Fellowship Handbook


Welcome to the SKERI Fellowship Program. The Smith-Kettlewell Institute offers fellowships for training and education in vision science, rehabilitation and related studies. This Handbook is a guide to the scope and conditions of the Program, which is designed to maximize the benefit to both the participating fellows and the Insitute as a whole. We encourage participation in the program at all levels of visual and related studies. Please contact me by email if any of the procedures are unclear.

Preeti Verghese, Ph.D., Chair, Fellowship Committee



  • History of SKERI Fellowship program
  • Program Description
  • Eligibility
  • Selection Process
  • Period of Support
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Stipends
  • Benefits
  • Taxes
  • Preceptor
  • Fellowship Committee
  • Individual Development Plans


History of SKERI Fellowship Program

SKERI has two sources of funding for its fellowship program. One source of suppport for Fellowships is income from a generous endowment in honor of Rachel C. Atkinson (RCA). SKERI appointed its first RCA fellow in 1985. The second source of fellowship support is a training grant from NIH. This Institutional National Research Service Award (INRSA) suppports up to four postdoctoral fellows. SKERI appointed its first INRSA fellow in 1991.

Program Description

The SKERI fellowship program exists primarily for the educational and training benefit of the individual research fellow, pre or postdoctoral. Scholars will be temporarily associated with SKERI and will conduct a research project, independently, under the guidance of a Preceptor/Sponsor(s). The proposed training and education is primarily for career development rather than for the immediate research needs of SKERI. The fellowship program is specifically intended to target research in areas which fall within the mission of SKERI and used to support a program of research training and education.

How Your Fellowship Program Works

Your main effort should go to developing a productive research project in collaboration with your designated preceptor. The research should be conducted predominately on site at SKERI.

Colloquia: While the Institute does not have formal courses, you are expected to attend all Wednesday Brown Bags and Thursday (and other) Colloquia. You are expected to show active involvement by asking questions and by attending post-colloquia lunches with speakers working in your area of research. Luncheon expenses associated with speakers are absorbed by SKERI to encourage active participation.

Ethics Seminars: You are expected to show active participation in the quarterly Ethics Seminars (in the Wednesday lunch slot). These seminars address ethical issues of research responsibility and are specifically intended for the involvement of the Fellows.

Presentations You are expected to present a Wednesday Brown Bag of some kind at least once a year. It may be on your research plans, as a way of getting critical feedback; it may be on your research results; or it may be a ‘journal club’ discussing some papers of general interest. The idea is to have Institute-wide interaction on a scientific basis so that we may get to know you and you may better appreciate us.

You are also expected to give presentations at one or more scientific meetings each year. You should give a practice presentation at the designated session before the major scientific meetings. At the meeting you should try to interact as much as possible with other scientists working on your topic, including hand-outs of your results.

Other: If you receive SKERI financial support, you are expected to apply for external funds to replace the SKERI support by the end of the first year of your fellowship (or as early as possible). If you applied before arriving, this qualifies fully. The goal is two-fold. (1.) to train you in the technique of grant-writing. (2.) to enhance the SKERI Fellowship Program by increasing the level of external funds received. Funding for your second year is contingent on this requirement being met by the end of the first year.

Fellowships funded by SKERI are normally awarded for two years (subject to the grant-application contingency), with extension to a third year possible in exceptional circumstances. The duration for externally-funded fellowships is determined by those sources. At the end of the fellowship period, you are expected to move to another institution unless specifically invited to fill a needed research slot at SKERI.

Click here for information on International Fellowship Opportunities.

Application Process

A fellow is selected by the Institute for training and education in a specified area(s) of research related to SKERI’s mission, with the primary objective of developing or extending his/her research skills and knowledge in preparation for a research career. Each prospective fellow is identified by a Preceptor with whom the Fellow will work during the fellowship period.

A postdoctoral fellow must have received, as of the activation of their award, a PhD., MD, OD or equivalent doctoral degree at an accredited academic institution.

A predoctoral fellow must have received, as of the activation of their award, a baccalaureate degree and must be enrolled in a program leading to the award of a PhD., MD, OD or equivalent doctoral degree at an accredited academic institution.

The INRSA requires that the individual be a citizen or a permanent resident of the United States of America. The RCA program is open to citizens and permanent residents of the USA, and to those who have a valid visa to perform independent research in this country or meet criteria for obtaining such a visa before the fellowship begins.

Selection Process

All applicants are nominated by a prospective Preceptor and complete a SKERI Fellowship Application attaching a complete current Curriculum Vitae, detailing the planned research and all relevant work experience. The Fellowship Committee meets to consider applications twice each year, in the spring and fall. They are ranked upon the following criteria:

1. Scientific Merit: Reflects the qualifications of the individual and the relatedness of the research to SKERI’s mission.
2. Career Development: Reflects what the Fellow will gain from this experience.
3. Prior Usage of Program: Reflects the amount of RCA SKERI support the sponsor received in the past.
4. Institution: Reflects what SKERI will gain from the fellow’s participation.

Rankings are based upon a scale of 1-5 for each category, where one is the highest possible score and averaged to form a single rank for each application.

Period of Support

Fellowship awards at SKERI are limited to a maximum of two years duration except upon specific appeal to, and subsequent recommendation by, the Fellowship Committee with agreement from the SKERI Council.

The initial award is usually for 12 months. Subsequent periods of approved fellowship training and education are contingent on scientific progress, and efforts to apply for external funding, and availability of funds. Fellowships of shorter periods are considered on an equal footing with those for the full two years.

Requests for additional time or a break in time must be strongly justified. Such events include sudden loss of the Preceptor’s services, accident, illness, or other personal situations which prevent the fellow from pursuing research training and education in an effective manner for a significant period of time.

