FAQs About Doing Research at NIH
back to top
I want to write a general information article about NIH history. Where should I start?
The best place to begin is with the NIH Historian's
"Short History of NIH" on the web: http://history.nih.gov/exhibits/history/index.html.There
is also a bibliography of NIH history posted on
the NIH History Office and Stetten Museum's website.
What is the difference between "intramural" and "extramural" research at NIH?
Intramural NIH research is done by scientists employed by the Federal government.Most of them work on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.Extramural NIH research is done across the United States and in some foreign countries by investigators who have been awarded grants through the NIH grant program.
What is a"Federal record"?
A Federal record can be any document created for or received by the government in the course of doing business.These records are the property of the U.S. Government and do not belong to individuals. NIH Federal records meet at least one of the following requirements:
(1) they contain information about the organization, functions, policies, procedures, decisions or other activities of NIH or any of its components, or
(2) they contain information, such as biomedical data, which is useful to NIH in carrying out its mission
Federal records can come in any form, such as paper, microfilm, tapes, cards, or disks.They can be things commonly found in office files, such as letters, memoranda, or reports. They may also be laboratory notebooks, instrument readings, photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures, maps, books, drawings, data bases, or in any other form or format.
Working with each government agency, archivists at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) create a document called a records schedule that identifies documents as permanent or non-permanent according to type. Permanent records at NIH are kept for 30 years, then reviewed again by NARA archivists and added to Record Group (RG) 443: Records of the NIH. Non-permanent records are destroyed after a specified period of time. For information about finding these records, see Answers 9 and 10.
back to top
How do I find information about an NIH grant that was awarded before 1972?
How do I find information about an NIH grant that was awarded since 1972?
Abstracts of grants awarded before 1972 are printed
in the annual bibliography of NIH grants. For
a list of these publications, see Sources
for Information on NIH Research Grants.The
publications are available at most university
librarieswith a Federal documents section and
in some medical school libraries.They can also
be ordered by interlibrary loan through your local
Abstracts of grants awarded since 1972 are available online via the Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects (CRISP) system at http://crisp.cit.nih.gov. Questions about CRISP can be directed to Dorrette Finch at email@example.com.Copies of full grant applications, when available, can only be requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process; see the answer to question 18, below.
How can I trace the history of a particular grant's approval process?
For basic information on approval date and grant amount, see answers 4 and 5 above.For most grants, however, there is no permanent record of the peer review and approval process, such as the “pink sheet” comments of the initial
review group or "study section".The National Archives and Records Administration does not routinely keep case files for grants.In a few cases, an individual scientist may have donated grant records to a private archive, such as a university's
special collections.Sometimes an NIH institute keeps grant information in a Federal records Center beyond the scheduled destruction date.Researchers can contact the institute’s Records Manager to see if such materials have been retained.
Start by consulting the Office of NIH History.A list of Records Managers can be found at http://oma.od.nih.gov/about/contact/browse.asp?fa_id=2.
back to top
How can I trace the history of a grant application that was turned down?
Under the Privacy Act of 1974, the Federal government
is not permitted to keep records of grants that
were not funded.All such records are destroyed.
For additional information about the Privacy Act,
I can't find any current information on some NIH institutes described in older reference material, such as the National Microbiological Institute or the NIH Division of Biologics Standards.What happened to these organizations?
Many NIH components have undergone name changes
over the years. For a complete history of these
changes, see this
Some institutes have also switched
agencies altogether. For example, in 1972 the
NIH Division of Biologics Standards (formerly
the Bureau of Biologics) was transferred administratively
to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Today
it is known as the Center for Biologics Evaluation
and Research (CBER). Its buildings remain on
the NIH campus in Bethesda.For information about
biologics activities since 1972, contact the
FDA Historians: Dr. Suzanne White Junod (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr.
John Swann (email@example.com),
phone (301) 443-6367. For information
on biologics activities before 1972, or for
other questions on biologics activities before
1972, contact the Office of NIH History.
Where can I find information on a study that took place more than 30 years ago?
Federal records (see Question 3), if more than 30 years old and deemed historically
significant, are stored in the National Archives (http://www.nara.gov).
NIH records are kept in the Archives II facility in College Park, Maryland.
To arrange a visit, make an appointment with either of the archivists who
handle NIH records, Marjorie Ciarlante: firstname.lastname@example.org,
phone (301)837-1593, or Michael Hussey: email@example.com,
phone (301)837-1829. Alternatively, contact the Civilian Records Branch at
Other useful contacts for older NIH records are:
- the historians of the Food and Drug Administration History Office, (301) 443-6367: Dr. Suzanne White Junod (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. John Swann (email@example.com).
back to top
Where can I find information on a study done in the last 30 years?
