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Health Scientist Administrator

The NIH Agency Single Qualification Standard is used when the job title is Health Scientist Administrator with any parenthetical. The OPM Standard external link is to be used for all other 601 positions.

In this document:

What is a Health Scientist Administrator (HSA)?
Basic Requirements and How to Qualify at the GS-12, GS-13, GS-14, or GS-15

What is a Health Scientist Administrator (HSA)?

The Public Health Service (PHS), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, consists of several agencies, each responsible for administering programs of essential importance to the Nation's health. One of these agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has major responsibilities for conduct and support of state-of-the-art research and associated research training in both the biomedical and behavioral sciences. Areas of interest include basic research focused on the development of new knowledge in such fields as genetics, cellular and molecular biology, chemistry and biomedical engineering, as well as more targeted research studies focused on the development of new and more effective methods to diagnose, treat, and prevent a host of human health problems ranging from cancer, AIDS, arthritis and heart disease to alcoholism, drug abuse, osteoporosis and psychiatric disorders.

Although a small amount of research training supported by the NIH is performed intramurally, a much larger portion is conducted at universities, medical schools, and other research organizations located throughout the country. Indeed, the NIH devotes more than 80 percent of its annual budget to activities performed by non-Federal Government institutions under grants, fellowships, and R&D contracts.

Responsibility within the PHS for planning, directing, and managing the evaluation for these extramural activities rests with subject matter experts designated as Health Scientist Administrators (HSA's). These individuals, most of whom have had doctor (Ph.D., M.D., or D.D.S., for example) level training and independent research experience, use their knowledge to assure that Federal funds are used well and wisely. Some of the responsibilities of an HSA include:

  • Perform scientific and administrative reviews and analyzes of applications/proposals from a programmatic viewpoint.
  • Consult with and advise grantees/contractors during preparation of applications/proposals and provide guidance on program issues.
  • Develop, coordinate, and administer grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts established to fulfill the mission of the Branch and Division.
  • Visit universities, research institutions, commercial organizations, other government agencies, and public and private organizations to promote and explain the objectives of the program.
  • Provide policy direction and coordination for the planning and execution of initial scientific and technical review conducted within the Institute.
  • Utilize scientific knowledge and expertise to perform a variety of management functions associated with the scientific peer review of IC research and research training support activities and other contract activities.
  • Manage the initial scientific and administrative review of grant, program project grant, and training grant applications as well as research project applications submitted in response to requests for applications.
  • Appoint and manage review panels, including the identification of qualified reviewers to evaluate all applications and proposals and make any recommendations from IC and NIH program officials, to assemble a balanced group of experts and consultants.
  • Act as the sole Federal official and agency representative by guiding the activities of a review committee and ensuring continuity in their approach toward evaluating applications, proposals, and adherence to peer review policies and procedures.

A career in health science administration in the extramural programs of the Public Health Service poses new career challenges for scientists. These individuals shift the focus of their professional efforts from their previous, specialized area of research to that of guiding appropriately the decision affecting the allocation of health research support in keeping with departmental and national policies. Responsibilities include implementing congressional mandates, assessing the current status of research programs, assuming scientific leadership by defining long- and short-range goals for health research programs, and identifying the research services and human resources needed for such programs. Within this framework, Health Scientist Administrators develop and implement plans for grant- and contract-supported research activities designed to meet national health needs.

Some HSAs serve as Scientific Review Officers (SRO) to Initial Review Groups (IRG's). IRG's provide leadership and guidance in evaluating the scientific merit of grant applications and contract proposals. Grant applications and proposals may include requests for financial support for basic, clinical, applied research or for research training. These Scientific Review Officers, through the use of consultants, determine whether adequate facilities and qualified investigators are available to carry out the program for which financial support is sought. They recommend guidelines and implement criteria for establishment of scientific merit priorities for financial support of research, its resources and facilities, and research for training. SROs are responsible for preparation of comprehensive reports of the evaluations of all applications reviewed.

Other HSAs serve as Program Officers (PO).  POs are responsible for the administration of large research grants programs involving epidemiologic, basic, and/or clinical studies.  They utilize their knowledge and training to provide advice in program planning, solicitation, and evaluation to perform day-to-day administrative functions related to research grants and interagency agreements supporting research projects related to their scientific area.  POs evaluate the availability and level of resources that can be applied to program area needs and stimulate interest in projects and special activities through communication with the scientific community. 
Characteristically, HSAs draw on their own scientific training and knowledge which may be in the biological, physical, behavioral, or veterinary sciences, or medicine, dentistry, public health, or biomedical engineering.

