASA Fellows at the Fellow’s expense.

Yes, NASA supplements your stipend to offset the cost of your health insurance through ORAU. Since that supplement is considered part of your stipend, it is taxable.

Fellows are covered by accident and death/dismemberment insurance (worker’s compensation-type insurance), which covers you while engaged in official research/research management activities related to your appointment. This insurance covers allowable expenses that are not covered by a personal health insurance policy. Fellows must immediately report any injury received while engaged in appointment-related research/research management activities to your advisor, the NPP Center representative, and the ORAU NPP director.

No. An NPP Fellow is not an employee of NASA, ORAU, the host facility, or any other office or agency. The Fellow is affiliated with ORAU for the administration of the appointment through the ORAU offer letter and terms of appointment and has a guest appointment at the NASA-designated facility.

Fellows are not employees; therefore, there are no employment-related benefits such as paid vacations, sick leave, or unemployment compensation. A Fellow may be excused from NPP research activities for brief periods due to illness, personal emergencies, or other unforeseen circumstances. A Fellow may also take brief breaks from NPP research activities for vacation. The Fellow should communicate with the NPP advisor and NPP Center representative during these absences to discuss the impact, if any, on the NPP research activities and milestones. The monthly stipend will not be impacted and the Fellow’s appointment will not be extended by the period of absence.

A Fellow may take a prolonged break from NPP research activities for up to 12 weeks during the appointment period for the birth or adoption of a child. The Fellow should notify the NPP Advisor, NPP Center representative, and ORAU prior to the absence. The Fellow and NPP advisor must assess the impact on the NPP research activities and milestones, if any. The Fellow may choose to continue the monthly stipend during this prolonged absence. In this case, the Fellow’s appointment will not be extended by the period of absence. Alternatively, the Fellow may choose to suspend their stipend during this prolonged absence. In such cases, the appointment period will be extended by the period of absence.

Taxes

Since NPP Fellows are not employees, and because they receive awards (not wages), ORAU does not withhold state or federal income taxes from award payments for U.S. citizens. Participants, therefore, should consider filing Form 1040-ES on a quarterly basis and paying estimated federal income taxes to avoid late payment penalties. Travel expense reimbursements are not taxable. Effective 2018, relocation expense reimbursements are taxable. Prior to 2018, relocation expense reimbursements are not taxable.

Fellows should consult a tax accountant or other tax professional regarding state and federal income tax requirements. NPP Fellows receive award payments from ORAU, which are reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by ORAU as “Miscellaneous Income — Prizes and Awards” as defined in IRS Code Section 74. All payments by ORAU should be reported on the Fellow's federal income tax return Form 1040 as "Other Income" and be identified as a "Fellowship Award."

ORAU will review existing treaties between the Fellow's country of citizenship and the United States to determine federal income tax withholdings. In general, ORAU is required to withhold 14% of the monthly stipend from non-U.S. citizens on a J-1 Visa for federal income tax purposes unless an exemption from withholding is provided by tax treaty between the US and the country of origin. ORAU does not withhold state income taxes. Travel expense reimbursements are not taxable. Effective 2018, relocation expense reimbursements are taxable. Prior to 2018, relocation expense reimbursements are not taxable. Fellows should consult a tax accountant or other tax professional regarding state and federal income tax requirements. NPP Fellows receive award payments from ORAU, which are reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by ORAU as “Miscellaneous Income — prizes and awards” as defined in IRS Code Section 74. All payments by ORAU should be reported on the Fellow’s federal income tax return Form 1040 as “Other Income” and be identified as a “Fellowship Award.”

Yes. Since NPP Fellows are not employees and since they receive awards (not wages), they are exempt from paying Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Yes, NASA supplements your stipend to offset the cost of your health insurance through ORAU. Since that supplement is part of your stipend, it is taxable.

Travel

The ORAU Travel Central website provides information about how to successfully submit travel requests and travel expense reports for reimbursement. In addition, find information about travel guidelines, useful links, required forms and an FAQ section that provides answers to common questions about travel.

Visit the Travel Central website

If a Fellow resides more than 50 miles from the assigned NASA facility, limited reimbursement of expenses for relocating from the Fellow’s current residence address to the area of the assigned NASA facility will be provided. Reimbursement of any allowable expenses must adhere to the federal travel regulations and ORAU/NPP travel guidelines. Fellows should contact ORAU before any relocation plans are made. See Relocation on the Travel During Appointment page for more information.

U.S. citizen Postdoctoral Fellows will not be reimbursed for outbound moving expenses when their appointments end. Senior Fellows on sabbatical may qualify for limited reimbursement, to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Non-U.S. citizen Fellows who relocate from outside the United States may be provided a limited allowance for outbound relocation to return to their home countries when their appointments terminate. Non-U.S. citizen Fellows who relocate from outside the United States and will remain in the U.S. after the termination of the NPP appointment, and non-U.S. citizen Fellows who are already residing in the United States when the appointment offer is made, will not be reimbursed for outbound relocation expenses.

Yes. Your NPP Fellowship appointment provides $10,000 per appointment year for travel to professional meetings and conferences; to gather research-related data at field sites or observatories; and for required training (including registration fees) related to the research. Any books, workbooks, software, equipment, or other materials required for training, which are not included in the registration fee, must be provided by the NPP advisor or host facility. Also, travel funds cannot be used to purchase equipment, software, books; pay membership fees in professional societies, publication charges, abstract fees, printing/laminating of posters and/or handouts for presentations at conferences and meetings; or purchase other materials and supplies.

Yes.

Travel requests must be approved by the advisor and Center representative and submitted at least three weeks prior to the departure date for domestic travel and at least four weeks in advance for foreign travel. Once travel is completed, Fellows will request reimbursements from ORAU.

It is recommended that Fellows purchase airfare through the ORAU travel agent, but are not required to do so. If the travel was authorized by NASA and approved by ORAU, travel reimbursement will be in accordance with the ORAU travel policy. If the ORAU travel agent is not used, we advise that the Fellow consult with USRA prior to purchasing airfare to ensure that the travel complies with the Fly America Act so that the airfare will be reimbursable. See the Fly America Act (PDF, 59 KB) for more information. If you are a non-U.S. citizen Fellow and plan to travel outside the United States, you must have the proper documents you will need to re-enter the United States. See the Travel During Appointment page for more information.

In general, you may travel for personal reasons during the appointment. The NPP Center representative must notify ORAU of any personal travel that will result in an unpaid absence from the Center at least two weeks in advance of the Fellow’s departure date. All personal travel by non-U.S. citizen Fellows and their legal dependents must be coordinated through ORAU prior to travel. For travel outside the United States, you must have the proper documents you will need to re-enter the United States. See the Travel During Appointment page for more information.

Personal travel may be taken as part of programmatic travel, but the number of days of personal travel should be less than the number of days of programmatic travel. Expenses associated with personal travel cannot be reimbursed from the Fellow’s programmatic funds. All personal travel must be coordinated through ORAU and pre-approved by your NPP advisor and NPP Center representative at your facility.

For domestic travel within the United States, submit the approved travel request at least three weeks in advance. For foreign travel, submit the approved travel request at least six weeks prior to the departure date.

If conference participation and commute time to a local conference is 12 hours or more, then yes this is considered business travel and you would be eligible for a travel reimbursement per the NPP travel manual. If conference participation and commute time to the local conference is less than 12 hours, then this is considered local travel and your reimbursement is limited to items such as mileage, tolls, parking and conference fees.