Grants for Early Medical/Surgical Specialists' Transition to Aging Research (GEMSSTAR)
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Request for Applications
The most recent GEMSSTAR Request for Applications is RFA-AG-23-031 with a receipt date of October 17, 2022.
The overall goal of the GEMSSTAR program is to provide support for early career physician-scientists trained in medical or surgical specialties and early career dentist-scientists to launch careers as future leaders in aging- or geriatric-focused research. The GEMSSTAR award is targeted to early faculty members who have recently completed their medical, surgical, or dental training in any specialty or discipline 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 critical 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 clinicians trained in geriatrics and in specialty fields related to the health problems of elders, but also fostering the development of the next generation of clinician-scientists whose clinical research will lead to improved care and more effective treatment options for older patients with complex medical conditions.
Applying to the GEMSSTAR program involves submission of one application to the NIA for a small research project using the R03 mechanism, that is due by the receipt date noted in the RFA. As part of the R03 application, investigators are strongly encouraged to include a Professional Development Plan (PDP) to run concomitantly with the R03 award and supported by non-R03 sources (described further below). Please send any questions regarding the GEMSSTAR program or your GEMSSTAR application to NIAGEMSSTAR@mail.nih.gov.
Professional Development Plan
An important goal for successful GEMSSTAR awardees is to acquire training in techniques and skills specific to aging research and/or clinical care of older adults. As such, applicants should ensure that they have a supportive research environment to launch a research career in an aging- or geriatrics-focused area of their specialty/discipline. Thus, whereas the NIA funded R03 award supports the research project component, non-R03 sources may be secured to support a candidate’s Professional Development Plan (PDP), a set of candidate-selected activities and experiences that run concurrently with the R03 award and provide the requisite supportive research environment. Applicants are encouraged to have commitments of such support in place at the time of R03 application, in which case official documentation of the commitment should be included in the application as letters of support. Applicants who intend to apply for PDP support, but who will not know the results prior to submitting the R03 application, should describe their plans to seek additional support within the PDP portion of their application. It is very important to initiate the process of applying for PDP funding early—ideally during preparation of the R03 application—because some PDP funders have established review and award timelines.
Components of the PDP
The specific time commitment and components of the applicant’s PDP will be dictated by the candidate’s background, research goals, and career goals. The GEMSSTAR RFA describes the importance of conveying the specific elements of a supportive environment in an applicant’s PDP in Part 2, Section I: Program Description, and in Section IV. 2. Content and Form of Application Submission, Facilities and Other Resources. The support secured for the PDP may be funds, protected time, or a combination commensurate with the activities proposed. Possible suggested PDP components include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Senior collaborator(s) with expertise in research and clinical facets of aging/geriatrics who can provide guidance in specific areas of knowledge and/or expertise that the GEMSSTAR applicant is lacking
- Pursuit of an advanced degree; e.g., PhD, MPH, MS
- Defined training plan with milestones; e.g. publications, presentations, abstracts, grant proposals
- Participation in CTSA training, K12 or R25 programs or other NIH-supported programs
- Exposure to geriatrics-related activities: clinics, conferences, assessments, involvement in training activities
- 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
- Applicant’s institution or affiliated Veterans Administration hospital
- Institutional career development or research education awards (e.g., K12, KL2, R25)
- Specialty societies, such as those listed on the American Geriatrics Society website and/or others which may be contacted directly.
- Training or research education components within NIA-funded research centers:
- Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC)
- Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMARs)
- Centers on the Demography and Economics of Aging
- Edward R. Roybal Centers for Translation Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences of Aging
- Alzheimer's Disease Research Centers (ADRCs)
- Nathan Shock Centers
- Other public or private sources
The following table is provided as a summary of the timeline and important dates throughout the GEMSSTAR application process
Letter of Intent to potential funder(s) of PDP
As early in the application process as possible
Letter of Intent due to NIA (strongly encouraged)
One month prior to receipt date
R03 Application Due Date (includes Evidence of Supportive Environment attachment (PDP), intended PDP funding source, and PDP-related letters of support)
R03 Scientific Peer Review
R03 Summary Statements Released
Within 6 weeks after R03 Scientific Peer Review
Applicants notify NIA of Other Support obtained before or after R03 submission (including PDP funding if relevant)
Notification of Grant Awards Released (Beginning of Funding)
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are frequently asked questions about GEMSSTAR. For further questions, please contact NIAGEMSSTAR@mail.nih.gov.
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. Those who are trained in general dentistry, or any of the dental specialties (oral surgery, endodontics, periodontics, etc.), are also considered specialists.
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 career physician- or dentist-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 an NIH aging-related research award (such as individual K awards, R01, P01). However, candidates who have received support through institutional awards, such as KL2, R25, or Older Americans Independence Center awards, may apply. Please contact NIAGEMSSTAR@mail.nih.gov if you have questions about eligibility in the setting of other awards.
