Washington Update

FASEB Comments on NIH Fellowship Review Process

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Thursday, January 27, 2022
On January 20, FASEB submitted comments to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Scientific Review (CSR) with recommendations to improve the peer review process for trainee fellowship awards. In its response to the January 6 CSR blog post soliciting feedback, FASEB emphasized three key points of consideration that center the needs and experiences of trainees.

First, it has been well established that quality mentorship is key in trainee professional and personal development. Current fellowship application instructions and review criteria emphasize the importance of the research advisory as the primary sponsor and set up expectations of this dyadic mentorship relationship. FASEB suggests this framework be reexamined and updated to emphasize a mentor network, rather than a sole sponsor to serve as primary mentor.

Second, scored criteria pertaining to the sponsor’s track record of mentoring trainees are ill defined, and the number of trainees placed in desirable positions is often used as a metric to measure the sponsor’s success. As is, the system penalizes trainees that join newer laboratories. FASEB recommends the criteria instead be scored on the sponsor’s dedication to employing evidence-based mentoring practices and engaging in routine pedagogical training.

Finally, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that traditional academic metrics, such as undergraduate grade point average and GRE scores, are not reliable predictors of success in graduate school. Therefore, FASEB recommends CSR evaluate the inclusion of such metrics in scoring and discussion of fellowship applicants’ academic record.

The CSR Advisory Council Working Group on Fellowship Review is expected to provide an update at the next Advisory Council meeting, likely to occur in late March.