Ever wonder what it’s like on the other side of the funding process? Joining a review panel offers invaluable insight into the world of grants, connections to others in your field, and the opportunity to give back to the research community. For most funding agencies, review panel participation is voluntary, but your department or school may count this toward faculty service. Some funding agencies offer a modest stipend; travel costs may also be reimbursed. For a current or aspiring proposal writer especially, the reviewer role offers numerous benefits.
The review panel practice supports an agency’s ability to uphold ethical standards, incorporate expert assessment into the decision-making process, reduce bias, maintain transparency, and advance research by helping identify the best investments. Engaging in the practice can be a valuable professional development experience.
Reviewer Activities. Though specific duties will vary by agency, generally speaking, you will be asked to read a specific number of proposals, evaluate them using a rubric, provide written comments, meet with other panelists either at the agency or remotely to discuss applications, and finally, assign ratings. You will be given the unique opportunity to advise program officers and directly support researchers in their field by providing thoughtful feedback on proposed research.
Learn from the inside. Through first-hand experience, you gain insight into the grant proposal review process and experience the culture of the program’s panel. Reading, evaluating, and discussing submitted proposals is the perfect opportunity to learn effective proposal writing strategies. Moreover, engagement in your role will allow you to be exposed to new, cutting-edge ideas in your field, build your professional network, become intimately familiar with a particular program, and develop a relationship with the program officer(s), all connections that can become valuable in the future.
Recruitment and application. In some cases, agencies will invite experts to participate on a panel. These individuals are often previous awardees, researched by agency workers, or are identified through a nomination process. Many agencies have an ongoing call for reviewers on their websites with instructions on how to apply. How do you know if you’re qualified? Ideal qualifications are often listed online in reviewer guidelines. Common qualities include the possession of substantial research experience, robust knowledge in the field of interest, and having been awarded funding from the agency in the past. With the increasing number of multidisciplinary funding opportunities, panels are frequently composed of experts from a variety of fields. In addition to disciplinary diversity, agencies seek to diversify their panel membership in respect to geography, gender, race, and ethnicity. Here are just a few quick links to agencies’ reviewer recruitment pages:
- National Science Foundation (NSF)
- National Institute of Health (NIH): General Reviewer Program
- National Institute of Health (NIH): Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program
- National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
- National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- Administration for Community Living (ACL)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA)
Timing is everything. Before accepting a reviewer position, you must be certain the timing is right for you. The panelist role requires hours of reading and evaluating proposals as well as potential travel obligations. If you are new to panel review, you might contact a senior member of your department or someone in your field who has previously served on the type of panel you are most interested in. Their insights can be helpful as you decide when to serve. In her post on the Chronicle of Higher Education's website, Why I Became a Grant Reviewer, Katharine E. Stewart, Ph.D. shares her experiences, reflects on the process, and offers advice for members of the research community. It can certainly be an honor to serve an agency in a reviewer capacity when the timing is right.