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 career clinician-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 aging/geriatric 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, K76) 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. Please note: in general, applicants may not receive a GEMSSTAR award if they have already received an independent K, R01, or similar award from NIA. As the GEMSSTAR program is intended to provide a first independent award in aging research, a candidate who competes successfully for such awards from NIA would generally be considered beyond the stage of GEMSSTAR support. If you have questions about eligibility in the setting of other awards, please contact NIAGEMSSTAR@mail.nih.gov.
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?
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 American Geriatrics Society maintains a list and contact information of specialty societies that may support GEMSSTAR PDPs.
Can non-physicians or non-dentists apply?
No. This program is intended for physicians or dentists who have received an M.D., D.O., M.B.B.S., D.D.S., D.M.D or other physician- or dentist-equivalent degrees.
I do not have a medical or dental license. Am I ineligible?
A medical or dental license is not required to apply.
Are foreign medical or dental 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 Modular Budget format. You can request annual direct costs in multiples of $25,000 up to $100,000.
How should I budget for the GEMSSTAR grantees’ meeting?
The GEMMSSTAR grantees' meeting is being coordinated through the NIA Clin-STAR program. 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 should 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?
Senior/Key Personnel and Other Significant Contributors on the GEMSSTAR R03 application should provide a Biographical Sketch. The Biographical Sketch should describe each individual’s role and goals in the R03 project, research background, scientific resources to be made available to the GEMSSTAR project, and other pertinent information. 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). Letters of Support from individuals/mentors involved in the PDP should be included in the ‘Letters of Support’ section of the R03 application, rather than with the PDP.
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 according to the timeline above. The date of the review and reviewer roster will be available in eRA Commons before the review. Priority scores for the GEMSSTAR applications are typically released within one week after the review, and summary statements of reviewer critiques will be available within 6 weeks after the review. Reviewers will discuss applications in approximately the top 50 percent of preliminary scores, as well as those outside this range that they deem deserving of discussion. All applicants receive a summary statement containing the written critiques of usually 3 reviewers, regardless of whether the application is discussed or not. Applicants are welcome to contact their Program Officer to discuss their application review AFTER their summary statement is released, but information regarding a funding decision will not be available until the July/August timeframe.
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:
- Characterization of an aging-related disease, condition, syndrome, or phenomenon relevant to a clinical specialty
- Pilot investigation of a specialty-related intervention in older adults
- Elucidation of mechanisms underlying specialty-related diseases in older age
- Identification of predictors and/or outcomes of specialty-related interventions specific to older populations
- Development of strategies to address and/or integrate important complexities common in older patients including multiple chronic conditions, polypharmacy, palliative care, multi-specialty guideline integration, and/or preservation of function, cognition and independence for patients within one's clinical specialty.
- Multidisciplinary care strategies, including transitions across care settings, to improve outcomes in older patients
Professional Development Plan (PDP)
How does the Professional Development Plan (PDP) relate to the R03 award?
A PDP is an optional, but strongly encouraged, aspect of the GEMSSTAR application. A PDP allows the applicant an opportunity to design a personalized, concurrent training plan in clinical and research aspects of aging/geriatrics that will further enrich his/her growth as a specialist focused on this important niche of his/her field. This separately funded PDP should be complementary to the applicant’s R03 research plan. It is included in the R03 application in the “Facilities and Other Resources” attachment as described in the RFA. Support for a PDP is not included in the NIA R03 budget, but instead should be secured separately by the applicant as described below. PDP support should begin at the start of R03 funding and run concurrently with the 2-year award. Although it is unlikely that applicants will have PDP funding secured by the time of R03 submission, applicants should list the potential PDP funding sources they are seeking in their PDP applications. Collaborators and mentors who play a role in an applicant’s PDP should submit a Letter of Support to be included with the R03 application. See the following table comparing the PDP with the remainder of the R03 application:
|Application Instructions||PDP Portion of the R03 Application||Remainder of R03 Application|
|General description||Individualized professional development plan to enhance aging research and/or geriatrics clinical skills. May involve formal coursework, mentorship, conferences, geriatrics clinical exposure, etc.||Proposed research project.|
|Format||Placed in the Facilities & Other Resources attachment as a section up to 5 pages titled “Evidence of a Supportive Environment.”||Per SF424 Instructions.|
|Support/Funding||Applicant-identified and -secured. May be from a variety of sources. Amount of funding and/or protected time commensurate with proposed plan. Indicate confirmed or proposed sources of PDP support/funding in the PDP portion of the R03 application.||Up to $100,000 per year in direct costs for 2 years from NIA|
|Other personnel||Mentorship should be included in needed areas. Mentor(s) could be included as senior/key personnel on the R03 project if appropriate.||Senior/key personnel should provide complementary expertise. At least one senior collaborator should have aging-related research expertise.|
|Letters of Support (LOS)/Biosketches||Include LOS from PDP mentor(s) in LOS section of R03 application.||Senior/Key personnel should describe roles in Biosketch. LOS are welcome from senior/key personnel to describe support beyond Biosketch, and from department/division Chair and other individuals.|
|Review||Reviewed by NIA staff as part of funding decision. Peer reviewers may also review and comment, but their review does not factor into the R03 priority score.||Peer review by GEMSSTAR Special Emphasis Panel, resulting in a priority score with critiques in the summary statement.|
|Duration, timing||2 years, concurrent with R03 project||2 years|
|Due Date||Per RFA||Per RFA|
Can you clarify what should be included in the Facilities & Other Resources field and what are the page limits?
