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A peek at peer review helps young scientists

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Science  17 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6292, pp. 1379
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6292.1379

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Winning a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is hard, especially if it's your first one. New data from a pilot project called the Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program suggest that sitting in judgment of other grant applicants can help young scientists improve their odds when they apply for their own grants. Yet the program may not be meeting another key goal: helping close a stark racial disparity in NIH's grantsmaking process. NIH created the ECR Program after a disturbing 2011 report found that from 2000 to 2006 African-American applicants were 10% less likely than whites to receive an R01 grant, the bread-and-butter funding mechanism for academic researchers. The disparity persists, NIH officials told a top-level advisory council at its meeting last week. Observers say one explanation could be that minority applicants are unfamiliar with how NIH study sections work, and that their ignorance puts them at a competitive disadvantage. That possibility motivated officials to create the ECR Program, which allows young scientists to attend one meeting of a study section in their field of expertise.