medical scientist training program

Individual Fellowship Opportunities


While our students have guaranteed funding through the program, derived from a variety of sources - MSTP and other training grants, institutional funds, grants of thesis mentors and a number of others – there are a number of reasons students may want to consider applying for an individual fellowship.  These include:

  • Experience:  the process of applying for a fellowship is valuable, and gives you a taste of what it will be like to apply for other fellowships and research grants later in your career.
  • Kudos:  competing against a national pool of candidates and receiving an individual fellowship from NIH or another funder looks great on your cv.
  • Money/opportunity:  For most students, receiving an individual fellowship will not change your stipend level, but these awards often come with additional funds for travel to conferences or other educational expenses (computers, books, etc).
  • Benefit to mentor:  If you receive an individual fellowship to help support your own training costs, this frees up funds for your mentor to use for other research/personnel costs.

Big picture advice from our Director, Skip Brass, MD, PhD

  • Things to include in your proposal. Remember that these are training awards, not research awards. In general (especially for NIH F awards, but the others as well), reviewers will score your application based on their impressions in 3 areas. All three areas receive similar weight, so don't blow it by talking solely about the science and giving short shrift to the other parts. The three parts are:

  • 1) You - your credentials up to this point, your career plans and your potential for the future
    2) The training/mentoring environment, including your thesis mentor and the training program (talk about all that the MD-PhD program does to help you prepare for a career as a physician-investigator) (also talk about the graduate program you are enrolled in)
    3) The likely impact of the science and how well you explain it. Depending upon the funding source, the directions may not tell you to have separate sections that address these 3 areas, but they want to know.
  • Reviewers may be clueless. You may have a reviewer who is an expert in your area of research - but don't count on it. Write a proposal that describes your ideas and plans clearly enough that a scientifically-educated reader can follow comfortably. Since you are not the Oracle of Delphi, there are no points for being obscure. Don't annoy your reviewers by striving for opacity. Have your proposal draft ready far enough in advance that you can ask friends from outside your immediate lab group to read it. See if they get it and fix it if they don't.
  • Preliminary data. For F awards, preliminary data are nice to have, but not mandatory. Read the directions for advice.
  • If applying for an NIH F award, contact your program officer at the NIH. It can be very helpful to call the program officer at the NIH institute that will review and fund your fellowship before you apply. Ask about their goals for the science that they wish to support. Be prepared to discuss with him/her the field of research that you are doing. They especially like it if your thesis advisor has research support from the same institute, so check before you call/email and mention that. Program officers don't vote scores for proposals, but they usually have a pretty good idea of what the reviewers on their study section are most interested in. In general, follow their advice if they are willing to give it to you.
  • NIH training support for medical school years post-PhD. Some of the NIH institutes have policies that either allow them or prevent them from continuing to support MD-PhD students once they head back to finish medical school. Only way to know for sure is to ask, but be sure to read the online information first. If they do allow support during the last year of med school, you should request it and may need to postpone the formal awarding of the PhD until you graduate medical school. This does NOT mean that you should (or can) postpone your thesis defense - that will still be required to take place just before returning to clinics (as in the past). It may be helpful to note in your training plan that you will continue to conduct research in your MS4 year, once the bulk of your full time clinical responsibilities are completed. The majority of MD-PhD students do additional research after completing the PhD and before graduation, and noting this may increase the likelihood that you can retain fellowship funding after defending.

Information about specific fellowship opportunities

Many fellowship opportunities are tied to particular research areas.  There are also fellowships that are broad in terms of area of research, but have other eligibility criteria- eg awards for underrepresented minority students.

  • Some of the fellowships current students hold or have applied for include:
  • There is a longer list of fellowships with MD-PhD students can apply for at  Penn students can consider the fellowships on both List A and List B.  (We actively encourage students to consider applying for Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards from the NIH).  Your thesis mentor may also have suggestions about particular awards he/she thinks you should consider.

