More Information About New and Early Stage Investigator MIRA Outcomes

There has been ongoing discussion—both here and in the general scientific community—related to the first MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators (NI/ESI). One question that arose was why applications were administratively withdrawn. Both the NIH Center for Scientific Review and multiple NIGMS staff members, including the program director with a portfolio of grants closest to the applicant’s area of science, screened the applications. Of the withdrawn applications, a majority (~80%) were returned prior to review because they proposed research that fell outside of the NIGMS mission. Others were withdrawn because the applicant was not eligible for the FOA. After review, some applications were withdrawn because the PI accepted another award that was mutually exclusive with the MIRA. As recommended on the MIRA website and elsewhere, we encourage anyone who intends to apply for the Early Stage Investigator MIRA to discuss their plans with the appropriate NIGMS program director to determine whether the proposed research area is within the mission of the Institute and if the applicant is eligible to apply.

A major NIGMS goal is to support a broad portfolio that is diverse in research topics, approaches, institutions and investigators. This means we are looking carefully at the outcomes of awards, including gender and race/ethnicity data. We are also trying to take proactive steps to prevent bias during the review, for instance by covering the topic as part of reviewer orientations that take place several weeks before the MIRA study sections meet.

In our recent summary of MIRA applicant and awardee demographics, we looked to see how applications from underrepresented groups compared to those from well-represented groups (White and Asian). The p-value for a difference between the distributions of funded and unfunded applications from these groups was 0.63, meaning that there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups. We also compared the MIRA success rates to those of ESI applicants for NIGMS R01s in fiscal years (FY) 2011-2015 (Table 1).

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Trending Young in New and Early Stage Investigator MIRA

Dr. Jon Lorsch

The MIRA presentation at the September 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 17:13.

Following up on the previous post regarding the first MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators, we issued awards to a total of 94 grantees. In addition to ensuring that we are funding the highest quality science across areas associated with NIGMS’ mission, a major goal is to support a broad and diverse portfolio of research topics and investigators. One step in this effort is to make sure that existing skews in the system are not exacerbated during the MIRA selection process. To assess this, we compared the gender, race/ethnicity and age of those MIRA applicants who received an award with those of the applicants who did not receive an award, as well as with New and Early Stage Investigators who received competitive R01 awards in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

We did not observe any significant differences in the gender or race/ethnicity distributions of the MIRA grantees as compared to the MIRA applicants who did not receive an award. Both groups were roughly 25% female and included ≤10% of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. These proportions were also not significantly different from those of the new and early stage R01 grantees. Thus although the MIRA selection process did not yet enhance these aspects of the diversity of the awardee pool relative to the other groups of grantees, it also did not exacerbate the existing skewed distribution.

We did observe significant differences among the mean ages of the MIRA grantees, MIRA applicants who did not receive an award and the R01-funded grantees. The MIRA grantees are 1.5 years younger on average than those MIRA applicants who did not receive an award (37.2 vs. 38.7 years, p<0.05), and about 2 years younger than the FY 2015 R01-funded Early Stage Investigators (37.2 vs. 39.1 years, p<0.001). The R01-funded New Investigators in FY 2015, a pool which includes a few individuals older than 60 years, average an age of 45.6 years. This selection for funding investigators earlier is a promising feature of the first round of MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators. As noted at the recent meeting of our Advisory Council, where Jon presented these data, 37 years is still relatively late for investigators to be getting their first major NIH grant. We will continue to monitor this issue with the goal of further decreasing that figure.

Outcomes Analysis of the NIGMS Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) Program

We recently analyzed the career outcomes of scholars who participated in the NIGMS IRACDA program. A goal of this program is to provide a diverse pool of postdoctoral scholars with research and professional skills needed to be successful in academic careers. The program combines a mentored postdoctoral research experience with an opportunity to develop additional academic and teaching skills, including a teaching practicum at a partner institution that enrolls a substantial number of students from underrepresented groups. Since its inception in 1999, 25 research-intensive institutions have received IRACDA awards, which have supported more than 600 scholars.

