Implementation of Revisions to the NIH and AHRQ Fellowship Application and Review Process
Notice Number:

Key Dates

Release Date:

April 18, 2024

Related Announcements

  • April 4, 2024 - New NIH "FORMS-I" Grant Application Forms and Instructions Coming for Due Dates on or after January 25, 2025. See Notice NOT-OD-24-086.
  • April 4, 2024 - Overview of Grant Application and Review Changes for Due Dates on or after January 25, 2025. See Notice NOT-OD-24-084.
  • April 24, 2023 - Request for Information (RFI) on Recommendations for Improving NRSA Fellowship Review. See Notice NOT-OD-23-110.

Issued by


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ


This notice announces changes to the application and peer review process for NIH and AHRQ fellowship applications, starting with submissions with due dates after January 25, 2025. The overall goal of the changes is to facilitate the mission of fellowship peer review – to identify the most promising candidates and the individualized training opportunities that will assist them along their paths to support the advancement of the biomedical research enterprise.


In Fall 2021, motivated by having heard concerns from the extramural community, the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) charged an Advisory Council Working Group (CSRAC WG) with evaluating the fellowship review process and making recommendations on how to make that process as effective and fair as possible. The CSRAC WG raised concerns about mentor reputational and career stage bias, how information within applications is utilized to assess candidates, and a burdensome application for both candidates and reviewers. The WG also considered data on peer review outcomes that showed applications with senior sponsors and applications from institutions that submit a disproportionately large number of fellowship applications fare better in review. In order to improve the chances that the most promising candidates will be consistently identified by peer review, the CSRAC WG issued a Final Report of the CSR Advisory Council Working Group on Peer Review of NRSA Fellowship Applications with their recommendations.

NIH solicited feedback on the proposed changes to the application and review process with a request for information  (RFI) notice soliciting feedback on the proposed framework, as well as NIH blogs, social media, and direct emails to leadership of almost 500 educational institutions. Responses from the RFI reinforced CSRAC WG concerns that NIH was potentially leaving out highly promising scientists because of a process that too heavily favors elite institutions, senior, well-known sponsors, and an overly narrow emphasis on traditional markers of early academic success. Responses to the RFI also highlighted a need to: (1) change the initially proposed review criteria for clarity; (2) reduce redundancy across the review criteria; (3) clarify the application instructions to indicate which party – candidate or sponsor – is responsible for each section. These responses were considered in finalizing the review criteria and application changes.

Based on input from the CSRAC WG and public feedback, NIH and AHRQ will revise (1) the review criteria used to evaluate fellowship applications and 2) the PHS Fellowship Supplemental Form.


The revised fellowship application and review process will be effective for application due dates on or after January 25, 2025, for the programs using the following activity codes: F30, F31, F32, F33, and F99/K00.

Review Process

Peer review of fellowship applications serves to provide expert assessment to NIH and AHRQ on the likelihood that a fellowship award will enhance a candidate’s potential for, and commitment to, a productive independent scientific research career in a health-related field. The changes to the fellowship process include revisions to (1) the criteria used to evaluate fellowship applications and (2) the PHS Fellowship Supplemental Form to align it with the review criteria. The changes serve to:

  1. Better focus reviewer attention on three key assessments: the fellowship candidate’s preparedness and potential, research training plan, and commitment to the candidate.
  2. Ensure a broad range of candidates and research training contexts can be recognized as meritorious by clarifying and simplifying the language in the application and review criteria.
  3. Reduce bias in review by emphasizing the commitment to the candidate without undue consideration of sponsor and institutional reputation. 

Review Criteria

The revised fellowship peer review process reorganizes the five current scored review criteria and redefines them in three scored criteria.

Revised Review Criteria

Candidate’s Preparedness and Potential

  • Discuss the candidate’s preparedness for the proposed research training plan. Consider the context, for example, the candidate’s stage of training and the opportunities available.
  • Assess whether the candidate and sponsor statements as well as the referee letters provide convincing evidence that the candidate possesses qualities (such as scientific understanding, creativity, curiosity, resourcefulness, and drive) that will improve the likelihood of a successful research training outcome.
  • Consider the candidate’s potential to benefit from the fellowship research training plan and to transition to the next career stage in the biomedical research workforce.

Research Training Plan

  • Assess the rigor and feasibility of the research training project and how completion of the project will contribute to the development of the candidate as a research scientist. 
  • Evaluate the goals of the overall research training plan and the extent to which the plan will facilitate the attainment of the goals.
  • Discuss whether the research training plan identifies areas of needed development and contains appropriate, realistic activities and milestones to address those needs.
  • Consider whether the sponsor(s), scientific environment, facilities, and resources are adequate and appropriate for the proposed research training plan.

Commitment to Candidate 

  • Assess whether the sponsor(s) presents a strong mentoring plan appropriate to the needs and goals of the candidate. 
  • Evaluate the extent to which the sponsor(s) and organizational commitment is appropriate, sufficient, and in alignment with the candidate’s research training plan. 
  • Consider whether the level of commitment provided will contribute to the successful completion of the proposed plan and allow the candidate to advance to a productive career in the biomedical research workforce.

Changes to the PHS Fellowship Supplemental Form

The PHS Fellowship Supplemental Form included in fellowship application packages will be updated to  align with the restructured criteria. Notable changes include:

  1. Revisions to the Applicant Section (now “Candidate Section”)
    • Grades will no longer be required or allowed. 
    • Candidates will be required to submit four personal statements: (1) a statement of professional and fellowship goals, (2) fellowship qualifications, (3) a self-assessment, and (4) scientific perspective.
  2. Revisions to the Research Training Plan Section
    • The headings of some sections have been revised to emphasize the importance of training in the fellowship plan
    • The section Selection of Sponsor and Institution has been removed in favor of including the information elsewhere in the application.
    • The sections include: (1) Training Activities and Timeline, (2) Research Training Project Specific Aims, (3) Research Training Project Strategy, including the Scientific Foundation & Rationale and Approach.
  3. Revisions to the Candidate Sponsor and Co-sponsor Section (now “Commitment to Candidate, Mentoring, and Training Environment”)
    • Sponsors and Co-sponsors will be required to submit five statements: (1) Mentoring Approach and Candidate Mentoring Plan; (2) Prior Commitment to Training and Mentoring; (3) Commitment to the Candidate’s Research Training Plan; (4) Research Training Environment; and (5) Candidate’s Potential.A sixth statement on Clinical Training will be required for candidates proposing to gain experience in a clinical trial as part of the research training plan. 

Revised Instructions for Reference Letters

NIH and AHRQ are providing detailed instructions so that the letters better assist reviewers in understanding the candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential to pursue a productive career in biomedical science. 


More information and resources will be shared as the implementation date approaches including webinars for prospective applicants. The first public webinar will be held in September 2024.


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