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Grants and Funding: Extramural Programs (EP)

FAQ – Reviewing Your Application

Q: Who reviews my grant?
A: The majority of NLM's applications are reviewed by the Biomedical Library and Informatics Review Committee (BLIRC) (current members of the BLIRC). Some applications are reviewed by Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs), convened on an ad hoc basis. Reviewers are chosen primarily for their subject domain expertise; most also have considerable experience with the NIH granting process. A second level review is performed by NLM's Board of Regents (current members of the BOR). See http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer_review_process.htm#PeerReview, http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer/peer.htm, and the videos at http://search.grants.nih.gov/search/news/videos?affiliate=grants.nih.gov&m=false&query=peer+review+video  for additional information about the NIH review process.

Q: Who decides whether my grant gets funded?
A: The decision to fund any given grant is made by the Institute Director based on scientific merit (as reflected by the priority score), relevance to the NLM mission, recommendations of the NLM Board of Regents (Council) and availability of funds.

Q: May I suggest experts to review my application?
A: In a cover letter that accompanies your application, you may suggest areas of expertise for reviewers that might best fit the subject area covered by your application. It is not appropriate to suggest specific experts.

Q: What are the criteria used for judging the merit of my grant application?
A: NIH has established general criteria for evaluating an application that apply to all grants. They are:

  • Significance
  • Investigator(s)
  • Innovation
  • Approach
  • Environment

The importance assigned to each criterion varies depending on the funding mechanism and program area. For example, innovation is not a requirement of resource grants. Each funding opportunity announcement lists the criteria that will be used to judge the merit of applications. See http://grants.nih.gov/grants/peer_review_process.htm#Criteria for more about the NIH review criteria.

Q: What is an impact/priority score?
A: After discussing an application, members of the review group privately vote a numerical impact/priority score from 1 to 9, where 1 is best. The final overall impact score is determined by calculating the average of all the members’ impact scores, and multiplying the average by 10. Impact scores run from 10 to 90, where 10 is best. NLM uses the overall Impact Score as the primary basis for award decisions on all grant types, along with innovation and potential impact. For experienced investigators, applications with Impact scores 30 or better are the most likely to be funded. For Early Stage Investigators and New Investigators seeking their first R01 research grant, and for K award applicants, applications with Impact scores of 35 or better will be considered for funding. Fundable ranges may be set for other specific grant types at a later date. All grant awards are subject to the availability of funds. NLM continues to support new investigators on R01 equivalent grants at rates comparable to those of established investigators submitting new applications, per NIH policies outlined at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-09-013.html  and at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/new_investigators/index.htm  . See also http://www.nlm.nih.gov/ep/Payplan.html.

Q: What is a criterion score?
A: Reviewers assign a criterion score from 1 to 9, where 1 is best, to each core NIH review criterion (significance, investigator, innovation, approach, and environment). These scores are provided to assist applicants in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their application. Criterion scores are not used to calculate the final impact/priority score described above.

Q: If I get a good impact/priority score, will my grant be funded?
A: A good impact/priority score is the primary basis for award decisions. All grant awards also depend on availability of funds, relevance to NLM priorities, and the balance of grants in NLM's grant portfolio. NIH success rate information is available at http://report.nih.gov/success_rates/index.aspx  A listing of NLM grant awards is available at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/ep/funded.html.

Q: When can I get my impact/priority score?
A: Impact scores are typically available within a few days after the applications are reviewed. Log-in to your NIH eRA Commons PI account to see your score. For instructions on how to view your impact/priority score in eRA Commons see http://era.nih.gov/applicants/view_ss_scores.cfm.

Q: Will I get a written evaluation of my grant application?
A: Approximately 4 weeks after your application is reviewed, a written evaluation of your application called the Summary Statement will be posted in the NIH eRA Commons. The Summary Statement is compiled by the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) who ran the review meeting. In addition to administrative information, it contains the written critiques prepared by the assigned reviewers and recommendations regarding budget and human subject considerations. Log into your NIH eRA Commons PI account to read (and download) the Summary Statement. If the application received full discussion, the summary statement also includes a resume and summary of the discussion written by the SRO. For instructions on how to view your summary statement in eRA Commons see http://era.nih.gov/applicants/view_ss_scores.cfm.

