CSR changes SRA to SRO.

September 17, 2007

Is that enough acronyms to be assured the government is involved???

Anyway, the Center for Scientific Review which handles the initial review of most grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health has changed the title of their Scientific Review Administrators to Scientific Review Officer.


We hope this change will improve our efforts to recruit scientific staff

Ahh. “Administrator” must sound too demeaning. No, really. Why?

CSR needs to hire one SRO every 10 days to stay fully staffed. We have had a constant need for many years due to growth, retirements and the usual staff turnover. This situation has been particularly disturbing, since the success of NIH peer review depends on having SROs with a high level of scientific expertise to recruit excellent reviewers and assign complex scientific applications to the right reviewers.

Oh. Good point.

Trainees, a personal perspective. I came to realize the tremendous power the SRA wields over the conduct of science the day my proposal went from a 19% to a 2% in one revision. The first review seemed to feature two fans and one antagonist. Review of the amended application retained the two fans (you can tell by re-used text in many cases.) with no sign of the “bad” reviewer. A while after this, once on study section for a few rounds I repeatedly observed the effect the selection of reviewers has on the fate of a given application. It can be a categorical difference between funding and not. In some senses the SRA is even more powerful than the Program Officer, after all, it is very very difficult for Program to pull up a triaged application (technically possible for any application that has not been *NRF’d, btw).

I am not trying to say that this is pernicious. SRAs I’ve interacted with (and similar views from other study section members) tend to express the highest standards of fairness and even handed treatment of applications. But they are not automatons. They actively assign applications to reviewers. And they cannot help but shade, over time and in aggregate, the fate of applications and applicants.

Takehome here is that this is a job fully worthy of consideration as an “alternate” career path.


Not Recommended for Further Consideration. Yes, there is something worse than a triage folks! Nerfed apps cannot be picked up by Program nor can they be revised.

One Response to “CSR changes SRA to SRO.”

  1. PhysioProf Says:

    “SRAs I’ve interacted with (and similar views from other study section members) tend to express the highest standards of fairness and even handed treatment of applications.”

    I agree with this wholeheartedly, based both on my experiences as an applicant and as a reviewer. However, there is definitely a range of skillfulness with which SRAs achieve these goals.


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