Do you know about the NIH Loan Repayment Program (LRP)? An NIH LRP award will pay 50% or up to $100,000 of your student loan debt. I was lucky to receive an LRP award during the most recent award cycle, and I highly encourage all SSR trainees to consider applying. To qualify for an NIH LRP award, your research has to focus on one of five Program Areas— Clinical, Pediatric, Health Disparities, Contraception and Infertility, or Clinical Research for Individuals from Disadvantaged Backgrounds.
While the most obvious Program for SSR members is Contraception and Infertility, don’t forget to consider the other Programs. If you are considering applying, my most important advice would be to make it very clear how your research fits within the Program goals. Postdocs are eligible for the award; however, I didn’t apply during my postdoc because I was studying basic mechanisms in ovarian cancer, and my research did not fit well into any of the Programs.
As an Assistant Professor, my research program has a strong emphasis on infertility, and linking my research with the Program goals was much easier. My second piece of advice would be to be specific about the experiments you are planning. Lay out your research plan in detail, similar to writing a grant. And just like a grant, avoid jargon. I started with a grant I was working on, and then adapted it to the LRP. If your application is selected, you will be required to provide promissory notes, loan statements, and a National Students Loan Data System (NSLDS) report.
These documents may be difficult to track down, so start looking for them early. If your application is not selected, contact the LRP representative at the appropriate NIH institute and see how you can improve your application for the next cycle (LPR does not provide summary statements). And if you do receive an award, remember that you cannot receive payment from a for-profit business during the term of the award.
So if you have student loan debt (and who doesn’t), check out the LRP website (https://www.lrp.nih.gov/index) to see if your research qualifies. And good luck!