Washington Update

NIH Releases RFI on Improving NRSA Fellowship Review

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
National Institutes of Health (NIH) is recommending changes to the peer review of Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) fellowship applications, and seeks comments through this Request for Information. Comments are invited on two topics: proposed changes to the NRSA fellowship review criteria and proposed changes to the NRSA application instructions and materials. Responses must be submitted via this webform by 11:59 pm ET on June 23 to be considered.

NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) launched a Fellowship Review Working Group in fall 2021, and updates from the group were presented at the March and September 2022 CSR Advisory Council meetings. Final recommendations from the Fellowship Review Working Group were published last October. The proposed changes aim to focus NRSA fellowship review on the potential of the applicant, strength of the science, and quality of the training plan—deemphasizing the reputation of the institution and sponsor. The main review criteria are proposed to be reduced from five to three, eliminating the Sponsors, Collaborators, and Consultants and Institutional Environment and Commitment to Training criteria. Instead, aspects of how the research advisor and institutional environment will support the proposed science and applicant’s career growth will be woven into the proposed Science and Scientific Resources and Training Plan and Training Resources criteria. Standard additional review criteria (protections for human subjects, vertebrate animals, biohazards, etc.) and additional review considerations (responsible conduct of research, budget and period of support, resource sharing plans, etc.) have no proposed changes. 

The Fellowship Review Working Group also proposed updates to the applicant materials to better correlate to the proposed review criteria. Full text of proposed changes to the reviewer guidance and applicant instructions, including materials provided by the applicant and the sponsor(s), are available online.

For additional context, CSR has created this webpage that details the main issues with current review of NRSA fellowship applications, the existing review process, reasoning behind the proposed changes, recommended revised review criteria to evaluate NRSA fellowship applications, and recommended revisions to the fellowship supplemental form.