The HSA must understand the history, interests, goals, internal dynamics, and relationships of organizations in which health research is being conducted. This is essential for successful participation in health science administration.

Characteristics that are typical of successful HSA's are:

competence in science - recognizable accomplishment and career progression in a research activity related to health or biomedical/behavioral sciences; competence in management - ability to communicate effectively, to plan, to initiate, to administer, and to evaluate a scientific program successfully; familiarity with the dynamics of health-related research - understanding not only the internal relationships of the organization with which the research is identified and conducted but also the practices and policies affecting national health research efforts; and ability to work effectively and cooperatively with others - developing and maintaining good working relationships with Initial Review Groups, members of National Advisory Councils and Boards, representatives of academic institutions, the scientific community, public, and private organizations and agencies, and the general public, as well as supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates. The ability to develop and maintain such relationships will be an important factor in the evaluation of their work.

Basic Requirements

Applicants for all grades must be U.S. Citizens and must meet the requirements described in paragraphs A or B below:

  1. Successful completion of all requirements for a Ph.D. (or equivalent doctoral degree), in an accredited college or university, including acceptance of the dissertation, in an academic field of the health or pertinent sciences (i.e., biochemistry, molecular biology, physiology, etc.) allied to health or health related research.

    OR
  2. Successful completion of a full 4-year course of study in an accredited college or university, leading to a bachelor's or higher degree, with major study in an academic field of the health or pertinent sciences which have been applied and utilized by the applicant in health or health-related research and, in addition, at least 1 year of qualifying progressively responsible experience; or any equivalent combination of graduate study and research experience in these fields. This education and experience must demonstrate that the applicant has acquired the scientific knowledge, skills and abilities to apply and utilize them successfully in health or health-related research at a level which is the qualitative equivalent of that acquired in meeting all the requirements for the Ph.D. degree (or equivalent doctoral degree), including the dissertation as indicated above. The appropriate doctoral equivalency must be supported by publications in health or health-related research accomplishment in appropriate scientific journals; or other objective evidence in such form that it may be reviewed and evaluated.

Qualifying education is a program where the primary intent is to prepare an individual to enter a profession that is involved with the 1) delivery of health or related services pertaining to the identification, evaluation, and prevention of diseases and disorders; 2) dietary, rehabilitation, or nutrition services; 3) health systems management; 4) mental or behavioral health; 5) biological or laboratory sciences; OR, 6) health-related technology or health/bio-informatics.

Additionally, all applicants must demonstrate that they have worked independently in planning, organizing, and conducting biomedical behavioral health, or health-related research; served effectively, in research program administration in these fields; and acquired an understanding of the history, interests, internal dynamics, and relationships of organizations in which health research is conducted. This experience may be gained as a principal investigator of a grant or contract, or may otherwise be gained through active involvement in initiating research projects, developing protocols, conducting studies, documenting findings, interpreting results in a published report (journal), supervising staff, and managing the budget.

The background of the applicant must show progressively responsible and successful experience (complexity of work in independent research and research program administration), to be eligible for each successively higher grade level.

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Requirements for Applicants to the GS-12 level

The basic requirements for fully qualifying at this level are one year of independent health research beyond the doctor degree and one year of health research program administration experience (can be undertaken concurrently).

Examples of Qualifying Experience

Academic Environment:

serving as principal investigator or equivalent on a grant or contract which may include institutional grant support or foundation funds, but should have been obtained competitively; independent research, as evidenced by the development of a research project, and primary authorship of research publications in peer-reviewed journals; held position of Instructor, Assistant Professor or equivalent

Intramural Environment:

independent research, as evidenced by the development of research projects, and primary authorship of research publications in peer-reviewed journals; evidence of responsibility for significant aspects of laboratory/research unit (at least 3 years postdoctoral research); held position of Staff Fellow, Senior Staff Fellow, Research Associate or equivalent

Private Sector (Profit/Nonprofit):

conceptualization and implementation of a research project, primary authorship on internal research reports or patents and/or publications in peer-reviewed journals held position of Research Scientist or equivalent

Extramural Environment:

review for completeness applications for research grants or contracts; study scientific literature in order to place the proposed research project in its relationship to the research being done in the subject matter area; respond to issues and concerns about specific applications or proposals pertaining to assigned areas.

