Research and Funding

Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology

Grants for Early Medical/Surgical Specialists' Transition to Aging Research (GEMSSTAR)

NIA announces the release of the 2014 GEMSSTAR competition.

NEW THIS YEAR: GEMSSTAR R03 budget limit has increased to $75,000/year in direct costs!!

The receipt date for RFA-AG-14-010 has been changed to NOVEMBER 1, 2013*.

UPDATE 10/30/2013: Published 10/30/2013 in the NIH Guide, GEMSSTAR related NOT-AG-13-021 advising applicants for RFA-AG-14-010 "Grants for Early Medical and Surgical Specialists' Transition to Aging Research (GEMSSTAR)", that during application submission upload in eRA Commons, the following error/warning message may be displayed:

"Cumulative direct cost requests on the PHS 398 Modular Budget are limited to a total of $100,000 for this application. Applications that exceed this limit may be delayed or not accepted for review"

As the cumulative direct cost budget limit for RFA-AG-14-010 is $150,000 ($75,000/yr x 2 years), this warning message should be IGNORED. Doing so should not adversely affect your application.

*Post Federal Shutdown Update: Please refer to recent Notices published in the NIH Guide, which indicate the GEMSSTAR Receipt Date will be shifted to November 1, 2013. Please check the NIH Guide regularly for additional updates.



The overall goal of the GEMSSTAR Program is to provide support for early stage clinician-scientists to establish a track record in aging research. The GEMSSTAR award is targeted to early faculty members who have recently completed their clinical training in any medical or surgical specialty and are embarking on a career in clinical aging research in their specialty area. The award is intended to offer support in a particularly vulnerable time in a new clinical faculty member’s career.


The 2008 Institute of Medicine report “Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce” emphasized the emergent need for additional health care personnel to address the medical needs of a growing population of older Americans with complex medical problems. Effective approaches to this impending health care crisis involve not only increasing the number of practicing physicians trained in geriatrics and in specialty fields related to the health problems of elders, but also fostering the development of the next generation of physician-scientists whose clinical research will lead to improved care and more effective treatment options for older patients with complex medical conditions.


Applications to the GEMSSTAR program involve a two-step process. In the first step, Investigators apply through the GEMSSTAR RFA for two years of support from the NIA using the small research project (R03) mechanism. After peer review of eligible applications, NIA will ask each investigator with a score in a potentially fundable range to submit a Professional Development Plan (PDP) that will run concomitant with the R03 award. The PDP must be supported through non-R03 funds as described further below. Applicants are encouraged to seek out sources of PDP support as soon as they apply to the GEMSSTAR RFA.

Professional Development Plan

An important component of the GEMSSTAR award is to provide support for the early career specialist to gain specific training in techniques and skills specific to aging research and/or clinical care of older adults in their specialty. Whereas the R03 award supports the research project component, non-R03 funding must be secured to support the candidate’s Professional Development Plan running concurrently for the duration of the 2-year R03 award. It is very important to start securing a source of PDP funding as soon as the applicant decides to submit an application to the GEMSSTAR RFA because some PDP funders have established review and award timelines, and this non-R03 funding must be in place for the final award to be issued.

Components of the PDP

The specific time commitment and components of the applicant’s PDP will be dictated by the specialists’ background, research goals and career goals. The funding secured for the PDP should be commensurate with the activities proposed. Possible suggested PDP components include the following:

  1. Mentor or mentoring team (essential)
  2. Pursuit of an advanced degree; e.g., PhD, MPH, MS
  3. Coursework
  4. Defined training plan with milestones; e.g. publications, presentations, abstracts, grant proposals
  5. Participation in CTSA training, K12 or R25 programs, Older Americans Independence Center (Pepper Center) activities, or other NIH-supported programs
  6. Exposure to geriatrics-related activities: clinics, conferences, assessments, involvement in training activities
  7. Protected time consistent with the proposed professional development activities. Please note that a minimum level of protected time is not specified; rather, the amount of protected time should be commensurate with the candidate's professional development needs and proposed activities.

