Thursday, 3 February 2011

In the Belly of the Beast: the Peer Review Panel

Another day, another great talk. This time it was part of the Grants Factory series that has been running since last year. Prof Mick Tuite gave some insights into how peer review panels work in practice. Mick's had over 25 years experience of sitting on review panels for both research councils and charities, and has seen many changes. These include:
  • The process has become slower and more involved;
  • The number of non-academics and admin staff on the panels has increased;
  • Funders are finding it increasingly hard to get reviewers to look at applications. He suggested that funders were having to ask 3 academics for every 1 review they got back.
  • The overall quality of applications had gone up. When he'd started roughly 50% of them were poorly written and/or unfundable. These days almost all were well formatted, well thought out, and over 90% were 'internationally competitive'.
This made the panel's job extremely difficult. They were having to be tougher, and on average each application had only 2 minutes worth of discussion before its fate was decided. This was partly because the 'introducing members' (IMs) were expected to have read the application in full beforehand, and be able to recommend whether to prioritise it to the rest of the panel.

With this in mind, some key messages follow on from this:
  • Try and find out who's on the panel, and particularly who is likely to be your IMs;
  • Get to know them, and, if possible, make them aware of you and your work;
  • Take time to really work on your Lay Summary. This is crucial, as it is the first part (and sometimes the only part) of the application that the non-IMs will read. Make your project clear, important and achievable;
  • Use clear formatting, a readable font, and make sure you avoid sloppy and avoidable typos and grammar;
  • When responding to referees' statements, keep it succinct, courteous, and include new information if necessary.
Mick finished but summarising some of the different 'types' of panel members. I'm sure many of these will ring true for those of you who have sat on panels, and I'd recommend you coming along next time Mick delivers the talk to see what you're up against.

If you're in the process of drafting an application, get in touch with us and well help you polish and prepare your proposal so that it has the best chance of succeeding with the panel.

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