Terms and Conditions:

All awards are made with the proviso that the second year of continued support is contingent upon appropriate progress and efforts to apply for external funds. In order to foster maximum efficacy of the fellowship program, each fellow is required to apply for external funding during the first year of their fellowship. Assistance in applying for external support is available from the SKERI Research Administration Office.

1. In the unlikely event of a difficulty that may arise during the Fellowship period, the matter should be promptly discussed with the Preceptor. If the problem involves the Preceptor the matter should be discussed with the Chair of the Fellowship Committee. If the Preceptor is the Chair, the matter should be brought to the Executive Director for resolution.

2. Approval of employment outside of SKERI, during regular Fellowship hours, is at the discretion of the Preceptor and must meet all appropriate internal guidelines, and external guidelines in the case of outside funding of the fellowship.

3. Publications and presentation of scientific discoveries by awardees are governed by the same policies that apply to employees of SKERI. Fellows are required to sign SKERI’s annual Conflict of Interest statement.


Stipends: Stipends are provided as a subsistence allowance for individual fellows to help defray living expenses during the research training and education experience. The payment of a stipend does not constitute employment with SKERI. All stipends are paid consistent with Congressionally decided rates. They are not generally sufficient for the support of a family in the SF Bay Area. The rates are reviewed annually and are issued regardless of any lower level set by external funding sources. Stipends are disbursed on the 15th and last day of every month.

Predoctoral Fellow: One stipend level is used for all predoctoral candidates regardless of their level of experience.

Postdoctoral Fellow: The stipend level for the first year of support is determined by the number of years of relevant postdoctoral experience subsequent to the conference of the PhD. Relevant experience may include research experience, teaching assistantship, internship, residency, clinical duties, or other time spent in a health-related field beyond that of the qualifying doctoral degree.

Stipend supplementation: Stipends may be supplemented beyond the established supplemented levels from non-fellowship funds provided this supplementation does not require any additional obligation from the fellow and is from non-Federal sources. This additional supplementation is determined between the Fellow and his/her Preceptor.

Health Insurance: Consistent with current Federal guidelines, health insurance is provided for Postdoctoral Fellows and their dependents as described below:

Postdoctoral Fellow: Full health insurance is provided for the fellow and all eligible dependents.

Predoctoral Fellow: Health insurance is not provided with this award. All predoctoral fellows should obtain their own health insurance. In most instances this insurance is offered through the academic institution with which the predoctoral scholar is affiliated.

Other Benefits: Fellows are not employees and are therefore not eligible to participate in the SKERI retirement plan. Fellows also do not accrue vacation or sick leave, however, they are entitled to regular SKERI holidays. Preceptors may, at their discretion, allow time for reasonable cause such as ill health and personal emergencies, and a reasonable period annually for vacation.

Since fellowships are considered awards for training and education, stipends are not subject to Social Security, Medicare deductions, nor can IRA or other tax-related deductions be taken.

Taxability of Stipends Relative to All SKERI Fellowship recipients:
1. Section 117 of the Internal Revenue Code applies to the tax treatment of scholarships and fellowships. Degree candidates may exclude from gross income (for tax purposes) any amount used for course tuition and related expenses such as fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for courses of instruction at a qualified educational organization. Nondegree candidates are required to report as gross income any monies paid on their behalf for stipends or any course tuition and fees required for attendance. The taxability of stipends in no way alters the relationship between fellows and Smith-Kettlewell. Stipends are not considered salaries. In addition, recipients of individual fellowships are not considered to be in an employee-employer relationship with Smith-Kettlewell solely as a result of the fellowship award. The interpretation and implementation of the tax laws are the domain of the IRS and the courts. Smith-Kettlewell takes no position on what the status may be for a particular taxpayer, and it does not have the authority to dispense tax advice. Individuals should consult their local IRS office about the applicability of the law to their situation and for information on their tax obligations.

Although stipends are not considered salaries, this income is still subject to Federal and, sometimes, State income tax. Smith-Kettlewell is not required to issue a Form 1099, but does provide an annual letter of documentation of stipend received. This will function as a reminder to the fellow that some tax liability may exist. Fellows are reminded that, even though Smith-Kettlewell does not issue a Form 1099, they still are required to report stipends as income.

Miscellaneous: A travel allowance will be provided to all pre and postdoctoral fellows. In addition to this, a small supply budget will be provided for postdoctoral fellows. In the case of predoctoral fellows, supplies will be provided by the sponsor’s laboratory.

Program Administration

Preceptor: Your Preceptor is the main person with whom you have day to day contact. This person is there to help you with your fellowship experience. Your Preceptor is someone that is knowledgeable in your scientific area of interest; kindly follow their direction. Should you have unresolvable issues with your Preceptor you can direct your concerns to the Chair of the Fellowship Committee. In the event that the Chair is your Preceptor, then you can direct your concerns to the Executive Director.

Fellowship Committee: The Fellowship Committee is composed of senior level scientists at SKERI whose charge is to review the Fellowship Program and all applications for admission, and to assure that the program is consistent with helping the fellows achieve their maximum development during their experience here at SKERI. The program is constantly under review and the Committee welcomes any input from current fellows on how to improve the program. The Chair of the Committee is appointed by the Executive Director of SKERI.

IDP (Individual Development Plan):  Upon entry to the program you will be expected to complete an IDP for tracking your progress throughout the training program. The IDP addresses your professional development needs in light of career objectives. The IDP is updated and revised every 6 months to assess your progress and adjust your plans as necessary.  You will work with your Preceptor to complete this document. Download IDP Form: (RTF) or (PDF).

The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute is located at 2318 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, California, 94115. Tel: 415-345-2000

This page was last updated on Thursday, June 15, 2006.

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