Resources for PDP Funding

  1. Applicant’s institution or affiliated Veterans Administration hospital
  2. Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA)
  3. NIH K12 or R25 program
  4. Specialty societies, such as through the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine (AAIM T. Franklin Williams Scholars Award)or the American Geriatrics Society (AGS - Jahnigen Career Development Award)
  5. Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC) Research Career Development Core (RCDC)
  6. Other government, public, or private sources


Letter of Intent due to NIA (strongly encouraged): September 21, 2013

Letter of Intent to Potential Funder(s) of PDP: we encourage this as early in the process as possible.

R03 Application Due: October 21, 2013* November 1, 2013

Scientific Peer Review: January/ February 2014

PDP due to NIA: around May 2014

Notification of Award: July-August 2014



What do you mean by ‘specialist’?

Any physician who has completed residency and/or fellowship training is considered a specialist. Specialties include, but are not limited to, the traditional medical and surgical specialties, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, general internal medicine, general surgery, geriatrics, hospital medicine, neurology, obstetrics/gynecology, palliative medicine, physiatry/rehabilitation medicine, and psychiatry.

Are geriatricians eligible to apply?

Yes. Physicians trained in geriatric medicine, alone or in combination with another specialty, are eligible.

Do I need to be board-eligible or board-certified in my specialty to apply?

NIA does not require board certification to apply; however, it is expected that candidates who have completed their clinical specialty training will be at least board-eligible in their specialty.

Is there a time limit after completion of training during which I must apply?

While there is no specific time limit, we expect that the vast majority of candidates will be within a few years of completion of their training. In unusual circumstances, candidates may be more advanced chronologically; however, they should still be early in their careers with respect to aging-related research.

I have been a Principal Investigator on an NIH grant focusing on aging research. Can I apply to the GEMSSTAR program?

The GEMSSTAR award is intended for early stage physician-scientists aiming to get a “foot in the door” in research related to aging in their clinical specialty area. This award is not intended for candidates who have already received funding as a principal investigator on a NIH aging-related research award; however, candidates who have received support through institutional awards, such as KL2, R25, or Older Americans Independence Center Research Career Development awards, may apply.

I have been a Principal Investigator on an NIH grant for research unrelated to aging. Can I apply to the GEMSSTAR program?

In unusual circumstances, early stage physician-scientists who have had previous funding in a non-aging-related field may wish to refocus their research efforts on aging-related science. Such candidates must provide a strong and clear explanation for how their proposed research will entail a meaningful shift towards aging-related science within their clinical specialty. The R03 application and the Professional Development Plan should demonstrate how the GEMSSTAR award will allow the candidate to bridge his/her clinical specialty and gerontologic science. Merely supplementing one’s current research efforts with aging-related science would not be considered a meaningful shift. The R03 application and Professional Development Plan proposal will be reviewed closely for substantial evidence of a commitment to aging research.

I have been a Principal Investigator on a grant from a non-NIH source. Can I apply to the GEMSSTAR program?

Yes, as long as other eligibility criteria are satisfied.

Can I apply for a mentored K award at the same time that I apply for a GEMSSTAR award?

In certain circumstances, applicants may wish to apply for both a GEMSSTAR award and a mentored K award (e.g., K01, K08, K23) at the same time. This is permissible as long as the applications do not have overlapping or duplicate aims. Moreover, NIH policies for mentored K awards stipulate that 1) any effort outside the mentored K award should be devoted to research pursuits and activities consistent with the objectives of the mentored K award; and 2) a mentored K awardee may not supplement his/her salary with other Federal funds such as a GEMSSTAR award.

I am in the last year of my residency/fellowship training. Can I apply to the GEMSSTAR program?

Yes, as long as you will have a faculty appointment by the start of the GEMSSTAR award. Official documentation of this appointment must be included in your R03 application. A faculty appointment that is conditional on receiving a GEMSSTAR award is not acceptable.

