Balancing Your Research with Your Life

The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) recognizes the importance of balancing one’s work with the requirements of one’s family, friends and personal physical and mental health. This web page is offered to inform SMD-funded researchers about NASA-provided wellness resources and leave options that may be available.

This is SMD’s first effort at summarizing the resources and flexibilities available to its funded researchers. Please help us improve this page by sending suggestions, questions and feedback to: sara@nasa.gov.

Options and resources vary depending on your relationship to NASA, as well as the accommodations offered by your employer. The information below is divided into four categories: 1) researchers whose work is supported through NASA grants or cooperative agreements, also known as Federal Assistance awards;  2) NASA civil servants;  3) NASA Contractors; and, 4) NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellows.

Your first step, regardless of your relationship to NASA, should be to contact your institution’s Office of Sponsored Programs, Human Resources or Human Capital Office to determine your employer's policies. NPP Fellows should contact their NPP Center Representative.

1) Researchers supported by NASA grants or cooperative agreements

Most of the flexibilities available to those whose work is supported by NASA grants and cooperative agreements are addressed in the US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 2, Part 200 (2 CFR 200) which is the common, US Government-wide guidance on grants and cooperative agreements. In the context of family-friendly and medical leave, the relevant section is Section 431(b), Leave, which is usually cited as “§200.431(b) Leave”. 

NASA’s implementation of these Federal standards is enumerated in the Grant and Cooperative Agreement Manual (GCAM). Your institution’s policies and NASA’s implementation of 2 CFR 200 determine whether costs associated with family or medical accommodations are allowed to be charged to your NASA-issued grant or cooperative agreement. Some commonly asked questions about the allowability of costs are:

  1. May a NASA grant's period of performance be extended for researchers who take a leave of absence due to dependent-care or other responsibilities?

As stated in the GCAM, award recipients are allowed to initiate one no-cost extension (NCE) on their own. So, a recipient could initiate an NCE, on their own for any reason, including a personnel absence. Subsequent NCEs require prior approval by NASA and need to be justified — especially if the amount of unspent funds is large. Personnel absence due to life events may be used as part of this justification. NASA will determine if extending the award is in the Agency’s best interest.

In accordance with 2 CFR§200.308, Revisions of budget and program plans, if a key person disengages from a grant for more than 3 months or reduces their efforts by 25% or more for any reason, then the recipient must obtain prior approval of the disengagement or effort reduction from a NASA Grant Officer and not by your Program Officer.

  1. May grant recipients use award funds for dependent-care expenses?

Dependent-care expenses are only allowable when the PI’s institution has a written policy in place that allows the institution to pay for employees’ dependent care. If the institution has such a policy in place, then the institution could charge those costs to a NASA award as either fringe benefits or indirect costs.

  1. May grant funds be used for dependent travel or childcare at conferences?

2 CFR 200.475, Travel costs, notes that temporary dependent-care costs beyond regular dependent-care that are the direct result from travel to conferences are allowable. Travel costs for dependents is unallowable, except for travel with a duration of six months or more with prior approval from NASA. Moreover, these dependent care costs and travel costs are allowable only if they are consistent with the institution’s own travel policy.

  1. May grant funds be used to pay for employee leave taken for dependent-care responsibilities?

When it comes to questions of employee leave for dependent care or dependent-care costs, those benefits and expenses are only allowable if the institution allows for them in their written policies. If the institution has policies regarding these benefits, they can charge them as fringe benefits or indirect costs to a NASA award.

  1. May institutions request supplemental funding or to change a current budget to support additional personnel to sustain research when the PI is on family leave?

NASA has the discretion to provide additional funds on a case-by-case basis. SMD, however, has not established a centralized source of funding for these supplements. Please contact your NASA Program Officer to inquire as to the availability of funds.  Formal requests must come from your institution’s sponsored projects office and include a budget with a narrative.  Note that prior approval for changes to the budget for these costs can only be given by a NASA Grant Officer and not by your Program Officer.

2) NASA Civil Servants

NASA has implemented leave programs that work in coordination with one another to provide flexibility to NASA employees who are experiencing a personal or family medical emergency. For more information about these programs visit the Leave Programs website. NASA civil servants should direct questions about leave and other work-life balance options to their Center’s respective Human Resources Office (HRO). A list of Center Human Resources Office Sites are available through the HR Portal.

Each NASA Center also offers Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that provide voluntary, confidential, short-term, and free mental health/wellness support. All Civil Service Personnel are eligible and encouraged to explore EAP.

3) NASA Contractors

At some Centers, on-site contractors are also eligible for some Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services. At Centers where Contractors are not eligible for EAP, some services are still available. Contractor employees are encouraged to ask their employers which EAP benefits their employers may make available. Some NASA contractors’ EAP resources may be listed on the EAP for Contractors page accessible from the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) website.

4) NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellows

NPP Fellows are neither employees of NASA nor the NPP Contractor (currently the Universities Space Research Association, USRA). However, published NPP policies accommodate prolonged absences and are explained on the NPP Policies and Procedures Page.


Please direct questions or corrections on this page to SARA@nasa.gov