Q: I received a notice from NLM requesting additional information. Does that mean my grant will be funded?
A: No, but it does mean that your application is under consideration for funding. After the study section has met, grant applications whose impact/priority score fall within the fundable range are sent to the second level of review. If your application is in this group, you will receive a request from NLM's Grants Management staff for the following additional documentation: updated 'other support' for key participants; the status of Institutional Review Board action on your application; certification that key personnel have received training in the protection of human subjects. This request for additional information is not an award notice.

Q: How will I know that my application has been funded?
A: The Notice of Award (NoA), the official notification that your grant has been funded, is emailed to the grantee organization for your grant application, with a copy to the PI/PD. The NLM program officer assigned to the grant may contact the principal investigator to give informal news of an award, but the NoA is the official documentation. When NIH issues the NoA, the document is made available to grantee officials and corresponding PD/PIs in the eRA Commons through the Status module. The eRA Commons is the official repository for the NoA document. See http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/nihgps_2011/nihgps_ch5.htm#noa for an explanation of the Notice of Award.

Q: Will NLM send me a notice if my application is not funded?
A: No notifications are sent to grant applicants whose applications did not receive funding. If you are not sure whether your grant application received funding, contact the appropriate NLM program officer listed in the grant program announcement.

Q: Why didn't I get the budget I requested?
A: After the review of the scientific merit of your application is completed, the reviewers may make recommendations that elements of your budget be reduced. NLM Program staff may also reduce the budget for programmatic reasons or because available funds are not sufficient to provide full funding. 

Q: How do I submit an appeal of the peer review of my application?
A: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy concerning appeals of the initial peer review process is set-out in the NIH Guide Notice, NOT-OD-11-064.

An appeal is a written communication from a Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) and/or applicant institution that meets the following four criteria: 1) is received after issuance of the summary statement and up to 30 calendar days after the second level of peer review, 2) describes a flaw or perceived flaw in the review process for a particular application, 3) is based on one or more of four allowable issues (described below), and 4) displays concurrence from the Authorized Organization Representative (AOR).

An applicant who is concerned about procedural aspects related to the completed initial peer review of his or her application should consider the comments in the summary statement, and then should contact the appropriate NIH Program Official (PO) (see contact information in the upper left-hand corner of the first page of the summary statement). The PO can answer questions about the summary statement and review outcome, and provide advice to the applicant. For example, the PO may recommend modifying the application according to NIH policies for resubmission applications (NOT-OD-10-080) and the issues that were raised in the review and communicated in the summary statement, or may recommend reconsidering the basic intent of the project and submitting a new application that has substantial differences in aims and approach (NOT-OD-10-080). At no time should the PD/PI or an official of the applicant organization attempt to contact individual members of the Scientific Review Group (SRG) to discuss the review of an application, as doing so could jeopardize the confidentiality of the review process.

Following discussion of concerns with the PO, if the PD/PI and/or an official of the applicant organization wishes to appeal the outcome of the initial peer review process, an appeal letter must be submitted, either in hard copy or electronically, to the PO. The appeal letter must display concurrence from the AOR of the applicant organization for the application. Although the content of the appeal letter may originate from the PD/PI, Contact PD/PI for multiple PD/PI applications, or an organizational official(s) (not necessarily the AOR), the AOR must send the letter directly to the PO, or must send his/her concurrence to the PD/PI who will forward the materials and AOR concurrence to the PO. A communication from the PD/PI or official of the applicant organization (other than the AOR) only or with a “cc” to the AOR will not be accepted. The PO will send the PD/PI and/or institutional official, and AOR, an acknowledgement letter within 10 days of receipt of the appeal letter.