The professional society that represents my clinical specialty does not appear to be involved in GEMSSTAR. Does that mean that I should not apply?

No. Specialty societies represent only one of many possible sources of funding for the PDP part of the GEMSSTAR program. If your specialty society does not appear to be involved, we encourage you to investigate other potential funders, such as your department chair or other individuals within your institution, foundations, or other public or private sources. In addition, we encourage you to contact your specialty society, the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine (AAIM T. Franklin Williams Scholars Award), or the American Geriatrics Society (AGS - Jahnigen Career Development Award), to see whether your specialty society may be interested in supporting your PDP.

Can non-physicians apply?

No. This program is intended for physicians who have received an M.D., D.O., M.B.B.S., or other physician-equivalent degrees.

I do not have a medical license. Am I ineligible?

No, a medical license is not required to apply.

Are foreign medical graduates eligible?

Yes, as long as other eligibility criteria are satisfied.

Are clinician-scientists in other countries eligible?

No. Only candidates at U.S. institutions are eligible.

R03 Application Specifics

What type of budget format should I use?

Please use the PHS 398 Modular Budget format. You can request annual direct costs in multiples of $25,000 up to $75,000.

How should I budget for the GEMSSTAR grantees’ meeting?

Starting in 2014, the NIA expects to host annual meetings for GEMSSTAR grantees to help promote research career advancement and provide scientific networking opportunities. GEMSSTAR grantees are expected to attend this meeting in both the first and second year of their R03 awards. Applicants should budget for travel to and from Bethesda, Maryland, two nights’ lodging, and meals. There is no specific line item in which to list travel costs in the Modular Budget format; however, the proposed travel should be included in the budget justification section.  

Can I include salary support for me in the budget?

Yes, you can receive salary support from a GEMSSTAR award as long as 1) there is no significant budget or scientific overlap with any concurrent source of funding, and 2) you are not also receiving an NIH mentored K or other award that prohibits salary supplementation from Federal sources.

You say that senior collaborators should have significant experience in aging research. What do you mean by that?

The GEMSSTAR award offers an opportunity for investigators without substantial aging research experience to gain the necessary skills, exposure and pilot data in aging or geriatrics-related research. To achieve this goal, there should be at least one senior research collaborator with such complementary aging research experience as documented through aging-related publications, funding, and resources to be made available to the GEMSSTAR candidate. This information is to be conveyed in the senior collaborator’s biographical sketch.

What is the difference between a Letter of Support and a Biographical Sketch, and when should I obtain each of them for the R03 application?

An individual typically will provide either a Letter of Support or a Biographical Sketch, but not both. All Senior/Key Personnel and Other Significant Contributors should provide a Biographical Sketch. The Biographical Sketch should describe each individual’s role and goals in the R03 project, research background, and other pertinent information, such as his/her scientific resources that may be leveraged by the research project. For individuals who are not Senior/Key Personnel or Other Significant Contributors but who may have input into the application, a Letter of Support is encouraged. For example, the Division/Department Chair or other Institutional leader may submit a Letter of Support outlining available resources or commitments of protected time for the proposed research. In cases where the applicant is in his/her last year of training, the Department Chair or other Institutional leader must provide a Letter of Support confirming that the applicant has a faculty position beginning no later than the GEMSSTAR award start date (typically July 1).

When does the review take place and when will I hear about my score?

A special emphasis panel of peers selected to review GEMSSTAR applications will convene around January or February. The date of the review and reviewer roster will be available in eRA Commons before the review.  Priority scores for the GEMSSTAR applications will be released within one week of the review, and Summary Statements of reviewer critiques will be available within 6 weeks after the review.

What are some examples of appropriate research projects?

The following list includes some examples of aging-related research, but it is neither exclusive nor exhaustive:

  1. Characterization of an aging-related disease, condition, syndrome, or phenomenon relevant to a clinical specialty
  2. Pilot investigation of a specialty-related intervention in older adults
  3. Elucidation of mechanisms underlying specialty-related diseases in older age
  4. Identification of predictors and/or outcomes of specialty-related interventions specific to older populations

Professional Development Plan (PDP)

How do the Williams and Jahnigen Scholars Awards relate to GEMSSTAR?

