Predoctoral Fellowships


BGS students are guaranteed funding for stipend, tuition, fees, and health insurance throughout the program. The funding is derived from a variety of sources, particularly training grants, institutional funds, and research grants of thesis mentors. However, 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 develops grant writing skills.
  • Prestige: Competing against a national pool of candidates and receiving an individual fellowship from an external funding agency can make a student more competitive for subsequent awards.
  • Financial Benefits: For most students, receiving an individual fellowship will not increase the stipend, but awards often come with additional funds for travel to conferences or other educational expenses (computers, books, etc).
  • Benefit to Mentor: Student fellowships free up funds for the lab’s research and other personnel.

Most of the BGS students who receive external fellowships are awarded National Institutes of Health (NIH) individual predoctoral National Research Service Award (NRSA) F30 or F31 awards or National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards.

Many fellowship opportunities are tied to particular research areas and support students at the thesis stage. There are also fellowships that are broad in terms of area of research, but have other eligibility criteria, e.g., awards for students with underrepresented backgrounds.


Students typically apply in their third year, post-candidacy exam. The awards may be up to 3 years in duration.  Note that students may receive no more than 5 years combined total of NIH NRSA support from T32s and F30 or F31 awards.  (In some cases, combined degree students may receive a 6th year of NRSA support.) Additional information on the NIH fellowship application process is provided here.


Students may apply as undergraduates or in their first two years of graduate school. The awards may be up to 3 years in duration. Some BGS NSF award recipients elect to defer the NSF award to support them during the thesis stage. BGS students may receive up to $2500 in each of the fellowship years for education-related expenses (see policies below).  Students who are interested in applying should confer with their graduate group or program chair.

Other External Awards

Additional Compilations of Grad Student Funding Opportunities

Tips for Applying

  • Carefully read through all of the requirements for the application from start to finish. Make sure you’re aware of everything you and others will need to provide.  Make sure that you meet the eligibility requirements for the particular fellowship you’re considering.
  • Inform your graduate group or program chair and your thesis mentor (if you have one yet) of your interest in submitting an application. Often the graduate program will provide guidance on preparing an application, including text that describes your training experience and examples of text from successful applications.
  • If you are planning to apply for an individual NIH fellowship, contact Marianne Altland, 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.  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. 
  • Determine if the fellowship allows for direct application or if students must be nominated by the institution. The BGS Office handles nominations for the Gilliam or the Blavatnik, require that a student be nominated by the designated institutional official. Contact the BGS Office or your Graduate Group Chair for more information.
  • Contact your thesis mentor’s Business Administrator, as far in advance as possible, for assistance, if you are applying for a direct application fellowship other than the NIH or NSF.
  • Prepare to obtain 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.
  • Prepare to obtain transcripts, if required. Some fellowships require transcripts. Submit requests for early so you’re able to meet the deadline.
  • Prepare to obtain any other institutional letters of support. If you are applying for a fellowship that requires an eligibility verification letter from the institution, such as an NIH F31 Diversity application, contact Gabby Ostapovich

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 BGS stipend level, then the student will continue to receive the current BGS stipend level.  If the stipend amount provided by the fellowship is greater than the current BGS 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, the relevant business administrator can provide information about what the funds may be used for and how to process.  For NIH F30 and F31 awards, contact Marianne Altland for more information.

Students who are awarded an NSF fellowship receive a BGS-funded award in the amount of $2500 for each of the 3 years of the fellowship. The award can be used for education-related expenses (computer, books, conferences, lab supplies, etc.). Contact Jill Baxter for additional information.

Students who are awarded a Blavatnik fellowship receive a BGS-funded award in the amount of $2500 that can be use during the award year for education-related expenses (computer, books, conferences, lab supplies, etc.) Contact Jill Baxter for additional information.

Instructions for BGS Students Applying for NIH NRSA F Awards