ASBMB statement on NIH’s Revisions to the Fellowship Application

May 28, 2024

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology commends the National Institutes of Health for revising its National Research Service Award fellowship application to ensure a fair and equitable process for all applicants. In its announcement on April 18, the NIH outlined its plan to revise the review process to increase the participation of strong applicants at smaller schools, not penalize applicants with early career mentors, and attract well-qualified students with non-traditional academic backgrounds. 

The ASBMB applauds the NIH for addressing concerns about mentor’s track record, emphasis on undergraduate coursework, and the limited opportunity to address the candidate’s lived experience in the review process as we outlined in our comment letter to the NIH Center for Scientific Review in January 2022. 

Ann West leads the ASBMB’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee. 

“This is a significant advance in the NIH peer review of fellowship applications that will help reduce unconscious bias in the review process and promote a more inclusive STEM trainee pool,” West said  

The NIH evaluated the fellowship peer-review process in response to concerns from the scientific community that the current applicant pool for the NRSA fellowship is highly concentrated at a few schools and that the process places too much weight on seniority of the mentor, undergraduate coursework, and reputation of the institution. 

In addition, growing evidence demonstrates that undergraduate grades are not a strong indicator of future success. All these factors add barriers for underrepresented minority and first-generation applicants.  

The fellowship revisions will help reviewers focus on the candidate’s research training plan and preparedness. Finally, the fellowship revisions will help expand the candidates considered for NIH’s fellowships and improve diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM.