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Peer Review at NIH and NIEHS - A Thank You for NIEHS Reviewers

December 2008

Staff of the NIEHS Scientific Review Branch
Staff of the NIEHS Scientific Review Branch, shown above, are left to right seated, Linda Bass, Ph.D., and Nesbitt. Standing, left to right, are Janice Allen, Ph.D., Rose Anne McGee, Sally Eckert-Tilotta, Ph.D., and Leroy Worth, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of the Division of Extramural Research and Training)

Changes are in the works for the way grant applications are reviewed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and they are scheduled to be phased in beginning in January 2009. While the NIH peer-review system has received much praise over the years, it had not been scrutinized for potential improvements that could enhance a process that has been in place for more than a decade. It had also become clear that the burden of review could put enormous pressures on reviewers, and NIH decided it was time to evaluate the process (see http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/ (http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/) Exit NIEHS).

As a result, a variety of changes to peer review at NIH will be piloted in coming months. These changes have come about from recommendations designed to reduce the burden on reviewers in the future. Two of the early pilots include shortening the length of applications and decreasing the number of amended applications allowed. The latter has been announced in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-09-016.html (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-09-016.html) Exit NIEHS. There is enthusiasm among reviewers and administrators for shortening the summary statement by focusing the critique on the merit of the science presented and for improving the rating system to make it more useful to both the applicant and NIH staff.

Most importantly, NIH staff members recognize that the cornerstone of review quality is recruiting and retaining excellent reviewers. NIH has planned several pilot studies in an attempt to determine the most effective changes for reaching this goal.

NIEHS, the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), and Scientific Review Branch staff want to extend sincere thanks to the hundreds of people who have taken the time and made extraordinary efforts to serve as reviewers in the many peer-review meetings for the Institute. Reviewers' written critiques and oral comments have led to scoring and budgetary recommendations that are critical in achieving the goal of funding the most meritorious science. Indeed, without their sacrifices to this end, staff could not do the day-to-day business of supporting the environmental sciences and the investigators who do the work.

For more information, contact:

Teresa Nesbitt, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Chief, Scientific Review Branch
Division of Extramural Research and Training
NIEHS
nesbittt@niehs.nih.gov



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