The 12-person panel evaluates National Institutes of Health grant applications pertaining to the biological mechanisms and therapeutics of impaired physical function and then makes recommendations based on the merit of the research to the appropriate national advisory council.
Winstein, a seasoned researcher herself in the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, welcomes the opportunity to help contour the profession’s evolving scientific inquiry and knowledge base.
“I have seen significant change in rehabilitation science,” Winstein said. “And I would like to bring that perspective to my reviews for the MRS Study Section and be able to communicate to the broader community what is good science and what should be supported.”
Strengthening the science
One of the biggest changes Winstein has noticed in her 40-plus years in the profession, she said, is the increasing maturity of the field where researchers are no longer content to show a cause-effect relationship. They now want to truly understand the mechanisms underlying their research outcomes — a sophistication she welcomed as a way to further fortify the science behind physical therapy.
As an MRS Study Section member, Winstein expects a heavy workload, where she will spend anywhere from five to 10 hours per grant application.
“I want to make sure that I give constructive feedback to allow people the chance to revise their proposals to get to a threshold that is fundable,” said Winstein, director of the Motor Behavior and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory. “I think that’s a very important part of shaping the enterprise so that good work becomes excellent work.”
How the process works
For the uninitiated, the process goes something like this: Each committee member is tasked with being the primary reviewer for a certain number of grant applications. Each application has at least three assigned reviewers (one primary and several secondary). Those applications that have a preliminary impact score of 5 or below (the lower the number, the better, using the NIH scoring system) are brought up for discussion when the MRS Study Section convenes in person. The triaged applications (those with greater than 5 impact scores from all reviewers assigned to that proposal) are sent back with comments prepared by each reviewer, but without the benefit of the in-person discussion.
All applications are sent back to the applicant with comments and feedback meant to help strengthen the proposal should the applicant choose to resubmit. Applicants with low overall impact scores are strongly encouraged to revise and resubmit.
This is an opportunity to promote junior investigators in the field who are just starting out and need an opportunity.
At the MRS Study Section meeting, a grant application’s primary reviewer can argue the case for a particular research piece and persuade other reviewers to modify their preliminary score accordingly. Afterward, a final vote from the entire committee is tallied and recommendations are then made to the council that makes funding decisions.
The MRS Study Section does not itself grant funding; it only reviews and makes recommendations based on the merit of the application.
Winstein said that a lot of what she will be doing with the study section she’s already doing at the division — critiquing students’ and junior faculty’s grant applications and working with them to make them stronger and more compelling. She said that she looks forward to the mentorship opportunities afforded to her as a MRS Study Section member.
“I think this is an opportunity to promote junior investigators in the field who are just starting out and need an opportunity,” she said. “They’re the ones who are going to push the field forward.”
Winstein’s term begins July 1, 2015 and ends June 30, 2020.