NIH records less than 30 years old are held by the creating institute. Such
files must be accessed either through an institute’s Records Manager
or via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process. The best place to begin,
however, is with the NIH History Office. Please contact the Office of NIH
History. You can also access a list of institute Records Managers at http://oma.od.nih.gov/about/contact/browse.asp?fa_id=2 and
read more about FOIA requests at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/foia/.
Where can I find information about an ongoing project, such as the Framingham Heart Study?
Start by consulting the Office of NIH History to locate the information you want.Some current information is held by the originating institution. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), for example, has made data collected in its Framingham Heart Study available for purchase by investigators (see http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/framingham).Some other records must be obtained via the Freedom of Information Act process (see http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/foia/).
How do I determine when a particular scientist worked at NIH?How do I find out who the lab chief was?
Where can I get information about the projects on which a particular scientist worked as a postdoctoral fellow at NIH?
How can I find out about the gender, race, and national origin composition of NIH scientists?
There are several sources of historical NIH personnel information available:
For NIH personnel before 1950, especially for the PHS
Commissioned Officers Corps, the best place to
begin is the Office of the Public Health Service
Historian. Contact Dr. Alexandra Lord at (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (301)
The names of NIH personnel since 1950 can usually
be found in the annual NIH telephone books held
by the NIH History Office. These publications are
divided into an alphabetical listing and an organizational
listing. Using the two together makes it possible
to identify, for example, which laboratory an intramural
investigator worked in and who his or her laboratory
chief was. The NIH History Office and the NIH
Library all hold published copies of the NIH Scientific
Directory and Annual Bibliography for 1956-1992.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) has volumes
from 1969-1992.For the period after 1992, an NIH
Intramural Database is being constructed. Currently,
only the CRISP
database can to identify individuals and their
projects. See http://crisp.cit.nih.gov.
An NIH Historical Database
of personnel will be available in 2002 and information
will be automatically migrated from databases
of current employees. Because of Privacy Act and
Equal Opportunity concerns, aggregate reports
from this database will be generated only by appointment
with the Office of NIH History.(See http://oma.od.nih.gov/ms/privacy
for more information.) Eventual plans also include
a linked online database showing NIH organizational
history to the laboratory and branch level.
back to top
How can I arrange to interview someone currently working at NIH?
Consult the Office of NIH History to arrange interviews.
What sources of NIH history are in the National Library of Medicine?
The History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine holds some manuscript collections, photographs, and posters related to NIH history.See http://www.nlm.nih.gov/nlmhome.html.
What actions of the NIH Director might have affected the studies I wish to research?
The Office of the Director of NIH maintains its own files on the activities and policies of the Director and other senior NIH officials, including the Director of Intramural Research and the Director of Extramural Research.Normally, these files are available via a Freedom of Information Act request (see http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/foia/).As with other searches for NIH documents, the best place to begin is with a consultation with the Office of NIH History.
Where can I find information about past NIH budgets?
Overview NIH budget information from 1938 through 2000 is published in the NIH Almanac (http://www.nih.gov/about/almanac/index.html). More recent and detailed budget information may be requested from: Lee Pushkin, Assistant Director for Budget, Office of Budget, NIH, at (301) 496-9428, or email@example.com.
Should I use the Freedom of Information Act to get historical information?
Requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) may or may not be the best approach for historical researchers.You should review the FOIA website at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/foia/ for general information about the process.As always, make an initial appointment with the Office of NIH History.
I am doing picture research for a project. Where can I find an NIH physician's "official" photograph? Where can I find photos of people working in labs?
No central collection of "official" photographs
exists. Photos of individuals and of research
activities may be found primarily in three places:
- The Office
of NIH History photo archive.
- The National Library of Medicine’s Images
from the History of Medicine online collection
- The public information offices of individual
institutes. See list of institutes at http://www.nih.gov/icd/.
I am interested in doing research on instruments used by NIH scientists.Is it possible for me to find out more about them and see the instruments themselves?
The DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Museum of Medical Research at the NIH is the repository for historic biomedical research instruments and other NIH artifacts.The Stetten Museum is run as a single unit with the NIH History Office, with the NIH Historian serving as Director of the Stetten Museum.Access to the instrument collection is by appointment with the Curator, Michele Lyons, who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (301) 496-7695.
back to top