These are grant programs sponsored by the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine (AAIM T. Franklin Williams Scholars Award)and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS - Jahnigen Career Development Award), respectively. They represent two of the many possible sources of funding support for PDPs.

I plan to include a mentorship plan as part of my PDP. What qualifications should my mentor(s) have?

The goal of the GEMSSTAR program is to support the specialty candidate’s transition into aging research. Thus, the mentor(s) named in the PDP should have sufficient expertise in specific techniques and skills related to aging research. We encourage you to seek out geriatricians or gerontologists at your institution who may be able to provide you with appropriate mentorship.

How should I indicate who my mentors are in the PDP?

You should include a letter of support from each mentor indicating his/her role in your PDP. If you have multiple mentors, you should also describe how you will coordinate interactions among you and your mentors.

When should I apply for funding support for my Professional Development Plan?

You should notify potential funders of your PDP early in the application process. We encourage you to submit letters of intent to your department head, specialty society, foundation, and/or other potential sources at the same time you submit your R03 application. Doing so can allow funders sufficient time for planning and allocation of resources.

What documentation of funding support for my PDP should I provide?

An official letter from the institution, society, foundation, or other source should be included in your PDP indicating the amount and duration of funding and any stipulations for use of funds.

What level of funding support/effort is appropriate for the PDP?

The level of funding and effort should be commensurate with the activities proposed in the PDP. Every PDP is different and, as such, will require a different level of funding support. The evaluation of PDPs includes an assessment of whether the amount of secured funding or protected time represents a serious and meaningful effort to promote the GEMSSTAR awardee’s development into a successful aging-focused clinician-scientist.

Should I submit my PDP using the Just-In-Time (JIT) link in eRA Commons?

No. The JIT link should be used only if you have received a specific request from NIA Grants Management staff to do so. The PDP application and its supporting documents should be sent to

General Questions

What are the major changes in the GEMSSTAR application between RFA-AG-14-010 and prior years?

There are two main differences. First, the GEMSSTAR R03 budget limit has increased to $75,000/year in direct costs. Second, applicants should budget for travel to the annual GEMSSTAR grantees’ meeting in each year of the award.

Who is my point of contact for GEMSSTAR?

Prior to submitting an application, you can contact the Scientific Contact listed below. Any time after submitting an application, you can contact the Scientific Contact or the Program Officer assigned to your proposal as indicated in eRA Commons. Specific questions about review (e.g., allowable post-submission materials) can be directed to the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) from the time of application submission to the date of review; however, the SRO is not authorized to discuss with applicants their scores, any aspect of the review meeting, or the content of their summary statements.

There have been some new developments since I submitted my R03 application. What additional materials am I now allowed to submit prior to peer review?

Acceptable post-submission materials are described in NOT-OD-10-115. Exceptions listed in NOT-OD-10-115 do not apply to the GEMSSTAR RFA.

Should the senior collaborator(s) on my R03 application be the same as the mentor(s) on my PDP?

Not necessarily. The senior collaborator(s) on your R03 would likely have expertise in geriatrics, gerontology, or other areas complementing your background. In many, though not all, cases, it would make sense to name such an individual as a mentor on your PDP.

Is each institution limited to submitting only one application?

No. An institution may submit multiple applications from individual investigators as long as each application is distinct.

Can an investigator send in more than one application?

No. Each investigator may submit only one application.

Should I apply as a multi PD/PI?

Except in rare circumstances, we expect that there will be one principal investigator for each GEMSSTAR application. Other members of your investigator team, whether junior or senior, can be listed as co-investigators, collaborators, or consultants, depending on their role in your proposal.

Are resubmissions allowed?

Yes, one resubmission is permitted per NIH policy.


For questions, please contact:

Susan J. Zieman, MD, PhD
Phone: 301-496-6761