The NIH Early Career Reviewer Program-Some Key Parameters

Feb 05 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Many have stated that serving on a study section can be an important step developing in an academic career. I did not serve until I was relatively well established, but I do vividly recall that the opportunity helped me understand the process better and improved my ability to craft better proposals. Moreover, it increased my faith that the peer review system was thoughtful and fair although certainly not perfect. In 2011, NIH announced a new program to allow early career scientists to serve on study sections. This program has two primary objectives. First, it allows early career investigators to observe and understand the review process directly with the goal of helping them enhance their abilities to write more competitive proposals. Second, it helps NIH review staff identify and screen potential reviewers for additional service.

To be eligible for the Early Career Reviewer Program, a individual must not have had substantial NIH review experience and have at least 2 years experience as an independent investigator with 2 recent publications as a senior author.

Following a recent discussion on Twitter about how many individuals who had applied to the program had actually served on a study section, I submitted a FOIA request for data regarding the program. I recently received the response. While the data are not comprehensive, they do allow an assessment of some of the key parameters.

(1)  The acceptance rate into the program appears to be around 64%. Specifically, from the period from June 2014 through December 2015, NIH received 1863 applications for the program and accepted 1189 individuals. The total number of applicants to date appears to be 4,534.

(2) The number of individuals who have actually served on a study section in this capacity is 1706 from the beginning of fiscal year 2012 when the program began through the first round of fiscal year 2016.

Graphically, the progression through the program is as follows:

ECReviewer plot

Three additional parameters are:

(3) The percentage of women accepted into the program is approximately 45% and a similar percentage of women have actually served.

(4) The pool of scientists accepted into the program is approximately 6% African American, 7% Hispanic, and 27% Asian.

(5) Approximately 13% of the individuals accepted into the program are from institutions eligible to apply for R15 (AREA) grants.

I do not know if NIH is planning an evaluation of this program. However, such an evaluation would seem to be straightforward and would help codify the value of study section experience to scientists developing their career and could also address the question of how well early career scientists perform compared to more established scientists in the review process. What are your thoughts?


11 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    One thought is the reminder that this program started with the intent to focus on underrepresented groups- including the institutional representation you identify with your AREA-qualified stat.

    I say started b/c certain forces in CSR quickly complained and forced the program to be opened to all before it was even started. I had been hoping that despite this, there would be enough SROs hewing to the original mission to do slightly better than expected value when it comes to underrepresented groups. These numbers are underwhelming.

  • A. Tasso says:

    Do you have data on the characteristics of those who are asked to serve as reviewers? I was accepted into the early career reviewer program 2 years ago and have not been asked to serve (although I have notified my K award program officer that I am eager and willing to do so). Objectively, I am out-publishing my peers by a factor of 2 to 3 with publications in top journals. So it can't possibly be that I am under qualified.

    • datahound says:

      I only have the gender data and there is not significant difference between those accepted and those who have served. I do not have (and I doubt NIH has) data on the subsequent productivity of those accepted or those who have served.

  • girlparts says:

    I suspect that most early career investigators do not know ECR exists, and that this is particularly true for those who are not "insiders" and would most benefit. Do SROs send an email to everyone who checks new investigator or early stage investigator on their application?

  • […] on being a new investigator from DataHound: The NIH Early Career Reviewer Program-Some Key Parameters. I have long advocated doing this. Here are the statistics to support […]

  • Dave says:

    I also applied and got accepted, but have not been asked yet. Seems that this is not uncommon.

  • clueless noob says:

    I'm also still in that red-minus-green camp; I've emailed SROs to volunteer, but responses so far have been of the polite "thanks, we'll call you if we need you" variety.

  • Caroline Bass says:

    I thought about applying but everyone in my peer group who has applied hasn't been asked to serve. Many new R01 recipients I know would like to serve in general, and have even reached out to the NIH, but still haven't been picked. Kind of puzzling.

    On the other hand I haven't applied but was sought out recently and served on one section. I have no idea how they identified, but it was a great experience.

  • SaG says:

    For those who were accepted and waiting to be asked I suggest being more pro-active. Contact the relevant SROs directly. Let them know your expertise and that you are in the program. If you have done this send a new email a 2-3 weeks after the R01 receipt date when SROs are trying to fill their panels. At other times (i.e., 30-45 days after the panel meets when they are furiously writing summary statements) will likely get you ignored.

    I also suggest contacting the review offices of the larger institutes (NCI, NIAID, NIGMS etc.) and send them your cv and expertise. Program officers are often asked for reviewer suggestions too so let your PO (if you have one) know of your interest.

Leave a Reply