Our assessment focused on the 450 alumni who completed their training through November 2014. Important findings include:

  • IRACDA scholars are diverse: 63% are female, and 53% identify as a race/ethnicity other than white, non-Hispanic.
  • Approximately 73% of IRACDA alumni are in academic faculty positions at a range of institutions (see Figure 1).
  • Among the scholars in faculty positions, 35% are at research-intensive institutions, 25% are at primarily undergraduate institutions and the remaining percent are at associate- and master’s degree-granting institutions. In addition, 25% of the IRACDA alumni in academic positions are faculty at a designated minority-serving institution.

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Give Input on Needs and Opportunities in Team-Based Science

We’ve been examining the benefits and challenges of team science and considering approaches to support this mode of research.

We use a variety of mechanisms to fund collaborative and team-based science, including program project grants (P01s) and different types of center grants (e.g., P50s and U54s). At our recent Advisory Council meeting, we heard a report on P01 outcomes compared to those of other mechanisms. We also heard a report from an external review panel on the National Centers for Systems Biology program.

To explore team science approaches, we have set up an internal NIGMS committee that includes representatives from across the Institute. Our goal is to develop better ways to identify and support research teams that will produce scientific advances not attainable by single individuals or by standard collaborative efforts.

One of the committee’s first efforts was issuing a request for information (RFI) on approaches for supporting team science in the biomedical research community. We’re soliciting input on a number of topics, including:

  • Interest in team science.
  • Management and advisory structures in team science.
  • Team composition.
  • Resources and infrastructure.
  • Assessment of team science.
  • Past or current NIGMS team-based programs and funding mechanisms.

RFI responses should be sent to by June 17, 2016. We also welcome comments here.

Educational Outcomes of the NIGMS Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) Program

UPDATE: The MARC U-Star report includes an addendum on the demographics of the program’s alumni.

We recently analyzed the educational outcomes of trainees who participated in the NIGMS MARC U-STAR program. The goal of the program is to enhance the pool of students from underrepresented groups earning baccalaureate and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical research fields. MARC U-STAR is part of a larger effort at NIGMS to support the development of a highly skilled, creative and diverse biomedical research workforce. This study was designed to identify the educational outcomes of over 9,000 MARC U-STAR alumni appointed at 114 institutions between 1986 and 2013.

MARC U-STAR grants are awarded to undergraduate institutions. Each grant supports a continuous 2-year program for the junior and senior (or final two) years of college that provides the trainees with academic enhancement, research training and professional skills development. In addition to these on-campus enhancements, MARC U-STAR institutions are expected to provide each trainee with a summer research experience at a research-intensive institution. The recently released Funding Opportunity Announcement describes the expectation that a majority of MARC U-STAR alumni nationwide will matriculate in a research doctorate program.

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Support of Structural Biology and PSI Resources

The 15-year Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) ended on June 30, 2015. In preparation for the termination of the program, an external committee of structural biologists and biomedical researchers identified high-priority areas for NIGMS’ future support of structural biology and the preservation of certain PSI resources. Here are some of their key recommendations and what we’re planning to do in response.

Continue to support synchrotron beamlines for macromolecular crystallography.

Recognizing the importance of synchrotron beamlines in modern structural biology, we intend to continue to support these community resources. Part of this effort includes using a new funding approach to ensure that NIH-supported investigators have reliable access to mature synchrotron-based resources.

Maintain the technologies that make structural investigations possible at the most advanced level; meet the need for modern cryo-electron microscopy resources.

We’ll continue to use existing grant mechanisms to support structural biology research, including
X-ray crystallography, NMR, cryo-EM and integrative or hybrid methods. To facilitate the use of
cryo-EM for structure determination we have started a program to provide support for consortia of
cryo-EM labs to upgrade their facilities
. NIGMS is also developing plans for establishing regional
cryo-EM centers that could provide access to state-of-the-art cryo-EM resources for the broader structural biology community.