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Requirements for Applicants to the GS-13 level

In addition to meeting the basic requirements, applicants must possess at least one year of professional experience that includes:

Examples of Qualifying Experience

Academic Environment:

management of significant independent research projects (analogous to an RO1 and R29 grant) and supervision of graduate researchers or technicians publications in refereed journals, presenting published work to scientific organizations and teaching graduate level courses in biomedical/behavioral or health-related disciplines served as a reviewer on peer-review panels or journals held position of Assistant or Associate Professor or equivalent

Intramural Environment:

responsible for multiple scientific projects, supervising graduate researchers or technicians publications in refereed journals, presenting published work to scientific organizations and teaching graduate level course in biomedical/behavioral or health related disciplines served as a reviewer on peer-review panels or journals held position of Research Scientist (permanent position), Section Chief, or equivalent

Private Sector (Profit/Nonprofit):

evidence of increasing responsibility in research or administration within the company held position of Senior Research Scientist/Project Manager or equivalent

Extramural Environment:

review the technical and scientific merit of applications and proposals received requesting grant or contract funds; provide advice in program planning, solicitation, and evaluation to perform day-to-day administrative functions related to research grants and interagency agreements supporting research projects in a scientific area; identify new basic, translational and clinical research concepts, projects and initiatives to appropriate advisory groups and formulate and develop Program Announcements, RFAs, RFPs, or a combination of these, to achieve objectives

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Requirements for Applicants to the GS-14 level

In addition to meeting the basic requirements, applicants must possess at least one year of professional experience that includes:

Examples of Qualifying Experience

experience that demonstrates extensive scientific expertise incorporating research experience with varied responsibilities for providing leadership in a scientific area functioning as a leader for a variety of efforts, such as directing research and coordinating committee and teaching activities, and organizing and chairing sessions at national scientific meetings

Academic Environment:

serves as an appointed member of a scientific peer-review panel or editorial board held position of Associate Professor, Professor or equivalent

Intramural Environment:

responsible for at least two concurrent research projects with separate staff and budgets and supervising doctoral level staff held position of Section Chief or equivalent for at least 2 years

Private Sector (Profit/Nonprofit):

evidence of increasing responsibility in research or administration within the company held position of Senior Research Scientist/Project Manager or equivalent

Extramural Environment:

organize and conduct workshops, conferences, symposia or similar activities to foster the aims of the program, to facilitate communication among investigators, or to advise on the status of progress and emerging directions of research in the assigned program area; manage the initial scientific and administrative review of center grant, program project grant, and training grant applications, as well as research project applications submitted in response to requests for applications, multicenter clinical trial applications, and contract proposals assigned to the program area; plans, advises and evaluates program activities for a portfolio of research project, research program and other grants/awards, cooperative agreements, and/or contracts in the assigned program area and the discovery, development and evaluation of associated prevention and therapeutic strategies; review and evaluate periodic and interim progress reports to determine effectiveness of support and achievement of objectives; recommend funding plans for initiatives; establish the criteria and standards for the review panel.

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Requirements for Applicants to the GS-15 level

In addition to meeting the basic requirements, applicants must possess at least one year of professional experience that includes:

Examples of Qualifying Experience

Professional experience that demonstrates the management of large and diverse research programs having national or international collaborations, scope, and impact. Managerial experience in organizational and program development includes having responsibility for the development of plans for the resolution of major organizational and operational problems and issues, and allocating funds among competing programs. Individuals should be recognized as distinguished scientists with major research experience and accomplishments, be members of prestigious national professional organizations or societies, and have published extensively in refereed journals.

served as organization's representative on permanent and ad-hoc committees established to evaluate research issues management of extramural activities includes program planning, evaluation, and review assessment, and monitoring of major basic, clinical and/or applied research supported by the agency which are of national or international scope and impact published extensively in leading scientific journals

Academic Environment:

held position of Professor and/or Department Chair or equivalent

Intramural Environment:

held position of Laboratory Chief or equivalent

Private Sector (Profit/Nonprofit):

responsible for scientific administration of a small company or a division of a large company held position of Director of Research or equivalent

Extramural Environment:

developing one or more funding solicitations and managing grant portfolios to support scientific research; establish criteria and standards for others to follow in planning, reviewing, and evaluating research projects; evaluating the significance of emerging fields, and assessing the quality of research within the field in meeting an organizationís mission and objective; initiating action among a variety of governmental and nongovernmental interests to bring research deficiencies, inadequacies, and new developments into sharper focus in order to redirect research efforts.

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This page last reviewed on September 17, 2018

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