The ICs may establish deadlines by which appeal letters must be received in order to be made available at the Council meeting. However, in no circumstance will an appeal letter be accepted before the summary statement has been transmitted to the PD/PI or later than 30 calendar days after the relevant Council meeting. An appeal letter will be accepted only if the letter 1) describes the flaws in the review process for the application in question, 2) explains the reasons for the appeal, and 3) is based on one or more of the following issues related to the process of the initial peer review:

  • Evidence of bias on the part of one or more peer reviewers.
  • Conflict of interest, as specified in regulation at 42 CFR 52h.5. "Scientific Peer Review of Research Grant Applications and Research and Development Contract Projects", on the part of one or more peer reviewers.
  • Lack of appropriate expertise within the SRG.
  • Factual error(s) made by one or more reviewers that could have altered the outcome of review substantially.

Appeal letters based solely on differences of scientific opinion will not be accepted. A letter that does not meet these criteria and/or does not include the concurrence of the AOR will not be considered an appeal letter, but rather a grievance. The IC will handle grievances according to IC- specific procedures. Appeals involving potential conflict of interests or violation of ethical conduct rules on the part of an NIH staff member or other federal employee will be referred to the appropriate Deputy Ethics Counselor for consideration and resolution before any further review of, or action on, the appeal is taken.

NIH staff will consider the basis for the appeal letter, and evaluate the merit of the appeal. If both review staff and program staff support an appeal, then the original application, without additional materials or modifications, will be re-reviewed by the same or a different SRG. In this case, only the results of the re-review, and not the first review, are made available to Council, and information about the appeal is not made available to Council.

If review staff and program staff do not support the appeal, or do not agree on its merit, the PD/PI and/or an institutional official (not necessarily the AOR) may elect to withdraw the appeal letter. The request to withdraw an appeal letter must be submitted either in hard copy or electronically to the PO, and must display concurrence from the AOR of the applicant organization for the application. Although the content of the request may originate from the PD/PI, Contact PD/PI for multiple PD/PI applications, or an organizational official(s) (not necessarily the AOR), the AOR must send the request directly to the PO, or must send his/her concurrence to the PD/PI who will forward the materials and his/her concurrence to the PO. A communication from the PD/PI or institutional official (other than the AOR) only or with a "cc" to the AOR will not be accepted.

If review staff and program staff do not support the appeal, or do not agree on its merit, and the appeal letter is not withdrawn, the appeal letter will be made available to Council. The IC may not deny the PD/PI or applicant organization the opportunity to have an appeal letter made available to Council.

Only two outcomes are possible following consideration of an appeal letter by Council:

  • The Council may concur with the appeal, and recommend that the application be re-reviewed.
  • The Council may concur with the SRG's recommendation and deny the appeal. Although factual errors or other issues may be evident, the Council may determine that these factors were unlikely to alter the final outcome of the SRG and deny the appeal. No action by the Council is equivalent to concurrence with the SRG's recommendation and denial of the appeal.

The recommendation of Council concerning resolution of an appeal is final and will not be considered again by the NIH through this or another process. At no time should the PD/PI or an official of the applicant organization attempt to contact individual members of the Council to discuss their consideration of an application or appeal, as doing so could jeopardize the confidentiality of the review process.

The PO will communicate the Council recommendation concerning an appeal to the PD/PI, AOR, and NIH staff with a need to know. If the appeal letter was received by the IC deadline, the PD/PI and AOR will receive a written explanation of the resolution no later than 30 calendar days after the Council meeting. If the appeal letter was received after the IC deadline, the PO will provide, no more than 30 calendar days after the date when the appeal letter was received, a written explanation of the IC's plan for making the appeal available to Council.

If the Council recommended that the application be re-reviewed, the original application will be re-reviewed without additional materials or modifications. The application may be re-reviewed by the same or a different SRG, depending on the flaws in the original review process that led to the appeal. In most cases, the re-review will entail re-assignment to a subsequent review round and delay in the final funding decision. The outcome of the re-review is final and cannot be appealed again.

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