The Facilities & Other Resources attachment should include 2 sections. The first section describes information about institutional resources available to an applicant as per the SF424 Application Guide. There is no page limit for this part. The second, which starts on a new page, is titled “Evidence of a Supportive Environment” and describes the applicant’s Professional Development Plan. This section has no specific format, but is limited to 5 pages.
How is the PDP evaluated and by whom?
PDPs are available to peer reviewers for their evaluation. Reviewers may provide administrative comments about the PDP for the benefit of NIA program staff, but these comments do not factor into the R03 priority score. Subsequent to peer review, a committee of NIA staff will evaluate applicants’ PDPs, if submitted, as evidence of a supportive research environment, which is one of the funding criteria.
How do the Williams and Jahnigen Scholars Awards relate to GEMSSTAR?
These are grant programs that connect specialty societies with GEMSSTAR awardees to support Professional Development Plans. The American Geriatrics Society can facilitate communication between GEMSSTAR applicants and several specialty societies for PDP funding through its website. AGS also contributes in many ways to the biennial GEMSSTAR conferences, including posting slides and references from the conference and remaining dedicated to fostering the careers of specialists focusing on research and care of older adults. Please note that there are many possible sources of funding support for PDPs, including specialty societies not listed on the AGS website, as well as those listed above under Resources for PDP Funding.
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 on unique aspects of clinical and/or research in aging/geriatrics. 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. PDP letters of support should be uploaded under ‘Letters of Support’ in the R03 application, rather than with the PDP itself.
When should I apply for funding support for my Professional Development Plan?
You should begin to seek PDP support when you begin to develop your GEMSSTAR R03 application. Doing so can allow funders sufficient time for planning and allocation of resources. We encourage you to contact your department head, specialty society, foundations, and/or other potential sources.
What documentation of funding support for my PDP should I provide?
An official letter from the institution, society, foundation, or other source should be provided that indicates the amount and duration of funding and any stipulations for use of funds. This can be submitted as an “Other Attachment" to your R03 application if it known at the time of submission and referenced in the text of your PDP. Otherwise, it can be listed under Other Support in the Just-In-Time submission.
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 depending on what the applicant proposes given their level of aging/geriatrics research knowledge and skills, and what is needed to successfully complete their research and initiate a career in aging research. The amount of secured funding or protected time should be enough to provide for a GEMSSTAR applicant’s serious and meaningful development into a successful aging-focused clinician-scientist.
If I do not know the source of my PDP funding by the time I submit my R03 application, when and how should I notify the NIA if I do secure PDP support?
Applicants should describe their plans to seek out PDP funding from potential sources in the R03 application (see the PDP description above). Applicants who obtain PDP funding support after submission of the R03 application may include documentation in their Just-In-Time submission as Other Support.
How should I deal with the Just-In-Time (JIT) link in eRA Commons?
Shortly after peer review, most applicants who receive a numerical priority score will receive an automated message from NIH eRA to activate their personal JIT link. It is not necessary to respond to this link until you receive a specific request from NIA staff.
Are there any major changes in the GEMSSTAR application from last year?
No, the parameters of the GEMSSTAR RFA are essentially the same.
Who is my point of contact for GEMSSTAR?
Prior to submitting an application, you can contact the Scientific Contact listed below or send an email to NIAGEMSSTAR@mail.nih.gov. 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. Please note that NIA Staff are not permitted to inform applicants of their funding status or if their application is likely to be funded until a Notice of Grant Award is released. This usually takes place around July or August.
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-19-083.
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.
Is each institution limited to submitting only one application?
No. An institution may submit multiple applications from different investigators.
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, resubmissions from previous GEMSSTAR RFA’s are permitted. As described in NOT-OD-18-197, after one resubmission (-A1), the next resubmission would be treated as a new application.
When are funding decisions made and when will I hear if I have received a GEMSSTAR Award?
The selection of applications to be funded by NIH involves a multi-step process of reviews and approvals that spans many months. Although applications for GEMSSTAR are due according to the timeline above, final notifications regarding funding will not be released until around July or August. NIA staff cannot tell you if your application will be funded before that time. However, after you receive your summary statement (typically 6-8 weeks after peer review), you may contact your program officer to discuss the critiques.
What is the GEMSSTAR Scholars conference?
The GEMSSTAR Scholars conference is supported through the NIA-supported Clin-STAR program. Each conference involves presentations pertinent to specialists in aging/geriatrics research, fostering collaboration and networking towards transdisciplinary research, enhancing mentoring with faculty specialists with aging/geriatrics expertise, showcasing scholars’ research projects, discussing career development and funding strategies, and promoting interactions with NIA and NIH staff.
For questions, please contact:
Susan J. Zieman, MD, PhD