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Understand the peer review process

The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) receives all NIH grant applications. Most R01 applications submitted by investigators are sent to CSR for review. Grant requests to specific NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) undergo peer review by a group of experienced scientists from the appropriate NIH IC. This peer review process is described in brief below. For a more detailed explanation of the peer review process, see: http://cms.csr.nih.gov/AboutCSR/OverviewofPeerReviewProcess.htm

The peer review process begins when your application is received. One or more CSR Referral Officers reviews it to decide which NIH IC Integrated Review Group (IRG) is best oriented to evaluate it for scientific merit, and then sends your application to the selected IRG study section. A study section is usually made up of at least 20 scientists from the active research community. The experience and expertise of the scientists in each study group covers all aspects of the science area for which it is responsible. Since each study section has established review boundaries, and these boundaries may overlap, it is possible that several study sections will have the expertise to review your application. In the event that a unique expertise is needed, CSR may call upon outside consultants or form a temporary Special Emphasis Panel in order to fully and fairly evaluate your application.

Should your application be determined to have scientific merit, it will then be assigned to one or more NIH ICs for funding. The CSR office will consider requests, which you may make in your cover letter, for assignment of your application to a specific study section, Institute, or Center.

An assignment notice will be sent to you and your research sponsor within 10 days after CSR's selection of your study section or IC assignment. Please note that six weeks is the average time needed to assign a study section or IC to the 16,000 study applications received each round. If you have questions about the assignment decision, contact the Scientific Review Administrator (SRA) noted in your letter or the CSR referral office (301-435-0715). If you do not receive your assignment notice within six weeks, please contact the referral office.

If you wish to submit additional materials after you submit your application and before its review meeting, contact your SRA. It is important for you to know the acceptable content, format, and deadline for the submission of supplemental information.

The study section members who are best qualified to review and discuss your application are selected by your SRA, after that person has evaluated the content and completeness of your application. Six weeks before the application review meeting, selected study section members who are able to act as reviewers will receive a copy of your application. Several members will review each application in writing, while several others are asked to familiarize themselves with the applications and to support the discussion of each.

"Streamlining" is a process by which members of the study section list all R01 applications believed to be in the lower half for scientific merit. This takes place before the study section meets. All members must agree on which applications are streamlined. Although streamlined applications will not be discussed at the meeting, the assigned reviewers will still provide written critiques. Streamlining is a time-saving process, and should not be viewed as equivalent to disapproval.

The study section meets, for an average of two days. One member serves as the meeting chair and, along with the SRA, facilitates the discussion of applications. Written reviewers and those asked to support discussion present their evaluations of each application. Once an application has been discussed, members of the study section privately score it for independent tabulation by CSR after the meeting. Appropriate NIH staff may be invited to attend review meetings, but are not permitted to participate.

Your score and percentile ranking are mailed to you within a few days after the meeting. A summary statement, which is composed of the written critiques from reviewers, a summary of the study section review discussion, and the group's recommendations will be sent to your assigned IC, which will forward you a copy.

The assigned NIH IC will now handle the continuation of your application process. During the next level of the peer review process, the recommendations of the study section are considered by IC Advisory Councils. The Councils will also evaluate how relevant your proposed research is to the priorities of IC and to the needs of public health. An IC program officer will be your contact person after the review. This person is available to help you understand the results of your review, and to answer your questions about the rest of the application evaluation process.

For more information on the peer review process, check the CSR Policy, Procedure & Review Guidelines Web Page and the CSR Best Practices Web Page, which cover

  • How scientists are selected to serve in study sections
  • Guidelines for study section chairs
  • The role of the SRA
  • The submission and assignment process

If you need more information on grants in general, check the NIH Office of Extramural Research Grants (OER) Web page at http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/oer.htm. Here you will find information on funding opportunities, as well as grant application forms, instructions, and policies. Also available on this site is information on peer review policies and procedures applicable to all NIH components that conduct peer reviews. Another informational resource is the NIH GrantsInfo service, which can be contacted by e-mail (grantsinfo@nih.gov) or phone (301 435-0714).

ONCE YOU HAVE FAMILIARIZED YOURSELF WITH GRANT SOURCES, FUNDING MECHANISMS, SUBMISSION PROCEDURES, AND TIMELINES, USE THE FOLLOWING GUIDELINES TO HELP YOU DEVELOP AN EXCELENT GRANT APPLICATION:

Become familiar with NCI and DCCPS research priorities

Review priority-setting resources
These include the NCI planning documents "The Nation's Investment in Cancer Research for Fiscal Year 2007" and "NCI Participation in the NIH Roadmap for medical Research," both of which can be found at http://www.cancer.gov/researchandfunding/priorities

Detailed information about DCCPS research priorities can be found at http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/bb/

Information on high-priority research questions is located on the Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program (CTEP)'s State of the Science Web site at http://www.webtie.org/SOTS/index.htm

NCI research priorities are also determined by Progress Review Groups (PRGs), reports of which can be found at http://planning.cancer.gov/disease/prg.shtml

Survey Active Research

  • CRISP, or Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects, is a searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions. For more information about CRISP, FAQs, and directions for using the database, go to http://crisp.cit.nih.gov/
  • Cancer Research Portfolio - A comprehensive database of NCI-supported research presented by type of cancer or type of cancer research. http://researchportfolio.cancer.gov/
  • DCCPS Current Research - the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences conducts and supports an integrated program of the highest quality genetic, epidemiologic, behavioral, social, and surveillance cancer research. For funding opportunities, information and resources, and to view current cancer control research, visit http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/current_reasearch.html
  • ClinicalTrials.gov provides current information about federally (and privately) funded research: http://www.clinicaltrials.gov

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Last Updated: October 3, 2012

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