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Peer Review Process

The review process involves two levels of review.  The first level is led by the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) and is carried out by a Scientific Review Group (SRG) composed primarily of non-federal scientists who have expertise in relevant scientific disciplines and research areas. NIMH SRGs that review applications involving human subjects may also include public representatives (see What Do Public Reviewers Do?). The second level of review is performed by an Institute’s or Center’s (IC’s) National Advisory Council or Board. Councils are composed of both scientific and public representatives chosen for their expertise, interest, or activity in matters related to health and disease. Only applications that are recommended for approval by both the SRG and the Advisory Council may be recommended for funding.  Final funding decisions are made by the IC Directors. For more information see NIH Peer Review .

What is a Scientific Review Officer? Each Scientific Review Group (SRG) is led by a Scientific Review Officer (SRO). The SRO is an extramural staff scientist and the Designated Federal Official (DFO) responsible for ensuring that each application receives an objective and fair initial peer review, and that all applicable laws, regulations, and policies are followed. SROs have multiple responsibilities including: analyzing the scientific content of grant applications and checking for completeness, documenting and managing conflicts of interest, and identifying the scientists invited to serve on review committees based on scientific and technical qualifications and other considerations including:

  • Authority in their scientific field
  • Dedication to high quality, fair, and objective reviews
  • Ability to work collegially in a group setting
  • Experience in research grant review
  • Balanced representation

SROs are also responsible for assigning the applications to reviewers for critique preparation and assignment of scores, attending and overseeing administrative and regulatory aspects of peer review meetings, and preparing summary statements for all applications reviewed.

First Level of Review

Initial peer review of NIMH assigned applications is administered by either the Center for Scientific Review or the NIMH Review Branch. The focus of the review and review criteria are specified in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Peer review meetings are announced in the Federal Register  and are closed to the public.

Reviewers provide an overall impact/priority score (1-9) to reflect their assessment of the likelihood of the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s) involved. To this end, reviewers are asked to consider and score (1-9) the following review criteria: significance, investigator, innovation, approach, and environment. As applicable for the project proposed, reviewers evaluate the following additional items while determining scientific and technical merit and in providing an overall impact/priority score, but do not give separate scores: Protection of Human Subjects; Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Children; Vertebrate Animals; Biohazards; Resubmission; Renewal; and Revision.

Other criteria may be considered for other grant mechanisms. Please see NIH’s webpage on the Peer Review Process  for an overview of the instructions given to reviewers for assessment of NIH grant applications.

Within a few days after the review meeting, your priority score and percentile ranking (if applicable) are available to you online via your eRA Commons account. Typically, within four to six weeks of the peer review committee meeting your summary statement will be available via your eRA account. It will include: the written critiques provided by the assigned reviewers, the SRO’s summary of the discussion, scores for each review criterion, and administrative notes of special consideration. If your application was not discussed (usually the lower half of the applications reviewed in a review meeting), you will receive the reviewer critiques and preliminary scores for each review criterion.

Applicants just receiving their scores or summary statements should consult our What’s Next  page for detailed guidance. Applicants seeking advice beyond that available online may want to contact the NIH Program Officer listed at the top of the summary statement.

What Do Public Reviewers Do? The role of the public reviewer is to bring the perspectives of individuals and family members who have been directly affected by mental illness, as well as from clinicians, caregivers, and/or policy makers to the first level of review  and to enhance the capability of the review committee to evaluate the “real world” relevance and practicality of each research application. Even though many of the scientific experts have knowledge in these areas, further emphasis on this perspective will help identify the most meritorious applications. Public reviewers are asked to evaluate issues such as the protection of human subjects, the feasibility of the proposed research and the importance or relevance of a particular application to answering questions about mental illness and understanding behavior, including: Is this area important? Do we need this information? Is this research going to improve patient care?

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

Second Level of Review

As noted above, the Advisory Council/Board of the potential awarding IC (for NIMH, the National Advisory Mental Health Council [NAMHC]) performs the second level of review.  Members of the NAMHC are chosen by the respective IC and are approved by Department of Health and Human Services.

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

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