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 2016 GEMSSTAR competition: RFA-AG-16-015.

Please Note: Important changes to the GEMSSTAR application process were made in 2015 which remain in place this year. Read more below. The GEMSSTAR R03 budget limit remains at $75,000/year in direct costs!!

The receipt date for RFA-AG-16-015 is October 7, 2015.

Letter of Intent is Due on September 7, 2015 (optional but appreciated for review planning purposes).



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.


Applying to the GEMSSTAR program, which was formerly a 2-step process, is now streamlined into a single application submission that is due on October 7, 2015. Investigators apply through the GEMSSTAR 2016 RFA for two years of support from the NIA using the small research project (R03) mechanism. As part of the R03 application, investigators may include a Professional Development Plan (PDP) to run concomitantly with the R03 award and supported through non-R03 funds (described further below). Please send any questions regarding the GEMSSTAR Award or any subsequent communications regarding your GEMSSTAR application to

Professional Development Plan

An important component of the GEMSSTAR award is to provide support for early career specialists to gain specific training in techniques and skills specific to aging research and/or clinical care of older adults in their specialty. As such, applicants should ensure that they have a supportive environment to successfully complete their research project in order to launch a research career in an aging/geriatrics-focused area of their specialty. Thus, whereas the R03 award supports the research project component, non-R03 funding may be secured to support the candidate’s Professional Development Plan (PDP) running concurrently with the R03 award in order to provide such a 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 in their PDP. 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 specialists’ background, research goals and career goals. The GEMSSTAR RFA-AG-16-015 describes the importance of conveying the specific elements of a supportive environment in an applicant’s PDP in Part 2, Section 1: Program Description, and in Section IV. 2. Content and Form of Application Submission, Facilities & Other Resources. The funding secured for the PDP should be commensurate with the activities proposed. Possible suggested PDP components include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. 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
  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. Institutional linked mentored K award (KL2)
  3. NIH K12 or R25 program
  4. Specialty societies, such as those listed on the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine (AAIM T. Franklin Williams Scholars Award) and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS - Jahnigen Career Development Award) websites and/or others which may be contacted directly.
  5. Older Americans Independence Center (OAIC) Research Career Development Component (RCDC)
  6. Other government, public, or private sources


The following table is provided as a summary of the timeline and important dates throughout the GEMSSTAR application process. Specific dates will be updated as they become available.

Task/Event DATE
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)
September 7, 2015
R03 Application Due Date (includes Evidence of Supportive Environment attachment (PDP), intended PDP funding source, and PDP-related letters of support)
October 7, 2015
R03 Scientific Peer Review
March 2016
R03 Summary Statements Released
Approximately 6 weeks after R03 Peer Review
Applicants notify NIA of Other Support obtained before or after R03 submission (including PDP funding if relevant)
In Just-In-Time submission – requested after Summary Statements posted
Notification of Grant Awards Released (Beginning of Funding)
July – August 2016



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 (such as an R01, P01); 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), who maintain a list and contact information of Specialty Societies who have supported the PDPs of GEMSSTAR applicants in the past and who may support 2016 GEMSSTAR applicants’ PDPs.

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 2015, the NIA began hosting biennial meetings for past and current GEMSSTAR grantees to help promote research career advancement and provide scientific networking opportunities. GEMSSTAR grantees are expected to attend this meeting either in the first or second year of their R03 award. 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. The next GEMSSTAR grantees’ meeting is expected to be held in 2017.

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). Also, all 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 around March, 2016. 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 after the review, and Summary Statements of reviewer critiques will be available within 6 weeks after the review. All GEMSSTAR applications will be reviewed together by an appropriately selected Specialized Emphasis Panel, and reviewers will submit preliminary scores on all responsive applications. 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 their application is discussed or not.

