Enhancing Peer Review: The NIGMS Announces Consolidation of Review Criteria for Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (U-STAR) Institutional Training Grant Applications (T34) Submitted for FY 2010 Funding

Notice Number: NOT-GM-09-029

Key Dates
Release Date:  September 24, 2009

Issued by
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) (http://www.nigms.nih.gov)


The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) awards Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (U-STAR) National Research Service Act (NRSA) Training Grants (T34) to eligible institutions as one of its primary means of supporting undergraduate research training to help ensure that a diverse and highly trained workforce is available to assume leadership roles related to the Nation’s biomedical and behavioral health research agenda (PAR-07-337).

In June 2007, NIH initiated a formal, agency-wide effort to evaluate the NIH peer review system (http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/).  After careful deliberation and consideration of the recommendations resulting from this year-long evaluation, NIH announced a series of plans in the latter half of 2008 to implement a number of key changes in the NIH peer review system, including the introduction of a 9-point scoring system, for research grant and cooperative agreement applications received for Fiscal Year 2010 funding.  Under the new scoring system, each of five review criteria will receive an individual score of 1 to 9 (1=outstanding, to 9=poor).  In addition, the overall impact/priority score will be reported in the summary statement for applications discussed at the review meeting; this overall score will be determined by considering five scored criteria, plus additional review criteria.

Currently, MARC U-STAR T34 training grant applications are evaluated based on seven major criteria: (1) Training Program; (2) Training Program Director; (3) Research Mentors; (4) Past Training Record; (5) Institutional Training Environment, Commitment, and Resources; (6) Trainee Recruitment, Advising and Selection Plan; and (7) Evaluation and Tracking Plan, plus additional review criteria.  As was previously announced for pre- and postdoctoral NRSA training grant applications (NOT-OD-09-074), the purpose of this notice is to announce the consolidation of these 7 existing review criteria for training grants into 5 major review criteria that will receive individual criterion scores.  It should be emphasized that while the review criteria have been consolidated, they remain essentially unchanged in scope.  The additional review criteria and considerations described in the funding opportunity announcement (PAR-07-337) also remain in place.


The consolidated review criteria (below) will be effective immediately for all MARC U-STAR NRSA training grant (T34) applications submitted to NIGMS for FY 2010 funding (May 25, 2009 receipt date).   

Consolidated T34 Review Criteria

The scientific review group will address and consider each of these criteria in assigning the application’s overall score, weighting them as appropriate for each application.  Reviewers will first determine the quality of the proposed research training program, including information presented in the data tables and appendix, and then consider whether the requested number of trainee positions is appropriate for the program.

Training Program and Environment: Are the objectives, design and direction of the proposed research training program such that having the program will lead to an increase in the institutional outcomes of alumni/alumnae earning Ph.D.s?   Is the quality of the research environment for the proposed research training program--available facilities, curriculum, research and research training support—conducive to preparing students for successful careers in biomedical science?  Does the proposed program provide suitable training for the levels of trainees being proposed and the areas of science to be supported by the program?  Are the quality of advising and proposed skills development activities appropriate for pre-MARC trainees and trainees?  Are inter- and multi-disciplinary and inter-professional research training opportunities or novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, or technologies appropriately utilized? Does the training plan include required rigorous curricula designed to assure that MARC trainees are prepared for highly selective graduate Ph.D. programs, especially NRSA-supported graduate research training programs?  Is the level of institutional commitment appropriate?  Is the proposed program to be an integral component of the applicant institution’s overall research program/mission?

Training Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI): Does the Program Director have the scientific background, expertise, and administrative experience appropriate to direct, manage, coordinate, and administer the proposed research training program?  Is the time commitment of the Program Director adequate and feasible?  Is there an effective team of faculty and staff and administration that assures continuity of the program?  Will the program leadership be able to give an appropriate level of effort to the program to ensure the success of its objectives?

Preceptors/Mentors: If intramural research training is proposed, are the in-house mentors of appropriate caliber as researchers and do they have a record of preparing underrepresented minorities for further research?  Are the external mentors proposed of appropriate caliber as researchers and do they have a record of preparing underrepresented minorities for further research?  Is there a sufficient number of experienced mentors with appropriate expertise and funding available at the applicant institution or at a partner institution to support a viable program?  Is the experience of those providing academic/career advice or workshops appropriate?

Trainees: Are there appropriate plans for identifying, advising and strengthening potential trainees?  Are the recruiting procedures, trainee selection criteria, trainee selection process, and retention strategies appropriate and well defined?  Are there advertising plans or other effective strategies to recruit high-quality trainees?  For competing renewal applications: How successful has the program been in its efforts to develop trainees who go on to a highly selective Ph.D. program?

Training Record: Are the past records of student development at the institution, of research training by the program (if a renewal application), of the Program Director, and of designated preceptors/mentors appropriate?  How successful are former trainees in seeking graduate training in highly selective research training programs?  Is there evidence of alumni/alumnae completion of Ph.D. programs and progression to further training and research careers?  Is the evaluation plan adequate and sufficiently detailed to determine changes in institutional outcomes, to track career outcomes of trainees and to determine if the program is successful?  Does the evaluation plan include a system for tracking participants following program completion, such as publications, grant proposals and awards, and career trajectory of supported trainees?  For competing renewal applications: Are there plans to make changes that improve program performance and the assessment of outcomes?


Inquiries regarding this notice may be directed to:

Helen R. Sunshine, Ph.D.
Chief, Office of Scientific Review
National Institute of General Medical Sciences
45 Center Drive, Room 3An.12F, MSC 6200
Bethesda, MD 20892-6200
Telephone: (301) 594-2881
FAX: (301) 480-8506
Email: sunshinh@nigms.nih.gov

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