Washington Update

FASEB Comments on CSR Fellowship Review Working Group Update

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Thursday, May 12, 2022
In March, the National Institutes of Health Center for Scientific Review (CSR) Advisory Council received an interim update from the Fellowship Review Working Group. Tasked with evaluating the current fellowship review process due to concerns of bias, the working group presented proposed new review criteria with the goal of making it possible for all highly qualified applicants to score well even if they have less conventionally strong academic backgrounds or junior investigator sponsors. 

In its comments, FASEB applauds the efforts of the working group. Specifically, we strongly support eliminating grades as an indicator of fellowship qualification and reducing the influence of the institutional reputation by removing the institutional environment as its own scored criterion. Valuing careers outside of academic research is also a laudable change, and FASEB encourages the working group to emphasize transferrable skills and career exploration instead of asking applicants to define a single career path. 

Recognizing this was an interim update, the working group reasonably still needs to develop details surrounding several proposed changes. FASEB recommends additional attention be paid to two areas of concern. First, the working group is interested in “the delta”—how much of a difference the fellowship would make for an awardee. At present, this metric is ill-defined and will be difficult for applicants to express and reviewers to evaluate. Second, a statement of fellowship qualifications was proposed to be included in the F applicant biosketch. This is intended to be a place where applicants can discuss qualifications beyond grades, courses, and scientific achievements, which is logical on the surface. However, FASEB is wary that many applicants may not have much to detail in this section, and it may act to further bias scholars from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Overall, FASEB is excited that the working group is undergoing this important evaluation of fellowship review criteria, and the CSR Advisory Council met the updates with enthusiasm. We look forward to future information from the working group as they continue to refine recommendations.