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
  5. 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.
  6. Multidisciplinary care strategies, including transitions across care settings, to improve outcomes in older patients

Professional Development Plan (PDP)

Can you clarify what should be included in the Facilities & Other Resources field and what are the page limits? (New)

Applicants should upload one file titled “Evidence of a Supportive Environment.pdf” in the Facilities & Other Resources field. This file consists of 2 parts: one part is titled “Facilities & Other Resources” that describes the institutional resources available to an applicant as per the SF424 instructions. There is no page limit for this part. The second part, which starts on a new page, is titled “Professional Development Plan” and describes the specific resources and activities that the applicant will pursue under a PDP. This part is limited to 5 pages.

What changes were made regarding the Professional Development Plan (PDP) last year and this year and how do they relate to prior years?

Similar to RFA-AG-15-007, the PDP is an optional, but strongly encouraged, aspect of the GEMSSTAR application that is meant to provide the applicant an opportunity to design a personalized, concurrent training  plan in clinical and research aspects of aging/geriatrics that will further enrich 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 and be submitted with the R03 as instructed in the RFA under “Facilities and Other Resources”. Funding for the applicant’s PDP is not included in the NIA R03 budget and should be secured separately by the applicant as described below. PDP support should begin at the start of R03 funding (~July 2016) 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.

Where should I put my PDP in the application and what format should I use?

The PDP should not exceed 5 pages in length and should be submitted under the ‘Facilities and Other Resources’ section of the R03 application.

How is the PDP evaluated and by whom?

PDPs are available to peer reviewers for their evaluation, and reviewers may comment administratively on a PDP after assigning scores to an application. Subsequently, an internal committee of NIA staff will evaluate applicants’ PDPs, if submitted, as evidence of a supportive environment to facilitate research, which is one of the funding criteria intended for applicants to take full advantage of available and needed resources and mentoring to launch a successful clinical/research career in aging/geriatrics aspects of their specialty.

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

Since the inception of the NIA GEMSSTAR awards in 2011, two organizations joined with various specialty societies to provide funding opportunities for GEMSSTAR applicants’ PDPs: the Alliance for Academic Internal Medicine (AAIM T. Franklin Williams Scholars Award) and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS - Jahnigen Career Development Award). Although the co-funding for the T. Franklins Williams Scholars Award and the Jahnigen Career Development award provided by the AAIM and AGS ended in 2015, these organizations continue to assist GEMSSTAR applicants in contacting several Specialty Societies for PDP funding through their websites (T. Franklin Williams Scholars and the Jahnigen Career Development Award programs). These organizations also contribute 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 the 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 AAIM and AGS websites, 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.

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 their PDP description under the Facilities and Other Resources part of their R03 application. Applicants who obtain PDP funding support after submission of the R03 application may include this 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. These requests are typically sent in early-mid spring.

General Questions

Are there any major changes in the GEMSSTAR application from last year?

No, there are no major changes from last year’s RFA; however, there have been two significant changes from earlier RFAs. First, applicants may submit a PDP as evidence of a supportive research environment as part of the R03 application (rather than afterwards). Second, a biennial GEMSSTAR awardees conference has been initiated, the next of which is expected in 2017.

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 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-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.

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, resubmissions from previous GEMSSTAR RFA’s are permitted. As described in NOT-OD-14-074, 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’ve 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 on October 7, 2015, final notifications regarding funding will not be released until July or August. NIA staff cannot tell you if your application will be funded before that time. However, after you receive your Summary Statement approximately 6-8 weeks after peer review, you may contact your program officer to discuss the critiques.

What is the GEMSSTAR Scholars Biennial Conference?

Every other year, the NIA, the American Geriatrics Society, and other co-sponsors invite all past and current GEMSSTAR Scholars for a 2-day meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. Each conference focuses on a specific topic pertinent to specialists in aging/geriatrics research, in addition to 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.  The first conference, titled “Integrating Frailty into Specialty Research,” was held on March 1-3, 2015. The agenda and slide sets from this conference are posted on the AGS website and a summary paper is in progress.


For questions, please contact:

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