Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Peer Review Q&As for NIH Applicants
- What are the biggest problems reviewers find in applications?
Here is a list of the most frequent problems reviewers in CSR cite when they critique grant applications:
- Lack of new or original ideas
- Absence of an acceptable scientific rationale
- Lack of experience in the essential methodology
- Questionable reasoning in experimental approach
- Uncritical approach
- Diffuse, superficial, or unfocused research plan
- Lack of sufficient experimental detail
- Lack of knowledge of published relevant work
- Unrealistically large amount of work proposed
- Uncertainty concerning future directions
For more insight, check out the reviewer tips for applicants in the CSR Insider Guide to NIH Peer Review at http://www.csr.nih.gov/applicantresources/insider
- I addressed the concerns from the prior critiques and my score got worse. Why?
Each time your application is submitted, it competes within a new set of applications, it may be reviewed by new reviewers, or one or more of the original reviewers may see new concerns. So there is no guarantee your score will improve. The best course of action is to discuss your review concerns with your Program Officer before you resubmit and then be as responsive as possible to them. Including additional data, if available, could be helpful. In any event, if issues with significance and overall impact remain, addressing methodological concerns will not very likely improve the score.
- I don’t like the review group you put my application into. What can I do?
Contact the Chief of the integrated review group for the assigned study section. He or she will be able to explain to you why the assigned study section is the best fit for your application. CSR listens to PIs and considers their preferences in making application assignments. When you submit your application, you may (but need not) use the Assignment Request form to suggest up to three study sections. Helpful resources for finding a CSR study section are the study section guidelines, and the Assignment Request Tool. You can find both on our home page: https://public.csr.nih.gov.
You also can use the Assignment Request form in your application to tell us the types of expertise needed to appropriately review your grant application. You should not request specific individuals. In addition, you can use this form to identify individuals who may be in conflict with your application. NIH will evaluate the situation according to our conflict of interest standards. See the NIH conflict-of-interest page: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/coi. Please note that being competitors is NOT a compelling reason.
If you suggest one or more study sections and we can find a good fit among them, we will assign the application there. If our referral professionals judge the fit to be poor, they work to find an appropriate alternative. Our paramount concern is having appropriate expertise on the panel where the application is reviewed. If you don’t understand, ask. In the great majority of cases, PI concerns about application assignments are resolved through communication.
- How do you guard against a single reviewer having undue influence at the review?
Before a CSR review meeting, the Scientific Review Officer or SRO looks for instances where one reviewer’s scores or critiques are out of sync with the others. The SRO will notify the chair and assigned reviewers when this happens. If the differences are not resolved before the meeting, the chair will make sure the study section discusses them to see if they are well founded or not. Also, if a review discussion is one-sided, chairs are trained to ask questions and encourage other reviewers to join the discussion.
It is important to note that reviewers take their jobs seriously, and they routinely question each other when they feel a review is not balanced. In addition, all the reviewers in the room weigh what is said at the meeting and independently score the application. Finally, the SRO monitors the review meeting to ensure it is fair and unbiased. If it appears a reviewer is not meeting this standard, the SRO can pause the meeting to talk to the reviewer, conduct a re-review of the application at a later time, or take other appropriate actions.
- When will I receive word on my application?
Notification that CSR has assigned your application to a scientific review group and Institute should appear in your eRA Commons account within 2 weeks of the submission deadline. If this notification does not appear in this timeframe, please contact CSR’s Division of Receipt and Referral at CSRDRR@mail.nih.gov or 301-435-0715
After the review, your scores should appear in your Commons account within 3 business days, and for reviews managed by CSR your summary statement within 30 days. It is important to note that funding decisions are not made until after the relevant Institute or Center council makes its recommendations.
- Must I wait for my summary statement before submitting my idea again?
Once your application has been reviewed, you must wait for the summary statement to be issued before you resubmit that application or submit any other application with substantial scientific overlap.
- I'm a reviewer, can I submit my application late?
Most funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) have a two-week late window of consideration during which time an application can be submitted. However, the terms are very specific, and don’t apply to some Requests for Applications (RFAs). Examples of reasons why late applications might be accepted include Review Service, Illness, Natural Disasters etc. However, no advance permissions can be given for late applications. You should list your reasons in the cover letter with your application and the decision will be made on a case-by-case basis. You should read the NIH late policy in the NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-15-039 for an explanation of how the policy may apply to you. In addition, some reviewers have continuous submission eligibility because they are appointed to an NIH review group such as a study section or institute advisory council or have “recent substantial service.” Under continuous submission, these reviewers may submit R01, R21, and R34 applications with standard due dates at any time during the council round. Read the NIH continuous submission policy in both NOT-OD-17-042 and NOT-OD-18-178 if this policy applies to you.
- I've read the definitions of Significance and Overall Impact but the two still seem rather similar. Can you provide some additional guidance?
Significance is a stand-alone assessment of the project’s goals in the context of the relevant field, and to a large extent assumes that the investigator(s), approach and environment are adequate to allow for successful completion of the aims of the project even if later discussion of each of these review criteria will identify problems. When reviewers assess the Overall Impact of an application they are expected to take into account the scored review criteria (e.g., significance, investigator(s), innovation, approach and environment) and the additional review criteria to judge the potential of the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the field. For more information, visit the Overall Impact versus Significance document.
- What is the difference between "rigor of the prior research" and "significance"?
The rigor of the prior research will be reviewed as part of the Significance criterion for research grant applications. Plans to address weaknesses in the rigor of the prior research will be reviewed as part of the Approach criterion for research grant applications. Instructions for significance already include consideration of the importance of the problem, critical barriers to progress, how the proposed project will improve scientific knowledge, and how the field will change if the aims are achieved. Rigor of the prior research includes a retrospective consideration of the foundation for the application, rather than a prospective analysis should the aims be achieved.
Scientific premise or rigor is just part of the consideration of significance, which includes consideration of the importance of the problem, critical barriers to progress, how the proposed project will improve scientific knowledge, and how the field will change should the aims are achieved.
- How do I withdraw my application?
The signing official at your institution can now request withdrawal of an application directly through eRA Commons. See NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-16-143 for instructions. Alternatively, a letter with ink signature from your signing official can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will process your request manually.
Top 100 NIH Peer Review Q&As
- Application Submission and Referral
- Continuous Submission for Reviewers
- Review Process
- Rigor of the Prior Research and Sex as a Biological Variable
- Conflict of Interest/Confidentiality
- Investigator Career Stage Benefits
- Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program
- How Inclusion Is Considered in the NIH Peer Review Process
- Post Submission Materials Policy
- Materials for Fellowships
- Fellowship Reviews
- Sexual Harassment
- Submitting Videos
- Clinical Trials
- Vertebrate Animals
- Model Organisms
- R15 Specific
Have More Questions?
Reviewers: Check out our Top NIH Peer Review Q&As for Reviewers.
Applicant and Reviewers: Check out the larger collection of application and review questions on the NIH Office of Extramural Research Web site. Thanks go to this office for contributing Q&As to make CSR’s top 10 and 100 Q&A lists.