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Category 2 Letters — Unbiased External Evaluations

(APP Section 3.12.c.ii)

For appointment or promotion to the ranks of Associate Professor or Professor, at least three letters must be solicited from individuals who are at an academic rank equal to or above the rank proposed for the candidate (or in an equivalent position in a non-academic institution) and who are not UMMS faculty members. These individuals should not have a personal and/or professional relationship with the candidate that suggests a real or perceived conflict of interest or bias in evaluating the candidate. For example, the individual should not be a personal friend or relative, a close colleague at the same or previous institution, or a past or present mentor, supervisor or collaborator (as demonstrated by co-authored papers or joint funding).

Who May Write Category 2 Letters

UMMS uses the NIH Policy on Reviewer Conflict of Interest (NIH-OD-13-010) as a guide for screening. Individuals should NOT be solicited for Category 2 letters if they are collaborators, co-authors or mentors of the candidate within the previous three years, as demonstrated by

  • co-authorship on scholarly works, including meeting abstracts and presentations, but not including position papers, professional group or conference reports
  • being named with the candidate on a current, pending, or completed funding award (except for providing a resource or service that is freely available to anyone in the scientific community)
  • other evidence of a close personal, professional or financial relationship (as identified either by the candidate or evaluator)

Beyond this three-year window, potential evaluators should not have a real or perceived conflict of interest or bias that would cause a reviewer to question the evaluator's impartiality.
For example, Category 2 letters should not be solicited from individuals who have

  • a close personal relationship with the candidate
  • multiple papers or grants with the candidate
  • served in an official capacity as a supervisor or training director for the candidate (e.g., former chair, lab head, fellowship or residency director)

All Category 2 letters for a candidate should not come from individuals at the same institution.
Individuals who do not meet the criteria for Category 2 may write Category 1 letters.

Responsibility for ensuring that category 2 letters meet the criteria occurs at four stages in the process:

  • the candidate, in compiling a proposed list of individuals to write letters;
  • the chair, GSN Dean, or their designee, in selecting individuals and reviewing the letters received;
  • the DPAC, in reviewing the candidate’s Basic File; and
  • the Office of Faculty Affairs (OFA), in reviewing Basic Files submitted for review by school PACs.

If the chair, GSN Dean or DPAC determine that the letters received for a candidate do not meet the criteria for Category 2 letters, additional letters should be solicited before formal review of the candidate. Concerns about letters raised at a later stage of the process may delay review and approval of the candidate.

The ideal Category 2 letter is from an authority in the field who knows the candidate well enough to highlight their accomplishments and address unique aspects of their career but not someone who would be perceived as having a positive bias or conflict in evaluating the candidate. For example, Category 2 letters could be solicited from individuals:

  • who have worked with the candidate on a review panel, advisory board or committee for a public or professional organization
  • who work in the same field, but do not currently collaborate with the candidate, and may have witnessed the candidate present at meetings or other institutions