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Mar 26 / RAS

Helping your Fellow, Man

One of the more difficult awards to navigate is the fellowship.  Fellowships are awards that come with lots of prestige and the opportunity for excellent research pursuits, but they aren’t without their hardships for the recipient (and often for the administrator as well).  Federal policies have a significant impact on the policies and practices of research institutions, and Wayne State University is no exception.  If you have a pre- or postdoc in your department who has been offered a fellowship, it is very important to have a conversation with him or her so s/he fully understands both the benefits and consequences of accepting a fellowship.  Here are some points that potential fellows need to understand:

  1. Fellows are not employees.  They are not employees of the university, and they are not employees of the agency awarding the fellowship.  Legally, fellows are considered “trainees” or “stipendees” performing independent research, and therefore not subject (or entitled) to the same set of standards and benefits as an employee.  There is an excellent article in Science Magazine from several years ago that discusses how this has come out in the courts, for better or worse.
  2. Medical and dental benefits come out of the fellowship payment, not provided by the university or the granting institution.  This is related the above point, as perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp for many fellows. The fellow can enroll in a university health care plan, however the premium is at a higher rate.  Most fellowship stipends provide for this in the explanation of the award’s intent; NIH provides for this as an “institutional allowance”, a defined part of the award specifically meant to defray the costs of healthcare.  This means that for a fellow, when selecting health care coverage from the university options, a higher-cost plan will mean more money out of pocket, but whose pocket?  Some departments choose to help their fellows by picking the excess costs from departmental funds, but are under no obligation to do so and often do not.  The burden of responsibility for health care costs is a very important conversation to have with your fellow.
  3. When administrators are reconciling fellowship accounts, check the FRIGITD and PHICHEK screens for the correct account codes:  6223 indicates Medical Insurance and 6224 indicates Dental Insurance.   It is important that these codes show the correct proportions of the fellowship stipend dedicated to satisfying the charges associated with these coverages.   In many cases, administrators have found either incorrect deductions, or no deductions at all.  Ensuring that the account codes are correctly entered when the account is initially established will prevent not only future deficit, but the painstaking steps necessary to correct them.

For documentation of Wayne State University’s definition of a fellowship status, check out the  Administrative Policy and Procedure Manual (APPM) section 1.3.4; section 4.0 specifically discusses procedure for establishing the correct payment line.  If you are specifically working with an NIH F32 award, PA-06-373 details the required allotment for stipend funds in section II.2. (Note: if you are APPLYING for an F32, don’t forget to use the new codes from the reissue!)  For help in deciphering your award, contact us anytime!