Rolling Grant Acceptance for Reviewers

September 24, 2007

The CSR indicates an upcoming move to any-time submission of grants for investigators appointed to study sections in the latest Peer Review Notes. This extends the prior (and continuing) policy whereby all (ad hoc or empaneled) reviewers can take advantage of a ~two week grace period past the regular deadlines if, say, your reviews are due the week of the regular deadline. The new version:

Appointed members of all chartered CSR study sections soon may be able to submit—at any time—their R01, R03, R21, R34 and R15 applications intended for the standing due dates (not special dates for RFAs and PARs). Such applications would be guaranteed a review within 90 days of receipt and would be referred to the appropriate NIH Institute Advisory Council for the next possible round. In most cases, the reviews will be conducted by Special Emphasis Panels.

umm, “may”. What’s that mean?

CSR will continue to work on these technological issues so that a pilot can be implemented in 2008. The details of this change and a corresponding clarification of the NIH policy on late applications will be published in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts.

Okay so it is a done deal, they just have to re-jigger things on eRA a bit and maybe hire some more SROs for the SEP load. Whatever. Just get ‘er done, will ya?

[as usual, writedit is on this too]

This is a GoodThing if only because it takes away one more excuse/barrier preventing people from serving on study section. So for what that is worth, good. As the Peer Review Notes piece mentions one additional consideration is that this may change the number of applications having to be reviewed in Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs). Dang, I still haven’t gotten around to discussing SEPs in any depth. Might as well start here because this is another inducement for the applicant to serve on panels.

The Special Emphasis Panel is, expectedly, a review group used to take care of special situations in which regular standing study sections are unable to review the application appropriately. Many cases include RFAs in which the scope of potential application is very narrowly defined and there may be special submission dates compromising the timeline to get the reviews done within a given “Council round” for funding. SEPs are often convened on a per-RFA basis. Another case would include the “big” mechanisms like Centers (often done by RFA anyway) and Program Projects where the review demands are exacting in terms of the exact mixture of scientific domains represented. Finally there are SEPs convened to take care of conflict of interest (COI) situations. The most common of which is when the PI (or other named Investigator) is a standing member of the study section to which the proposal would otherwise be directed. This is not surprising when you think about the way “expertise” is construed for a given study section. In my experience, RFA type SEPs tend to be a bit smaller than a usual study section but still can run to 15-20 reviewers and therefore meet in person for a discussion. Panel conflict SEPs however are usually quite tiny with maybe 4-8 reviewers and are done by conference call. In these cases, anything you can do to influence the membership can have a big effect on outcome, obviously. The scores, btw, are usually percentiled against the “parent” regular study section.

Are (conflict) SEPs a GoodThing for applicants? Hard to say. Certainly you can be assured that the scientific expertise is highly focused on your application, which is probably good. You can’t complain about the expertise, particularly if you’ve suggested three of the names to the SRO! The SEP reviewers, though, will not have as much on-the-fly calibrating of scores for that round of the percentiling pool, nor for that matter the past two rounds which are also included in the reference pool. Overall reviewing experience, I’d say, is not an issue because you often see prior members of the parent section and frequent ad-hoc reviewers show up on the SEPs. The in-crowd issue is likely to be more extreme. The increased specificity means that these are your peeps. If the SEP is derived from prior members of the parent panel and frequent ad-hoc’ers, well, they’ve either reviewed with you in the past or, more likely, were on the parent section when tons of your proposals were reviewed. [I think I’ve mentioned this relationship where the ranks of empaneled members are drawn from recently successful, frequent-applicants to that section]

2 Responses to “Rolling Grant Acceptance for Reviewers”

  1. PhysioProf Says:

    There is another category of SEP, namely the “standing SEP”, which has some interesting features. In the neuroscience area, some of these SEPs are going to be tranformed into regular standing study sections that will be part of a new neuroscience IRG.

    I have a few editors breathing down my neck for late manuscript reviews, so I don’t have time to comment on this now, but I will try to do so soon.

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  2. […] 4, 2008 That was fast! The previous murmurings were a bit tentative. The NIH Notice is out already: Beginning February 5, 2008 the alternate submission and review […]

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