The NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) checks your application for administrative and formatting requirements. CSR also assigns the application to an NIH institute or center (IC) and a review group.
For investigator-initiated R01, R21, and R03 applications, the institute and review group assignments are based on the science proposed in the application. If you included an assignment request with your application using the PHS Assignment Request Form, NIH staff take that into consideration as well.
For applications in response to an initiative such as an IC request for applications (RFA), applications would all be assigned to that IC, which may establish one or more funding opportunity-specific special emphasis panels (SEPs). These SEPs may be convened by the NIAID Scientific Review Program (SRP) or by CSR.
To determine your application’s likely locus of review, check your chosen notice of funding opportunity. See "Section V. Application Review Information" and scroll down to subsection "2. Review and Selection Process." The first sentence of this section will tell you whether your application will be reviewed at CSR or at NIAID SRP.
Here are general rules of thumb about who will be reviewing your application, based on application type:
CSR review—For applications in response to program announcements (PAs), including parent announcements and most notices of special interest, the most appropriate study section in CSR will conduct the initial peer review. Potentially, many integrated review groups (IRGs) could review applications responding to a single PA.
Note: for NIAID, there is an exception to the rule above for career development (K) and training (T) awards. For K and T applications, NIAID SRP oversees the initial peer review instead of CSR.
Institute review—Instead of CSR, institutes like NIAID oversee initial peer review of applications submitted for the following:
- Most RFAs*
- Some investigator-initiated applications, such as program project applications, investigator-initiated clinical trials, and resource grant applications
*For RFAs in which multiple NIH institutes are participating, the lead sponsoring institute usually conducts the review.
If you apply to a program announcement with special receipt, referral, and/or review considerations (PAR), your application might go to CSR or an institute. In either case, a SEP is likely to review your application. That means instead of requesting assignment to an IRG in the PHS Assignment Request Form, we suggest that you focus on describing the scientific expertise necessary to review your application.
NIH Checks Your Application
After your application moves to CSR, staff there assign it a number and make sure it conforms with administrative and formatting requirements.
Your application gets a unique identification number that looks like this: 1 R01 AI183723 02 A1 S1. Learn how to interpret the parts of the application number using the NIH definition of application identification number. NIH staff will typically refer to your grant or application using that number.
Be aware that CSR will perform a manual check of your application and may return your application to you without a peer review for any of the reasons we described previously at Act Now to Avoid Post-Submission Rejection on Submit an Application.
A late application is not acceptable without proper justification; for more information, read Late Applications and Post-Submission Materials.
Applications Are Assigned to an Institute and Integrated Review Group
At that point, CSR assigns an investigator-initiated application to an integrated review group, an umbrella organization comprising several study sections, and then to the study section that will perform the initial peer review. It also assigns your application to an institute or center for potential funding.
You may have requested these assignments in your PHS Assignment Request Form, as we described at Use the PHS Assignment Request Form. While CSR often complies with these requests, it is not required to, and CSR staff may make different assignments based on NIH referral guidelines and workload.
Within seven to ten days after you apply, you should find your initial assignment information in the Commons.
Study Section. At first, the Commons may show your integrated review group instead of your study section. During the next few days, CSR will update this information with the study section assignment. If you don't see your study section assignment within two weeks, call the NIH Referral Office at 301-435-0715.
Institute. After NIAID receives notice of your application, our Referral and Policy Analysis Branch assigns it to one of our program divisions using our internal referral guidelines. SRP will organize a SEP to conduct the review of your application with others received in response to the same funding opportunity.
Do You Have the Right Reviewers?
Approximately 30 days before the review meeting, CSR or SRP will post your study section's updated roster in the Commons. Although standing member rosters for CSR study sections are always available on the CSR website, study section rosters may change from one review cycle to the next, so you won't know exactly who is on the panel until CSR posts updated rosters.
After the roster appears in the Commons, make sure the expertise you need is represented on the committee. If it is not, or if you are concerned that there are problematic competitors on the roster, notify your scientific review officer (SRO).
If you used the PHS Assignment Request Form and did not get the study section you requested, check carefully that the one you are assigned to meets your needs. CSR may have more than one study section with the expertise you require and sometimes creates ad hoc groups to fill in gaps. Find out more from your SRO.
Requesting a Change in Study Section
If you submitted an investigator-initiated R01, R21, or R03 application and feel your application was not assigned to an appropriate study section, you can request a change:
- Check the CSR Integrated Review Groups to find an alternative. Find roster links at the top of the study section pages.
- Discuss your alternative with the chief of the integrated review group for your assigned study section. Find his or her contact information in the CSR Staff Directory or ask your SRO if you cannot find it online. (Don’t contact the listed reviewers.)
To make your request, email firstname.lastname@example.org requesting a new assignment and briefly stating the rationale for the change. Below is an example of an acceptable and an unacceptable request.
- Acceptable: "The focus of study section X seems to be more on the structural biology of molecules of immunologic importance. Since my application proposes to develop new antibodies for Phase I human studies, the clinical perspective of reviewers on study section Y is critical to appreciate the approaches I have taken."
- Not acceptable: "I don't want X reviewers but want Y instead."
Do You Have the Right Institute?
Did you request assignment to an institute in your application? We explained how at Use the PHS Assignment Request Form.
If you didn't get the right assignment or you think you requested the wrong institute, contact CSR's Division of Receipt and Referral at email@example.com and briefly state the rationale for the change as above.
Your application stands the best chance of getting funded if it goes to an institute that considers the research high priority.