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Peer Review of Applications

Questions and Answers

Table of Contents

General

After Applying

During Review Meetings

General

Read the questions and answers below or see the Table of Contents above.

Where can I find information about peer review?

For in-depth information, go to the Strategy for NIH Funding and the Peer Review portal. Also see our other Peer Review questions and answers.

When does CSR oversee initial peer review? When does NIAID?

NIH's Center for Scientific Review (CSR) oversees initial peer review for most investigator-initiated applications, including single project R01 and small business (SBIR and STTR) applications.

NIAID oversees initial peer review for most requests for applications (RFA), all solicitations, and some investigator-initiated applications (for example, program projects). For details, see What award types are peer reviewed at NIAID? in our Peer Review at NIAID questions and answers.

For more information, go to:

Where can I find out about peer review at NIAID?

NIAID oversees initial peer review for most requests for applications (RFAs), all solicitations, and some investigator-initiated applications (for example, program projects). For details, see What award types are peer reviewed at NIAID? in our Peer Review at NIAID questions and answers.

What are integrated review groups, scientific review groups, study sections, special emphasis panels, and the Center for Scientific Review?

Find descriptions in Who Peer Reviews Your Application? in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Go to the definitions in our NIAID Glossary of Funding and Policy Terms and Acronyms:

Does NIH group applications by type or other criterion?

Yes. NIH groups applications by activity code as well as whether they come from new investigators, when possible.

Who are peer reviewers?

They are your scientific peers from academia, industry, and more rarely, the federal government.

See Who Peer Reviews Your Application? in the Strategy for NIH Funding and Will most reviewers be experts in my field? on this page.

Can I request or recommend a reviewer I like?

No. If you do request or recommend a reviewer, he or she will be disqualified from reviewing your application.

Is study section membership confidential?

No. You can find CSR study section rosters at CSR’s Roster Index for Regular Standing Study Sections and Continuing SEPs. Keep in mind that not all reviewers come to every meeting, and CSR may bring in ad hoc reviewers who may review your application.

For applications reviewed at NIAID, go to Where do I find rosters for NIAID's chartered review committees? in the Peer Review at NIAID questions and answers.

After the review, you will get a roster with your summary statement. It will not tell you which panel members were assigned as primary and secondary reviewers (plus at least one additional reader), which is confidential information. For more information and advice, go to Know Your Audience in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Should I look at study section rosters before review and request assignment?

Yes. If your application will be reviewed by CSR, we recommend that you look at the rosters and request a study section. See Should I request assignment to an institute and scientific review group? in the Referral and Assignment questions and answers.

For advice, read the Strategy for NIH Funding

If I did not request assignment to a review group, should I check the roster?

Yes. Look out for competitors and make sure the people who are reviewing it have an understanding of your research area. Contact the scientific review officer if you have concerns.

For more advice and information, see:

What if I don't like an assignment?

If you did not request assignment, you can contact the CSR scientific review officer listed on your study section assignment and discussing why you think this assignment is not appropriate. If you did request a particular assignment but were assigned to another study section, follow the same procedure.

For more information and advice, read Ensure You Get the Right Assignments in the Strategy for NIH Funding

When should I contact reviewers?

Never! You should discuss your application only with the scientific review officer from receipt until the peer review. After that, talk to the program officer.

Will most reviewers be experts in my field?

That depends. For investigator-initiated research reviewed by chartered CSR study sections, only some peer reviewers will likely understand or even read the details of your science. The group generally has broad expertise and may bring in ad hoc members to add more. CSR can also put together special emphasis panels when applications require unique expertise.

In any case, because not all reviewers may be experts in your field, it's important to know how to convince your multiple audiences of the merits of your application. Get advice in Know Your Audience in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Also read Who Peer Reviews Your Application? in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

For peer review in institutes of initiatives, such as for requests for applications, institutes set up special review groups whose members are all experts in the field of the initiative. See For RFAs, will the reviewers have expertise in my field? in the RFAs, PAs, and Solicitations questions and answers.

Do most reviewers read my application before the review?

No. Aside from your primary, secondary, and tertiary reviewer, other reviewers do not usually read your application thoroughly before the initial peer review meeting. Rather, they scan it for its key parts.

Read more in Most Reviewers Scan Each Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How does NIH handle conflict of interest?

NIH and the institutes follow standard procedures to prevent contracting officer's representatives, peer reviewers, or Council members who may have a real or apparent conflict of interest with an applicant from participating in a peer review.

Members of peer review committees must leave the room during discussions of applications or contract proposals in which they or close associates have an interest that could bias their evaluations.

For details, see the Conflict of Interest in Peer Review SOP and Basic Layout of a Peer Review Meeting in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Is my application confidential?

NIH and the institutes follow strict rules to protect confidentiality for unfunded applications.

Members of peer review committees must leave the room during discussions of grant applications or contract proposals in which they or close associates have an interest that could bias their evaluations. Reviewers may not take materials from peer review and use them without attribution.

If your application is funded, NIH makes the title and abstract public through RePORTER. You should not put confidential or proprietary information in those sections. For advice on preparing your abstract, see Hone Your Abstract and Narrative in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

For more information, go to these resources:

Are reviewers generally fair?

Yes. Reviewers are generally fair in evaluating your application, but they are not always right about your research. Read more in Reviewers Are Fair But Not Always Right in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How long will I have to wait for notification of review results?

For more information, go to Know What a Summary Statement Means in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Where does my application belong, and who is my contact at NIH?

For the review stage, it resides in CSR or the institute that's reviewing it. Whether CSR or NIAID reviews your application, the scientific review officer is your key contact.

