April 04, 2012

From NIH RockTalk: Does It Matter Where Your Grant Application Is Reviewed?

There are a lot of urban myths out there about NIH grant review. Here is a common one—your chance of getting funded is lower if your application goes to the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) for review rather than to another NIH institute or center (IC). Well, I have the data and took a look.

The first thing to point out is the split between CSR reviews and the other IC reviews is roughly 80/20. In fiscal year 2010, ICs managed the reviews about 17% of all applications. The major difference between CSR and IC reviews are the types of applications they review. While the separation is not absolute, CSR manages the review of most R01, fellowship, and small business applications. ICs manage the review of most program project, training grant, and career development award applications. ICs do review some R01 applications—typically the ones with IC-specific features, as well as specific requests for applications (RFAs). Tip: check the funding opportunity announcement to find out where your application will be reviewed. It is usually stated there. You can also learn where funded grants were reviewed by looking them up in NIH RePORTER, which lists the study section that reviewed them.

So, back to the question, “Does your application have a different chance of success if it is reviewed in CSR or in an IC?” Given the very different mix of applications reviewed, it is perhaps not surprising that the answer is yes, on average. In fiscal year 2010, 17% of all the applications that went to CSR for review were awarded compared to 25% in the ICs.

But that is really comparing apples to oranges. It doesn’t tell you the whole story. A closer look shows that there is essentially no difference in your likelihood of getting funded when you compare the same types of applications. Take R01 applications, in fiscal year 2010, 18% of R01 applications reviewed in the ICs and 19% of applications reviewed in CSR were awarded.

Another example, applications submitted in response to RFAs in that year were funded at almost identical rates whether reviewed in CSR (24%) or in the ICs (22%).

Since all our reviews comply with the same set of applicable laws, regulations, and policies, I’m glad to see the outcomes are similar, once we compare apples to apples.

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