PM Perspectives: Writing and responding to reviews

Posted by EPSRC Engineering team on 06 March 2019

For new researchers, applying for your first grant with any funding body can be daunting. We have created a series of blogs, written by EPSRC Portfolio Managers (PMs), to demystify the process and provide hints and tips for stronger applications.

If you have not applied for EPSRC funding before, our Funding Options Podcast and Funding Options Flowchart are a great starting point. Here you will find out the differences between our funding options and hear our PM's tackle some of the most common myths around funding options.

Writing a review

The peer review process can only work if researchers are willing to provide reviews of their colleagues' work, and carrying out a review can help your future proposals by showing you what reviewers are looking for. Please sign up for Je-S and fill in your expertise and keywords to allow us to find you.

A few things to keep in mind when writing a review:

  • Please accept or decline the invitation: we understand that you may be busy, on leave, or just don't feel that a proposal is within your expertise. It is absolutely fine to decline, but please let us know so that we can find another reviewer (or, even better, please nominate someone).
  • Justify your scores: this includes high scores as well as low. Make it clear for both the PI and the panel what you found particularly innovative or problematic for each section of the reviewer form.
  • Do unto others: please consider what you would want to see if it were you receiving a review. What comments will help the PI write a better proposal next time?
  • Flag up conflicts: If you are concerned you might have any conflicts of interest with a proposal you have been asked to read as a reviewer or panel member, please contact us as soon as possible.

More guidance about writing a review can be found on the reviewing proposals page.

Responding to reviews

The PI response is your last chance to make your case. Please take this opportunity to politely and respectfully answer all questions and criticisms.

  • Answer all questions: not just the parts you want to answer. Show you have taken the comments on board, even if you do not agree with them.
  • Back up your comments: demonstrate to the panel why they should have confidence in your ability to carry out the proposal by using facts, not just your opinions.
  • Avoid these pitfalls: Trust me, I know what I am doing is not a good response. Nor is I've been doing this 10/20/30 years.

Likewise, do not:

  • Criticise the reviewer or ignore criticisms.
  • Counter the negative comments from one reviewer with positive comments from another.
  • Repeat all the good feedback; you only have two pages to answer questions and criticisms. Ensure you use them wisely.
  • Repeat parts of your proposal; if reviewers have raised questions that you feel are already answered, then it is likely that something was not clear. Please try to rephrase as appropriate.
  • Try to guess who the reviewer is. In our experience, no one has ever guessed correctly!

Have someone read your response for tone: before you submit your PI response, ask someone to check it over to make sure you are striking the right tone. After all, you do not want the panel to describe your PI response as angry or dismissive. The reviewers do not see your response; it is only the panel who will use it as part of their evaluation.

Author

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Photo of three members of the EPSRC Engineering team
Name: EPSRC Engineering team
Section / Team: Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC

A note from the authors:

As EPSRC Portfolio Managers, we each oversee a different community within our main research theme and although the research areas may differ, the questions we receive are often the same. We thought it would be beneficial to share what we have learned through managing the peer review process and convening panels and we hope you find this a useful addition to what is already on the website.

This advice was written by Engineering Portfolio Managers, but is applicable to other EPSRC themes. The information is correct at time of publishing in February 2019.