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Research Advocacy - page 6

Advocate Review of Scientific Applications

Many funders require the participation of consumer or advocate reviewers during the peer review process (when the applications are reviewed). The terms consumer and advocate are used interchangeably in many cases; however, some funders have specific requirements of the consumer/advocate reviewer.

Sometimes advocates sign up to review for different organizations and have no idea what is involved. Some organizations will provide an overview of expectations and how to participate in the review process. This section will highlight some expectations and helpful hints to reviewing research grant applications. (Reference Susan G. Komen Training)

Expectations

When volunteering as an advocate reviewer one should be informed about what the major expectations are, including the following:

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  • Know the deadline for completing reviews and make sure all reviews are submitted by that time.

This is extremely important. Many funders will not invite advocates back as reviewers if they miss a deadline.

 

 
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  • Expect to work hard. Each application can take 1-2 hours to review. Even short pre-applications or letters of intent can take time to review. Manage the time given to complete the critiques before the deadline.
  • Learn about the funding mechanism and funder. Know the expectations of the grant application. For example, is there a specific topic of interest? Or is this a mechanism for young investigators? The criteria and expectation of the applicant may be different, be familiar with the funder’s expectation of the application.
    • Go to the funders website and review the official Request for Applications (RFA) to learn this information. You cannot write a meaningful review if you do not understand what the funder is requesting.
    • Surprisingly, researchers will submit an application even if it does not fit with the goal of the funder in the hopes it will slip through – reviewers are charged with finding this miss match.
  • Keep up with the science. Be familiar with the current trends in treatment and try to learn about the current state of research. Sometimes this is difficult since publications are sometimes hard to read and are published a long time after the research was completed.
    • Many advocates attend scientific meetings as advocates and attend advocate information sessions during those meetings (see Trainings in Research Advocacy).

Knowing what to expect is very important. However, knowing what not to expect can also be beneficial.

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  • Do not expect to complete all of the critiques at the last minute.
  • It is good to go ahead and complete one as soon as possible to get an idea about how much time to set aside for each application.
 
  • Do not expect to understand all the science. Being familiar with the science will allow you to know the overall goals of the research, but the details of the research are for the scientific reviewers to review.
  • Although all advocates want to make a difference, there will be many proposals where there will not any significant issues (positive or negative). It is a matter of consistently reviewing each proposal and scoring it based on the metrics of the funder.

Helpful Tips

Below are some general tips to keep in mind when volunteering to review scientific proposals.

Getting Started
  • Review the Request for Proposals before beginning. There is a lot of information in this document.
  • Most funders provide reviewer instructions and other materials. Take advantage of these documents, read them and refer to them often.
  • Take advantage of any training that is offered.
  • When instructions on how to access the proposals are received, do it as soon as possible, so if there is a problem there will be plenty of time to contact the funder and figure it out.
  • If the proposals are online, down load them to a computer for easy access. These will have to be deleted when the entire review process is completed, but they will be easier to manage.
  • Some people prefer to print the applications. Although this involves a lot of paper it does allow you to sit where you want and make hand written notes on the application as you read along.
  • If critiques are submitted online, use a word document on your computer to write and save your critiques in case there is a problem with the on-line system. Then cut/paste them into the online form when all editing is complete.
  • Be sure to print a copy of your final critique to take to the review as computer problems may occur (although very rarely).
Writing Tips
  • Focus on answering the review critique questions (if provided). Do not just restate the hypothesis and specific aims.
  • Be clear and professional.
  • Use declarative statement rather than rhetorical questions.
  • Avoid writing in the first person. Don’t state, “I think that….”.
  • Avoid colloquial phrases.
  • Use full sentences for the critique summary. Sometimes bullets can be used, but they should also be complete thoughts.
  • Offer suggestions but don’t be didactic.
  • Avoid inflammatory or derogatory language:
    • Replace absolute statements that say ‘no or none’ with ‘little or insufficient’.
    • Use ‘appears to be…’ rather than ‘there are no…’.
    • Rather than referring to a proposal as ‘naïve or poor’ describe it as ‘not sufficiently developed’.
    • For negative comments refer to the proposal, not the applicant, when possible.
  • Check the spelling of all of your critiques.
  • Make sure the final score is in line with the written critique. If there are a lot of positive statements the score should reflect that and be high. Likewise, if there are a lot of negative statements the score should be lower.
  • If the instructions say to list comments as strength’s and weaknesses, be sure to do that.

Participation in the Review

There are typically two ways the review is conducted after all of the critiques have been received and initial scores have been determined. These review sessions bring a panel of reviewers together to discuss the grant applications either in-person or on a teleconference.

In-person Meeting Tips

If all reviewers are expected to attend the in-person meeting, be sure you are available and able to travel at the time of the meeting before you volunteer to review.

  • Be prepared.
    • Review you applications before the meeting and be prepared to contribute to the conversation.
    • When it is your turn to give your critique do not repeat what has already been said. It is okay to agree or disagree, but do not spend time restating what has been said.
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  • Be succinct with your comments and do not just read your critique.
  • Make a list of points you want to make in support or not of the proposal. This is easier than trying to find your major points in your written critique when it is your turn to speak.
 
  • Be respectful of the other reviewer’s opinions. It is okay to disagree, but be respectful and state your reason for disagreeing clearly. If a disagreement remains, agree to disagree and know that others in the room heard your point.
  • This is a good time to meet other reviewers. Take advantage to meet the other reviewers during breaks and meals.
  • If you have a comment that has not been made by others for an application you did not review – feel free to make it as you are sitting at the table to bring the patient perspective to the discussion.
Teleconference Meeting Tips

Teleconference meetings are becoming more common as fewer funds are available for travel. If you are uncomfortable participating in a review meeting online and/or on the phone, do not volunteer to review or ask for help about how you can make the experience more comfortable.

Make sure you have the essential equipment necessary for the review meeting. Sometimes it may be a computer with a headset, other times it may be a telephone.

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  • If on the phone or computer, be considerate and mute your line when you are not speaking.
  • Find a quiet place. Even if you are muted for most of the call, when you unmute to speak, background noises can be distracting to others.
 

  • Pay attention during the entire call. These calls can be long, so it is important to pay attention. Most review meetings require each panel member (not just the reviewers) to score each application. You can only do this if you have listened to the discussion.
  • Be prepared.
    • Review you applications before the meeting and be prepared to contribute to the conversation.
    • When it is your turn to give your critique do not repeat what has already been said. It is okay to agree or disagree, but do not spend time re-stating what has been said.
  • Be succinct with your comments and do not just read your critique. Make a list of points you want to make in support or not of the proposal. This is easier than trying to find your major points in your written critique when it is your turn to speak.
  • Be respectful of the other reviewer’s opinions. It is okay to disagree, but be respectful and state your reason for disagreeing clearly. If a disagreement remains, agree to disagree and know that others on the call heard your point.

 

 

 
 
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