Process and tips for applying

  • Carefully read through all of the requirements for the application from start to finish, and make sure you’re aware of everything you and others will need to provide.  Also be sure that you closely read the eligibility requirements for the particular fellowship you’re considering, to be certain you can apply.
  • If you are planning to apply for an individual NIH fellowship, contact Marianne Altland Williams, Grants Manager, in the Finance Office, as far in advance as possible (at least 6 weeks before the deadline).  She will provide essential information and guidance about the budget aspect of the application, and the process for getting required approvals from the Office of Research Services. There is also a very helpful powerpoint presentation on the BGS website at - click the link that says “Application Process for Individual NRSA” which has info about F30s and F31s. Awards need to be submitted electronically, and it is vital that you work with Marianne to be sure everything is coordinated such that you meet Penn’s requirements and the funding agency’s specifications. 
  • If you are applying for a non-NIH fellowship, contact your thesis mentor’s Business Administrator, as far in advance as possible, for assistance.
  • Keep your Grad Group in the loop. Let your GG Chair and Coordinator know that you plan to apply, and consider including the Chair among those to review your draft proposal.
  • Many fellowship applications require letters of reference.  Contact the people you would like to ask for letters from as far in advance as possible, and make sure to provide any necessary forms and information about the deadline.  Offer to meet with them if they would like to discuss your application, and provide background information such as your CV and, if available, a draft of your research proposal.
  • Many fellowship applications also require official transcripts or other documentation.  Put in requests for those materials early so you’re able to meet the deadline.
  • Some fellowships require background information about Penn, the MD-PhD program, or specific aspects of training (eg responsible conduct of research).  If you have questions, be sure to ask someone (Marianne; Skip or Maggie; grad group leadership, etc).  Our requirement for responsible conduct of research is at
  • Have your proposal drafted well in advance, so you can solicit feedback from your thesis mentor and others. It’s a good idea to have at least three people read your draft, and as noted above in “Skip’s advice”, one or more of those individuals should be from outside of your own lab.

Relevant policies for fellowship recipients

  • Students are expected to abide by the conditions specified in their individual fellowship award, along with all relevant graduate group, School and University policies.
  • If the stipend amount provided by the fellowship is equal to or less than the current MD-PhD stipend level, then the student will continue to receive the current MD-PhD stipend level going forward.  If the stipend amount provided by the fellowship is greater than the current MD-PhD stipend level, the student will receive the full amount of the fellowship stipend for the duration of the award.
  • If the fellowship comes with funds for research expenses, cost of education allowance, and/or travel, Marianne Altland Williams or the relevant business administrator, can provide information about what the funds may be used for and how to process payment.
  • For students who are awarded a significant (non-NIH) external fellowship, the CD program provides students with a Cost of Education allowance of $2,500/year, to support their educational and research activities. Fellows can use their allowance to fund travel to conferences related to their research field, books, lab supplies,one computer and associated peripherals. iPads and similar devices are also OK. If not spent in one year, funds can be carried over to the next but NOT beyond the end of your external fellowship.

Student Resources

The MD-PhD students below have volunteered to be a resource for our current Penn MD-PhD students who are considering applying for an individual fellowship. You can e-mail them with particular questions or to arrange to get together and talk over the process:

 Student  Grad Group Year Awarded Agency / Org
Irene Chernova IGG 2012 NHLBI
Nam (Will) Cho CAMB 2013 HHMI (International)
Matt Emmett CAMB 2014 NIDDK
Mark Ferreira CAMB 2013 NCI
Alex Gill NGG 2014 NIMH
Lucie Guo BMB 2014 NCI
Ankit Jain NGG 2011 HHMI
Yin Li NGG 2011 Soros
Rose Li CAMB 2014, 2014, 2012, 2012 NIAMS, AAUW (offered), Soros, AHA (offered)
Bo Qiu CAMB 2013 NCI
Ashwin Ramayya NGG 2014 NIMH
Kevan Salimian BMB 2011 AHA
Jessica Shay CAMB 2012 NCI
Steven Siegel CAMB 2013 NHLBI
Sean Spencer IMUN 2011 NIDDK
Nabil Thalji PHRM 2013, 2013 NHLBI, AHA
Liz Traxler CAMB 2014 NIDDK
Ting Yang CAMB 2012 Canadian Inst of Health Research


Many of the above students have provided our office with a copy of their application for current Penn MD-PhD students to review. If you’d like to request a copy, please contact Amy Nothelfer at