The Benefits of Being a Peer Reviewer

Funding News Edition: May 15, 2019
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Serving as a peer reviewer will keep you at the cutting edge of your field since you’ll be immersed in the newest science and technology, especially when assessing innovation as a review criterion of the applications you review.

Credit: NIH

It's been said that we learn by doing, and that certainly applies to the peer review of grant applications. Though serving as a reviewer is a lot of work, it may be well worth your while. Here's a look at why that's the case.

Serve Others, Help Yourself

For one, you provide a valuable service by helping to identify the best science, thus being pivotal to the mission of peer review at NIH: to see that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely reviews “free from inappropriate influences” so NIH can fund the most promising research.

While helping others, you also benefit yourself since the insights you gain as a reviewer will likely aid you as an applicant. From the vantage point of a reviewer, you get a look at what your peers want to see in an outstanding and well-written application.

This can be a tremendous asset when it comes time to write your own application. You'll know how to meet reviewers' expectations by including elements that are likely to spell success and avoiding mistakes that may lead to a poor score.

Serving as a reviewer also offers career development opportunities. You will not only gain practical experience but also work with highly respected investigators in your field. It's an incredibly valuable networking opportunity.

Finally, serving as a peer reviewer will keep you at the cutting edge of your field since you’ll be immersed in the latest science and technology, especially when assessing innovation as a review criterion of the applications you review.

Flexible Submission for Standard Receipt Dates

As a reviewer, you'll benefit from NIH's continuous submission policy, which lets you apply any time for an R01R21, or R34* funding opportunity that uses standard receipt dates. Your application will be reviewed when the next study section with relevant expertise meets.

What does that mean for you? Continuous submission shortens the time from application to review by up to two months (one month for AIDS-related applications) and allows you to participate as a reviewer without missing your next application deadline.

To learn more, go to NIH's Continuous Submission website, which includes a helpful set of Frequently Asked Questions.

*Note that the NIAID Clinical Trial Planning Grant (R34) does not follow standard receipt dates and is therefore not subject to the continuous submission policy.

Some Meetings Allow Remote Participation

Travel is a major obstacle for many reviewers. To address this challenge, NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) conducts some Internet meetings and Video Assisted Meetings, formats that CSR is continually improving. These Tools and Technologies allow you to participate in meetings from the comfort of your own workspace.

Early in Your Career? We Have an Opportunity for You

You may think that to be a reviewer, you have to be an experienced investigator and have NIH funding. Not so, thanks to NIH's Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program.

Through the Program you can learn the basics, like how to determine overall impact scores and write a critique of a research proposal. To qualify, you must meet the eligibility requirements listed at Become an Early Career Reviewer, such as being a full-time faculty member (or researcher in a similar role) and having recent senior-authored publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Find out more at the Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program. You may also want to watch the video Jumpstart Your Research Career With CSR’s Early Career Reviewer Program to hear how participants have benefited.

CSR Versus NIAID Peer Review

The peer review processes at CSR and NIAID are essentially equivalent. The two differ primarily in which applications they receive.

CSR oversees initial peer review for most investigator-initiated applications, including R01s, small business applications, and applications responding to most program announcements, whereas NIAID reviews:

  • Most applications responding to a program announcement with special receipt, referral, and/or review considerations (PAR), though CSR also reviews AIDS-related applications responding to NIAID PARs
  • Most applications responding to a program announcement with set-aside funds (PAS)
  • Applications responding to a request for applications (RFA)
  • Cooperative agreement or research center grant applications
  • Investigator-initiated applications for program projects, training grants, career development awards, and clinical trials
  • Contract proposals submitted to NIAID

Put simply, CSR primarily relies on standing study sections and often recruits non-permanent (ad hoc) reviewers, while NIAID mostly uses special emphasis panels that meet one time only.

Serving on a review panel for one does not preclude you from serving on a review panel for the other.

Enlisting in Review Service

NIH recruits for both temporary and regular reviewers. If you're not a reviewer but want to become one, you have a few options (in addition to the ECR Program):

  • Volunteer for an NIAID peer review group, which reviews applications where NIAID is the locus of review. Read more in the How To Become a Peer Reviewer section of our page Serving on a Peer Review Committee.
  • If you have some review experience or you're an experienced investigator, you may qualify for membership on a standing study section. Go to CSR's How Scientists Are Selected to be Members of a Chartered Review Group for details on eligibility and the nomination process.
  • You may be able to serve occasionally as an ad hoc reviewer. Check out CSR's Integrated Review Groups. Choose the study section that interests you and contact its scientific review officer to see if there's an opportunity to participate. NIAID also allows temporary reviewers to serve on the committees listed in the How To Become a Peer Reviewer section of our page Serving on a Peer Review Committee.

We hope you'll consider serving as a peer reviewer and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

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