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Review Process

The review process involves the assessment of applications by NIH staff and outside scientific experts. Descriptions of the two levels of review are given below.

First level of review:

It is important to keep in mind the five criteria that reviewers are asked to apply when assessing the majority of grant applications. These are: significance, investigator, innovation, approach, and environment. Other criteria may be considered for other grant mechanisms. For an overview of the instructions given to reviewers for assessment of NIH grant applications see Review Guidelines .

Who Reviews Applications? The terms for review groups are often used interchangeably. Integrated Review Groups or Initial Review Groups (IRGs) are made up of clusters of related Review Committees (standing committees). In this section we will use the term Review Committee, although other terms you may see used throughout NIH are: Scientific Review Group (SRG), Review Group or Study Section. There are also committees that meet for one time only called Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs). The Review Committees and Special Emphasis Panels are comprised of scientists, and sometimes public members with a specific expertise, who have the responsibility to read and assess the scientific and technical merit of applications. This process is called peer review and it is organized and administered by scientific review officers (SROs) who convene the review groups.

Review results will be available within 30 days after the review meeting. These include the Overall Impact Score for the application, and the summary statement that includes minimally edited critiques from the reviewers. More information about this process can be found on NIH’s peer review process page .

What Do Public Reviewers Do?

Public reviewers read and provide written critiques (usually 1-3 paragraphs) of grant applications. Their critiques focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the application’s public health significance and/or innovation; on the feasibility of plans for recruitment, retention, and follow-up of subjects; on outreach efforts to special and historically disadvantaged populations; and on issues pertaining to the protection of human subjects. At review meetings, public reviewers join the discussion of applications with scientific reviewers and vote on the merit of each application discussed. Review meetings are typically held in the Washington, DC area or by telephone conference call.

For more information on public reviewers and the application process to become one, please visit our Public Reviewers pages .

Second level of review:

  • Review by the NIMH Advisory Council;
  • The NIMH Advisory Council concurs with or does not concur with recommendations by the first level of review; and
  • The NIMH Advisory Council may make additional recommendations, particularly with regard to program priority based on the relevance of the application to the public health mission of the NIMH.

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