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This page is designed to help you learn more about the peer review process and why we’re revising the application and review process for NIH fellowship applications submitted for due dates on or after January 25, 2025.

Developing Revisions for Fellowship Application and the Review Process

In the fall of 2021, motivated after hearing concerns from the extramural community, the 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 well-established 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.  

Between April and June 2023, NIH solicited feedback on the recommendations via a public request for information (RFI). The RFI was publicized through the NIH Guide, Federal Register, a co-blog shared by CSR and the Office of Extramural Research (OER), NIH social media channels, and direct emails sent to leadership at almost 500 educational institutions. In response, NIH received 164 unique responses from individuals, scientific societies, and academic institutions. Overall, respondents were supportive of the changes but 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 revised (1) the review criteria used to evaluate fellowship applications and (2) the fellowship supplemental section of the Public Health Service (PHS) SF 424. An NIH-wide implementation team began rolling out the revisions to the fellowship application and review process to the broader community in April of 2024.