Chartered change: Reorganization of NIA review committees
I am proud to direct NIA’s Scientific Review Branch (SRB). My colleagues and I strive to run fair and impartial reviews across a wide spectrum (and large volume) of research applications including training/career development, contracts, research centers, program projects, scientific meetings, and responses to NIA requests for applications. We also are tasked with assuring NIA is adhering to NIH and federal policies and practices.
Since we are all scientists at heart, we also review our own processes regularly, analyzing data to see what the trends can tell us. Recently, the SRB team put together an all-star planning committee made up of NIA leaders, scientific review officers, and subject matter experts to take a closer look at how our current distribution of applications to the standing committees was working and whether there were ways we could improve.
Follow the data
The present NIA standing committees (abbreviated as NIA-B, -C, -N, -S, and -T) review career development award applications combining different activity codes under five criteria:
- Candidate career development plan
- Career goals and objectives
- Research strategy
- Mentors, co-mentors, consultants, and collaborators
- Environmental and institutional commitment to the candidate
In our review, we noticed some inconsistencies in the scoring patterns among the five standing review committees. While some placed a strong emphasis on the proposed research strategy, others concentrated on either the candidate, the mentors, or the institution, disproportionately affecting the overall impact score. This difference in focus generated inconsistent scoring for a given mechanism (e.g., K99, K01) between committees, raising questions of fairness to the review process and consequently, the candidates.
Evolving our committee structure
Following extensive internal discussions and input from NIA leadership, we have decided to restructure and reorganize our standing committees to better ensure equitable review for all applications. This change will take effect starting with the receipt date of Feb. 12, 2021.
To better maintain fairness and consistency in evaluation, the four revised committees will be based on the award mechanism, instead of the scientific focus area. The roster for each committee will include reviewers with expertise encompassing the areas of science within the NIA’s mission and with knowledge and experience in training and mentoring. The new committee structures are detailed below:
- NIA – CD1: Career development facilitating the transition to independence
- Focus: K99/R00
- NIA – CD2: Career development for early career investigators
- Focus: K01, K25
- NIA – CD3: Career development for clinicians/health professionals
- Focus: K08, K23, K24
- NIA – CD4: Career development for established investigators and conference grants
- Focus: K02, K07, K18 + R13
Uniform evaluations: Regardless of mechanism
We strongly believe that these proposed changes will improve uniformity of evaluation. The move to mechanism-focused panels will also reduce burden for reviewers since they will be able to focus on a single mechanism (or a set of related ones) rather than learning and adjusting to the review of multiple mechanisms within each study section.
For applicants, this reorganization will provide a clear pathway to which panel an application will be assigned. We also hope this change will give us more opportunities to recruit and train junior faculty from diverse backgrounds to be reviewers.
Moving forward, we will continue to evaluate the success of this reorganization annually and make changes as needed. We understand this change is likely to generate questions, and you can contact us directly or post your comments or concerns below. We look forward to improving our service for you and reading your next round of applications!