PREVIOUS ADVICE 
I submitted an application for a predoctoral NRSA [U.S. National Research Service Award] back on December 6th, 1999, which was reviewed on Feb. 10th. I've received my score, which was 170, and my comments from the reviewers. But when I asked my program director if I am going to be funded, and when I would hear the official word, he said "we intend to fund you," but he didn't have a date, and he didn't send anything formally.
Isn't there a formal date upon which applicants in a given cycle are notified of their status? With an NRSA I don't even get a percentile rank, so I just have no idea how to plan for the future without even a future date for notification of funding!
First of all: Congratulations. It sounds to me like you received good news from your program officer--although he might have been a little imprudent in giving you off-the-cuff information. Indeed, you should try to temper your enthusiasm until you receive official notification that your application is to be funded.
That said, one official at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) tells me that prospective NRSA fellows "should receive a letter telling them about the intent to fund." But in the absence of that letter, the officer urges applicants to "call the program official and find out what to expect."
According to pre-doctoral NRSA  information I found through the NIH Web site, successful applicants who submitted applications in November can expect an earliest starting date of May 1st the following year.
However, last year's congressional wrangling over allocation of NIH budgets brought delays to a few funding mechanisms--including NIH's Academic Research Enhancement Award  (AREA)--so you are not alone in your frustration. Budget allocations to individual institutes were to be finalized by the end of January 2000, but it is unclear if and how NRSA awards were affected. This uncertainty could explain why you have yet to receive concrete information from the NIH.
As for planning your future spending priorities, NIH officials say that if you are awarded your NSRA grant, you will have "some latitude" in terms of start time, and they urge you to discuss the details with your program officer. So, your best bet would be to simply call the person you last spoke with, explain your position again, and ask for an update on what's happening. Keep cool and keep up the good work--you've made a great start to your scientific career!
I'm a 27-year-old fellow working at the Institute of Neurology at Ferrara University (Italy). I'm currently involved in clinical practice and in clinical research; my major field of interest is concerning sleep medicine, in particular breathing and movement disorders in sleep. I'm very interested in a research fellowship in the sleep field, I'm writing you to ask some information about this opportunity.
Thank you very much for your attention.
You're working in a rapidly advancing research field: A search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine's PubMed  database using the term "sleep disorders" retrieves almost 1400 sleep-related manuscripts published during 1999 alone, with studies ranging from the removal of palate tissue to reduce snoring, to the determination of the effects of certain chemicals--serotonin, for example--on sleep patterns.
The European Sleep Research Society  is committed to "training and education ... and the establishment of fellowships and awards," but unfortunately, they don't provide specific details regarding what fellowships and awards they offer. Instead, they suggest that interested researchers contact Jürgen Zulley  for more information. You could also delve into their list  of European and non-European societies and organizations involved in sleep research, such as the Italian Association of Sleep Medicine  and the Italian Society of Sleep Research  to get funding information.
If the Italian organizations with a specific focus on sleep disorders turn up empty, then you might want to visit the National Council of Research  and MURST --one of the largest Italian funding agencies--for general information about career development and research opportunities for young scientists, irrespective of their field of study.
Alternatively, you could approach the World Federation of Sleep Research Societies  (WFSRS), another resource that you may want to pursue for possible funding opportunities. I found that the International Congress Program Committee officer for the federation is Pier Luigi Parmeggiani  at the University of Bologna. You may want to contact him directly to ask for details on programs relating to sleep disorders.
The WFSRS might also be able to tell you about funding opportunities outside Italy. Whether or not you would consider this possibility is not clear from your question, but if you do wish to continue your research outside Italy--in the U.S. in particular--then have a look at the Employment, Fellowship, and Training Opportunities  provided by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine . This group has programs that may spark your interest or at least provide you with good contacts.
Another good bet is the National Sleep Foundation  in Washington, D.C., which provides "Pickwick Postdoctoral Fellowships in Sleep"  to non-U.S. citizens--provided that they are conducting research in a recognized "sleep expert" laboratory in North America.
Sleep research is such a hot topic here in the U.S. that this past January, the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute opened its National Center on Sleep Disorders Research  to deal exclusively with sleep research. Check out their research section  for more information on what they fund. You will, however, also need to check their eligibility requirements, because many NIH grants are awarded only to U.S. citizens, noncitizen nationals, or to those in the process of obtaining permanent residency.
I hope these suggestions will prove helpful. Buona notte, e dormi bene!
Due to the high volume of questions received, The GrantDoctor cannot answer all queries on an individual basis. Look for an answer to your question published in this column soon! Thank you!