After initial peer review, your application moves to an NIAID program division, and you call your program officer with any questions. Go to Strategy for Second-Level Review in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

To learn more about peer review at NIAID, see Peer Review at NIAID questions and answers.

Where can I find the name of the scientific review officer for my application?

The name of the scientific review officer assigned to your application is listed in the eRA Commons with other information about the application.

If I'm serving on an NIH study section, am I eligible to apply at any time?

Possibly. Depending on your study section and application type, you may be able to apply at any time rather than wait for standard receipt dates.

See NIAID's Late Applications SOP and NIH's Continuous Submission page.

Why should I volunteer to serve on a review committee and how can I do it?

Volunteering to be on a review committee is an excellent way to learn the system first hand. Learn more about Serving on a Peer Review Committee, including How to Become a Peer Reviewer.

After Applying

Read the questions and answers below or see the Table of Contents above.

How long after a submission date do review meetings occur?

For non-AIDS applications, review meetings take place three to five months after a submission date; for AIDS, one to two months after that date. Read more in Basic Layout of a Peer Review Meeting in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

What do I do if I feel the review was flawed?

See Should You Appeal? in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

May I send supplementary, missing, or corrected materials after a receipt date?

Possibly. For most applications, you will follow the process that applies to your submission date for sending late application materials before initial peer review. Find details at If You Need to Send Revised Information in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

For applications reviewed at NIAID, see May I send supplementary, missing, or corrected materials after a receipt date? in the Peer Review at NIAID questions and answers.

How does NIH send applications to reviewers?

See SROs Assess Completeness, Assign Reviewers in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

What happens before a review meeting?

See the first steps in Part 5. Assignment and Review in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How does streamlining work?

Before a study section meets, the scientific review officer asks members for a list of applications they feel will score approximately in the lower half of the applications being reviewed (the percentage varies by study section and grant type). All reviewers must agree for an application to be streamlined.

Read Noncompetitive Applications Get a Streamlined Review in the Strategy for NIH Funding for more information.

If my application is not discussed, does that mean it is poor quality?

Not necessarily. Because an application that is not discussed doesn't get a full review, it's harder to gauge the peer reviewers' appraisal.

In today's budget environment, high-quality applications might be not discussed because the pool contains a lot of outstanding applications, including resubmissions, which have already addressed the study section's concerns.

If your application is not discussed, stay objective, and spend time figuring out what areas reviewers felt had problems. For more advice, read What to Do if You Get Bad News in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Do NIH staff check my application to make sure it's complete?

Yes. When receiving an application, NIH staff make sure the key parts are there, such as the face page, budget page, and Research Plan.

Later, before the scientific review officer sends your application to reviewers, he or she looks at it more thoroughly to make sure it's complete. See SROs Assess Completeness, Assign Reviewers in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Before initial peer review, do NIAID program staff have any contact with my application?

Yes. NIAID program staff act as resources to scientific review officers and become familiar with your application so they can answer your questions.

If you respond to an RFA, NIAID performs an administrative check and reviews your application.

If you are looking for information about NIAID peer review, go to Peer Review at NIAID and NIAID Investigator-Initiated Program Project (P01) Applications questions and answers pages.

During Review Meetings

Read the questions and answers below or see the Table of Contents above.

Who leads the discussions at the review meeting?

The scientific review group's chairperson, a committee member, facilitates the discussions. Read more in Basic Layout of a Peer Review Meeting and subsequent sections of the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How long do reviewers discuss my application, and when do they stop?

Reviewers generally discuss applications for 10 to 15 minutes and stop when they are satisfied they can assign an overall impact/priority score. They also stop after finding a fatal flaw. Read how this works in Most Reviewers Scan Each Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Do peer reviewers use review criteria to score applications?

Peer reviewers use criteria as gauges for assessing impact as well as scientific and technical merit and feasibility.

Reviewers also judge your application based on their ideal of an outstanding application in your field of science. Read more in the Review Criteria SOP and How NIH Review Criteria Affect Your Score in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Do all applications receive an overall impact/priority score and summary statement?

Only applications that are not streamlined get a full discussion during peer review, an actual overall impact/priority score, and a summary statement. Streamlined applications get initial scores and critiques from assigned reviewers.

For details, read How does streamlining work? above and the following pages in the Strategy for NIH Funding:

Are there formal quotas for the percentage of grants not given a formal review and a score?

No. The number varies by study section and grant type. In general, an application is not discussed if the reviewers unanimously judge its merit to be in the bottom half of the applications being reviewed by a study section.

In some study sections, applications are divided into groups based on type, for example, new investigator R01s. In these cases, an application is not discussed if reviewers judge it to be in the bottom half of its group.

Read more in If Your Application Is Not Discussed in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Does compliance with NIH policies affect my overall impact/priority score?

It may. For example, meeting requirements for human subjects and vertebrate animals may affect your overall impact/priority score. Also, if you are not compliant with vertebrate animal, human subject, select agent, and other policies, NIH is prohibited from funding your research.

For details, see the Bars to Grant Awards SOP and How NIH Review Criteria Affect Your Score in the Strategy for NIH Funding.

How may poor editing and bad formatting affect my results?

CSR may return your application without review if it does not meet formatting requirements of the application. Also, peer reviewers may penalize you for a sloppy or poorly edited application, and if they cannot understand your writing, they may not be able to assess it, which will hurt your overall impact/priority score.

For guidance, read the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Where can I learn more about summary statements and bars to award?

Go to these resources:

What if my question wasn't answered here, or I'd like to suggest a question?

Email deaweb@niaid.nih.gov with the title of this page or its URL and your question or comment. We answer questions by email and post them here. Thanks for helping us clarify and expand our knowledge base.​​

Last Updated March 04, 2014

Last Reviewed December 02, 2011