Guest post by Bruce Reed, Lystranne Maynard Smith, Cibu Thomas, originally released on the NIH Center for Scientific Review’s Review Matters blog
Have you applied for, sponsored, or reviewed NIH fellowship applications? We would like to hear your thoughts on what works, what doesn’t, and how the process could be improved.
National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowship (F) awards are intended to support training that will enhance pre- and post-doctoral trainees’ potential to develop into productive, independent research scientists. In 2021, CSR handled the review of more than 5500 of the approximately 6800 NRSA F applications received by NIH. We recently convened a CSR Advisory Council working group, charged with evaluating the fellowship review process and making recommendations to make it as effective and fair as possible for all.
The working group has noted multiple concerns, many of which center around the challenges of discerning the potential of the applicant and the value of the training planned, as opposed to the general reputation of the school and sponsor. There are concerns that applicants from smaller and less-resourced schools sometimes face a higher bar, that grades can unfairly haunt strong applicants, and that junior faculty are hesitant to sponsor applications, feeling their chances are slim.
Now the working group would like to hear your thoughts about the fellowship review process. What are its strengths and weaknesses? How could it be improved? In answering, think about the characteristics of strong applicants, sponsors, and training programs and the challenge of identifying the applications that have the greatest potential to develop independent, productive research scientists.
It may be useful to refresh your memory on the criteria NIH uses now. The five main review criteria are: Fellowship Applicant; Sponsor(s), Collaborators, and Consultants; Research Training Plan; Training Potential; and Institutional Environment & Commitment to Training. (PA-21-051 is a typical funding announcement and details review information in section V.) However, you need not be bound to these criteria; creativity is welcome.
Share your ideas via the comments box, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We cannot respond individually to most comments, but we promise that if received by January 24, 2022, they’ll be read and that the information you provide will help the working group and CSR strengthen the review of NRSA fellowship applications.