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Outcomes Analysis of the NIGMS Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP)

We recently analyzed the educational and career outcomes of scholars who participated in the NIGMS Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). The goal of this program, which we started in 2000, is to prepare recent baccalaureate graduates from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences for entry into—and completion of—rigorous Ph.D. training programs. PREP is part of a larger effort at NIGMS to support the development of a highly skilled, creative and diverse biomedical research workforce.

PREP grants are awarded to research-intensive institutions. Each grant supports five to 10 scholars who spend 75 percent of their time as apprentice scientists pursuing a mentored discovery research project and the remainder engaged in academic and professional development activities. These include a program of study to enhance their academic record and workshops to improve their writing and presentation skills.

Our assessment of PREP outcomes is based on various educational and career metrics for PREP scholars supported from 2001 to 2014 through 41 institutional programs. For more details about the analysis, read the report.

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Outcomes Analysis of the NIGMS Diversity Supplement Program

We recently analyzed outcomes of the NIGMS Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (referred to here as the Diversity Supplement Program or DSP), which provides investigators holding active NIGMS research grants with supplemental funds to support scholars from groups underrepresented in biomedical science. Using a public search approach, we could track a large proportion of participants—but not all—through doctoral training and into various careers. We assessed the educational and career outcomes for undergraduate, graduate student and postdoctoral participants supported by supplements between 1989 and 2006, and we encourage you to explore the report.

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The Advisory Council’s Critical Roles

Later this month, the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council will hold the first of its three meetings in 2011. While many applicants, grantees and reviewers are familiar with the roles and processes of study sections, fewer know how an advisory council works. In this post, I’ll provide an overview of its many critical roles.

Council members are leaders in the biological and medical sciences, education, health care and public affairs. Their areas of expertise cover the broad range of scientific fields supported by NIGMS. The Council performs the second level of peer review for research and research training grant applications assigned to NIGMS. Council members also offer advice and recommendations on policy and program development, program implementation, evaluation and other matters of significance to the mission and goals of the Institute.

A portion of each Council meeting is open to the public.

For the peer review function, which occurs during the part of the meeting that is closed to the public, Council members read summary statements, providing a general check on the quality of the first level of peer review. They advise us if they find cases where the comments and scores do not appear to be in good alignment. Their evaluation complements the initial peer review done by study sections, as it focuses primarily on summary statements rather than on applications (although Council members may have access to the applications).

Members also provide advice regarding formal appeals, typically discussing 10-20 cases per meeting in which a procedural aspect may have significantly influenced the initial peer review process.

The Council also provides input on cases where staff are considering exceptions to the well-funded laboratory policy, and it approves the potential funding of grants to investigators at foreign institutions. Another area of Council input relates to Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) awards. Finally, Council members point out applications that they feel are particularly interesting based on their scientific expertise and knowledge of trends in particular fields. They explain their perspective to NIGMS staff, who incorporate this input in subsequent steps of the funding decision process. I’ll describe these steps in an upcoming post.

The policy and program advisory function includes discussing “concept clearances,” or ideas for new initiatives being considered within the Institute. These can take the form of proposed requests for applications (RFAs) or program announcements (PAs). Council members provide critical analysis and feedback about the appropriateness of proposed initiatives and factors to consider should they be implemented. Approved concept clearances are posted soon after each Council meeting on the NIGMS Web site and often on the Feedback Loop. NIGMS staff can then receive input from the scientific community as they refine the funding opportunity announcements.

This month’s meeting will include one concept clearance presentation, on macromolecular complexes.

Council members also give input and feedback on assessments and formal evaluations of specific NIGMS programs, such as the Protein Structure Initiative. When the need arises, Council members form working groups focused on specific issues. To ensure an appropriate range of expertise and perspectives, these groups can include non-Council members, as well. Finally, the Council receives periodic reports about ongoing initiatives in order to monitor how they are proceeding and offer advice about possible changes.