Peer review

Having your proposal or idea reviewed by colleagues is an essential and hugely important step in the process of writing a grant application and can take many forms.  Activities can include:

  • Informal discussion to talk through ideas at the earliest stage and influence their development.
  • Review of application by colleagues in a cognate discipline to help refine or develop the scientific aspects.
  • Input from research development staff who have experience in supporting the preparation of successful funding proposals to a wide range of funders, and within a wide range of disciplines.
  • Formal review by an institutional panel of reviewers with experience in reviewing for and/or obtaining funding from the sponsor in question.  In some cases the panel may have the authority to recommend that the proposal is refined or re-written before it can be submitted.

The aim of any review is always to improve the quality of your application to increase the chance of funding and never to block or delay your application without good reason.  If improvements are suggested, it means that your proposal could be better than it currently is and you should aim to revise it before submitting, to increase the chances of it being successful.  Try and be open minded to what the reviewer is saying. They are not critiquing you as an academic personally but rather the idea or document as it’s been presented.  Reviewers want you to be funded!

You should ensure that you allow the time to discuss your proposal with peer groups, colleagues and potentially with senior and more experienced researchers. Try to get the advice of someone who has already been successful with the funder and/or scheme you are submitting to. Talk to your research office and the RIS research development team and draw on the support that they can give you in putting together your application.

Formal panel review procedures are in place for certain funders and/or schemes such as ESRC responsive mode and NERC Discovery Science (responsive mode).

How to undertake a review

Reviewers should provide fair, prompt and rigorous evaluations and respect confidentiality when reviewing others' work.

Reviews should be thorough and constructively critical.  It is in nobody’s interests to be overly lenient – this wastes the time of both the reviewer and the reviewee – but remember that the applicant has invested a lot of effort and time into developing the proposal and any comments should aim to outline how it can be improved, rather than making criticisms without suggestions for remedial action.

A template form can often be used to undertake the review and for certain schemes these will be provided by RIS and tailored to the advertised assessment criteria of the scheme.

Treat the material under review in confidence: do not disclose the information in the proposal to anyone else. Reviewers must also declare any conflicts of interest, including professional, personal or commercial conflicts, and must not take advantage of any information received as a result of their peer reviewing role.

ESRC peer review process

The University holds a list of reviewers with experience of reviewing for and/or obtaining funding from ESRC.  This is called the ESRC College.

Formal procedures are in place to ensure that all applications for ESRC Standard Grants (responsive mode) are reviewed by two members of the College before a panel makes a recommendation, based on the two reviews, on whether the application can be submitted, or should be revised or re-written.

NERC peer review process

The University holds a list of reviewers with experience of reviewing for and/or obtaining funding from NERC.  This is called the NERC College.

Formal procedures are in place to ensure that all applications for NERC Discovery Science grants (responsive mode) are reviewed by two members of the College, before a panel makes a recommendation, based on the two reviews, on whether the application can be submitted, or should be revised or re-written.

NERC operate a quota system whereby institutions are limited to a maximum number of submissions per responsive mode round, based upon previous success rates.  Therefore, as part of the peer review system, the review panel must rank the applications and only permit submission of a limited number.