PM Perspectives: the panel process

Posted by EPSRC Engineering team on 07 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.

The panel process

Although panel members are experts in their given fields, they are asked to be generalists when assessing proposals.

Panel members can be viewed as moderators who use the reviewer reports and PI response to produce a prioritised rank order list. By having an overview of all reviewer comments for a proposal, panel members are able to better evaluate whether the reviews are justified. Panel members do not re-review the proposals, but instead use the reviews and PI response as the basis of their discussion and ranking.

There are a number of lists at a standard prioritisation panel, and these are divided by scheme e.g. fellowship, standard mode, New Investigator Award and theme e.g. Engineering, Manufacturing the Future. Each list is separate for ranking purposes, but lists are tensioned against one another to ensure quality level is comparable.

Keep in mind that proposals are not separated by research area. All proposals for a given theme and scheme are assessed against each other. For example, all standard mode proposals within the Engineering remit are assessed against each other.

There are common issues that panels flag up:

  • Unclear methodology: it is unclear what the applicant intends to do or how they are going to do it.
  • Inappropriate PI response: a PI response that comes across as angry, aggressive, or dismissive of the reviewer comments, is considered unconvincing. Please see the Responding to Reviews section of the third blog in this series for suggestions.
  • Positive reviews that are not justified: ensure that a proposal is clear about the benefits the project offers. A positive review that does not give many details about why the project is considered high quality can be given less credence than an unsupportive review that clearly spells out the concerns the reviewer has with it. The reverse of this is also the case; if an unsupportive review has not justified a low score or negative comments, panel members have the discretion to disregard it.

Fellowship rankings are used to determine which applicants are invited to interview for a Fellowship. The head of each theme has a budget to spend on funding New Investigator Awards and standard mode projects. There is not a pre-allocated pot of money set aside for each scheme, but rather the head of theme makes the decision about how far down the list to fund, or whether to fund at all if the projects have not been assessed as sufficiently high quality.

If a minor change will make a proposal more competitive at a future panel, in very rare circumstances, the panel will recommend that it be resubmitted. The head of theme has final say about whether a proposal is invited back, but this is only if the panel has initially recommended it.

Feedback is only provided if the panel has specifically flagged something up, or if the Pathway to Impact needs to be revised.

EPSRC Peer Review College

The best way to gain an understanding of the peer review process is from the inside. Please consider applying to join the Associate Peer Review College.

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.

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.