Innovative Methods for Choosing Among Competing Grant Applications – Spring 2024 Members Meeting [March 14, 2024]

Most HRA members fund grants through competitive applications processes.  We must sort through the proposals and make decisions on how best to spend our available dollars to achieve the strategic goals of our organization.  Most of us use some variation on the process of peer reviews to rank the meritorious proposals selected by the committee into a fundable slate.  Some also use an additional interview process after peer review by the committee to finalize the application for funding support, or site-visit, which in recent years may be by video-conference.

However, many people are concerned that the review processes do not always support the best decisions: committees may devolve to the average, or there may be hidden or explicit biases, or the criteria used in our review processes may not actually be good predictors of successful outcomes and career advancement.

There have been many efforts to improve grant-making decisions by implementing methods such as blinding peer reviews to identity top ranking applicants, including non-academic scientists in the review process, applying bias mitigation strategies, and using random review order, among others.

In this session, three HRA members spoke on their own experiences with innovative methods for grant selection and told us how their experiments have worked out. The presentations were followed by an Open Mic session.


Kavita Bhalla, PhD
Director, Scientific Review | Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation

Kristen Mueller, PhD
Vice President, Autoimmune Arthritis Research | Arthritis Foundation


Jessica Biddinger
National Senior Director, Research and Grants Administration | American Heart Association

Jessica M. Biddinger has more than a decade of experience in research administration both in academia and the non-profit sphere. She began work in grants management at the American Urological Association as well as within the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and School of Nursing prior to joining the American Heart Association (AHA). Within the AHA, Jessica and her team oversee research applications, peer review, communications, and alumni engagement.

Anne Hultgren, PhD
Executive Director | Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation

Dr. Anne Hultgren is the Executive Director and CEO of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation,
which provides grants and awards to institutions and scientists for the advancement of basic research in the life sciences. In this role, she oversees the annual support to the five Beckman Institutes and Centers; the annual grant programs for the Beckman Young Investigator awards, the Beckman Postdoc Fellowships, the Beckman Scholars Program, and the Beckman Legacy Scholarships; and otherFoundation initiatives in accordance with Dr. Beckman’s original vision. Prior to joining the Foundation,

Dr. Hultgren was the acting Division Director of the Chemical and Biological Defense Division within the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) of the Department of Homeland Security. As Division Director, she was responsible for the oversight, budgeting, and reporting on research programs for chemical and biological threat detection, prevention, and recovery in support of the Homeland Security mission. Dr. Hultgren began her career with HSARPA in 2007 as a ProgramManager for autonomous biological detection systems.

Dr. Hultgren received her PhD in Physics and Astronomy from the Johns Hopkins University in 2005, and her BA in Physics and Mathematics from Franklin and Marshall College in 1999.

Chad Jackson, PhD
Senior Director, Preclinical Translational Research Program | Foundation Fighting Blindness

Dr. Chad Jackson is a science and technology expert with a relentless commitment to driving biological research and development for the benefit of human health, national security, and global challenges. Dr. Jackson has a background in neuroscience and pharmacology which dovetails with his commitment to make a positive impact on vision and mental health, emerging technology, and science policy. Chad attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia where he received degrees in Biochemistry and Molecular and Systems Pharmacology, respectively.

Currently, Dr. Jackson serves as the Senior Director of the Preclinical Translational Research Program at the Foundation Fighting Blindness. He advances research and development efforts for the low-vision community with a focus on treating and curing blindness.

Dr. Jackson also serves as the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors at Seeding Labs, a global organization that empowers scientists worldwide to fight diseases, feed the growing population, and protect the planet. Through fundraising efforts, Seeding Labs equips scientists with the necessary tools, training, and connections to drive innovative discoveries. Chad also sits on the Board of Directors at the McPherson Eye Research Institute. This organization is a multidisciplinary community of scholars working to gain critical knowledge about the science and art of vision and apply it to the prevention of blindness. Lastly, Dr. Jackson sits on the Board of Trustees at Earlham College.

Prior to his current role, Dr. Jackson served as a Senior Science & Technology Advisor providing science, technology, and communications support to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Biological Technologies Office. Dr. Jackson played a pivotal role in advising the Director and Deputy Director on the development of emerging biotechnologies with a focus on national security interests.

Dr. Chad Jackson is a respected figure in the fields of science, technology, and innovation, with a wide range of expertise spanning biological sciences, innovation and entrepreneurship, defense program management, emerging technologies, and international affairs. Through his multifaceted work, he continues to drive transformative change and contribute to the betterment of society.