At NIGMS, site visits have traditionally been part of the peer review process for some training program renewal applications. The visits, which generally happened every other renewal cycle for existing programs, were conducted by NIGMS staff and review panel members to gain additional information about the programs. For those of you who are program directors or peer reviewers of our undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral training programs, it may feel as if site visits went away a long time ago. This is because changes to most of our training programs required new application submissions (see our previous post), which resulted in a significant reduction in visits, followed by a complete stoppage in recent months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even without site visits in the last year or two, members of our TWD standing review committees have continued to do an outstanding job evaluating the more than 12 different NIGMS training program areas managed by our Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity. The depth and quality of the discussions have been thoughtful and rigorous. Due to the large number of applications we receive, it’s never been possible to site visit all renewal programs in a review round.
Not conducting any review site visits ensures an even playing field for all applications, new and renewal. Along with an opportunity to save taxpayers’ dollars and fossil fuels, this change will reduce the time required of reviewers, NIH staff, and those at the sites, thus reducing administrative burden on applicants. Effective immediately, site visits will no longer be a part of the review process. However, because we’re committed to ensuring that all our programs have proper oversight, staff visits to grantee sites, conducted by program staff, will continue. These visits are scheduled on an ad hoc basis as needed, or when program staff are traveling to the location for other business.