Career Opportunities at NIH for Behavioral and Social Scientists: Serving as a Program or Scientific Review Officer

This blog was co-authored with Dr. Valerie Durrant, Director of the Division of AIDS, Behavioral, and Population Sciences at the Center for Scientific Review and Ms. Elan E. Ey, Deputy Director, Client Service Division, NIH Office of Human Resources.

Our hope with this blog is to highlight some exciting career paths at NIH for behavioral and social scientists that offer the opportunity to be highly engaged in shaping the future of the scientific enterprise. Science administrator jobs at NIH, called Program Officers (PO) and Scientific Review Officers (SRO), primarily involve planning, directing, and managing the evaluation of the science to ensure the best health-relevant research now and in the future. The PO and SRO roles are quite different, but each require a high level of scientific expertise and judgement.

The PO and SRO career opportunities at NIH span the translational, disease and lifespan continuums and include everything from basic behavioral and social science to clinical and implementation science. The need for a diverse set of behavioral and social science expertise at the NIH is only growing with the increased understanding of the importance of multiple levels of influence that determine health beyond factors within the individual (e.g., social influences and networks, natural, built, educational, and economic environmental factors, and other social determinants of health).

POs are responsible for careful stewardship of grant portfolios and providing expert input to the extramural science community to support the most important and innovative science. This includes making funding recommendations to leadership as well as making sure grants adhere to policies and monitoring the progress of the research. POs also have a significant role in fostering the future of their defined scientific area through the identification of important research gaps and opportunities and addressing them through the development of research and training initiatives. Developing an area of science may include planning and holding research meetings or workshops and requires active engagement with the greater scientific community. See this link for a short video from social and behavioral scientist POs at NIH where they describe their work experience and roles at NIH.

SROs also work closely with the internal and external scientific communities. Their role is to ensure that the scientific review groups (study sections) identify the most impactful and meritorious science for funding across the Institutes and Centers at the NIH.  This includes careful consideration and judgement of submitted research and training applications to make sure they are assigned to the most appropriate study section to review the topic and methods proposed. It also includes the identification and recruitment of the right mix of reviewers to allow for a knowledgeable, fair, and unbiased review, and ensuring that the reviews follow NIH policies. The expertise and judgement of the SROs in planning and executing appropriate scientific review is the foundation of the whole NIH research enterprise. See this link for a short video from social and behavioral scientist SROs at NIH.

There are two pathways to apply for a Scientist Administrator (PO or SRO) position at the NIH.  POs and SROs are hired using job announcements for a Social and Behavioral Science Administrator (0101 occupational series) and a Health Science Administrator (0601 occupational series).  A candidate’s degree and graduate research focus will determine which occupational series is most appropriate.  Please review this link and these FAQ for more information about the two pathways to apply for a PO or SRO position at the NIH.

Most hiring at the NIH is done through USAJOBS and requires applications be submitted to an active position announcement, most of which are initially only open for 5-10 days due to federal time-to-hire policies. If a PO or SRO career at NIH is of potential interest, it is worth your time to check out the information at Jobs at NIH as well as searching for employment resources on specific Institute or Center websites for current job postings and tips for preparing your application.  For example, the employment website for the Center for Scientific Research (CSR) includes a variety of resources to help prepare a successful application for the SRO position. 

As background on the authors, Christine Hunter, prior to moving to the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, served as a PO at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for 11 years and found it to be a highly rewarding, exciting, and intellectually stimulating role. Valerie Durrant served as an SRO for 13 years before moving in her current overseeing review in behavioral, social, and population studies at CSR.  Elan Ey has been a longtime partner with OBSSR and the NIH Institutes and Centers to help support the hiring of the various types of behavioral and social science expertise needed to advance the NIH mission.

We hope this blog helps you better understand the opportunities for behavioral and social scientists to fill the PO and SRO roles at NIH and hopefully, for some of the readers, your interest is peaked enough to consider these career opportunities.

Additional Resources for Applicants: