Evolving and upholding fairness in Peer Review

We are committed to ensuring that fairness is fully reflected in all our funding processes by advancing policy which supports equality, diversity and inclusion. We aim to achieve this in three ways: 

  • Evolving our approach to the peer review process to ensure it is as inclusive as possible. In the section below you can see some of the changes we have implemented as part of our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.
  • Maintaining a fair and flexible environment for all members of our community, regardless of individual circumstance. The section below details the flexibilities that are available within EPSRC schemes.
  • Providing the means for researchers to confidentially inform EPSRC of personal circumstances and specific requirements so that we can discuss the potential ways to accommodate individual needs.

Features of our peer review processes

Peer review is central to EPSRC funding decisions and relies on expert advice which comes primarily from members of the College of Peer Reviewers. Peer review ensures integrity and consistency to a robust, quality process for all EPSRC funding initiatives. To allow us to implement the best processes, Peer Review is continually evolving, some of the changes we have implemented as part of our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy include:

  • Fairness as a principle of peer review
    Fairness was added as a principle of Peer Review in 2017, and aims to ensure that peer review processes will be unbiased and not influenced by gender, ethnicity or any other protected characteristic. The principles of peer review are highlighted at the start of all peer review meetings. 
  • Mixed gender panels
    Our guidance states that all prioritisation and interview panels must be mixed gender. This is to ensure that every funding panel offers a broad range of perspectives. Exceptions to this policy are very rare and only in unexpected circumstances, for example if a panel member is unable to attend at short notice and there no available replacement. We aim for 30% of the underrepresented gender to be represented across all panels in a financial year.
  • Transparency on reviewer and panel guidance
    We are committed to ensuring that the peer review process is open and transparent. In addition to applicant guidance, we also publish reviewer guidance and general panel guidance, which include reviewer and introducer forms. Interviewees are provided with the panel membership in advance or their interview. We also publish the composition of our panels on GoW within a month of the panel meeting.
  • ED&I strategy on large grants
    Equality, diversity and inclusion considerations are now included in the monitoring and evaluation of a number of our large grants. The 2018 CDT call stated that the centres should act as beacons for ED&I within the research and training community and a dedicated ED&I plan was required.
  • Safeguarding peer review training
    EPSRC staff complete unconscious bias training that is tailored to their role as a panel convenor. All panel members are provided with an unconscious bias briefing to help raise awareness of the impact it has on decision making and how to manage this in panel meetings.
  • Equality Impact Assessments
    These are used in the early planning stages of new calls, policy changes and activities. More information can be found on the Equality Impact Assessment page.
  • Removal of the time bound eligibility for New Investigator Awards (NIA)
    We have increased flexibility in eligibility requirements for our New Investigator Award scheme to reflect the aim of the award; to give experience of leading their first research group as an independent academic investigator. This is intended to better support different career paths and working patterns, taking account of periods of extended leave due to maternity and paternity leave and illness. More information can be found on the NIA webpages.

Maintaining a fair and flexible environment

We are committed to maintaining a fair and flexible working environment for all members of our academic community. To achieve this, we aim to provide greater flexibility in our peer review processes and throughout the grants lifetime.

  • Fair and unbiased panel meetings
    To ensure fair and unbiased panel meetings the Chair is appointed to lead the panel who has experience of EPSRC prioritisation panel meetings, with the meeting overseen by an EPSRC representative. Panel work is covered by EPSRC’s code of practice that embraces the seven principles of public life to ensure that all applications are treated fairly. Panel members are required to declare anything that could be perceived as a conflict of interest, and leave the room while affected proposals are considered. Panel members and reviewers accept an obligation of confidentiality when dealing with proposals, and of respect to the original ideas research colleagues have disclosed. During the panel meeting all members are invited to question and challenge any cultural stereotypes and bias and be prepared to be challenged.
  • Alternative participation options
    If alternative options for participation are required for panels, such as video conferencing, please discuss this with us in advance. Considerations of attendance accessibility are made for all calls using Equality Impact Assessments, which are published with the call on our website.
  • Support for Daphne Jackson fellowships
    We work with the Daphne Jackson Trust to provide financial support for Fellows returning to work from a career break of 2 years or more due to family, caring or health reasons. A Daphne Jackson Fellowship provides mentoring, retraining and research opportunity to enable its Fellows to build the confidence and skills they need to successfully return to a STEM research career. Fellowships are flexible and part-time, usually completed over two years at 0.5 FTE, and include at least 100 hours’ retraining per year.
  • Support available for people with caring responsibilities
    We may be able to offer support for those with caring responsibilities to cover caring costs where participation in an EPSRC activity would involve additional care requirements. Our expectation is that the employer is approached in the first instance to meet these. We also allow applicants for funding to request additional care costs as part of research grant proposals. For more information on our policy please see Support available for people with caring responsibilities.
  • Maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave
    EPSRC provides support to students and grant holders with parental responsibilities. To advise these members of the research community, there are comprehensive UKRI guidelines on maternity, paternity and adoption leave.
  • Flexible circumstances
    On a standard grant you can apply for a proportion of your time that meets your needs, allowing you to build the project that works for you. Our Fellowships policy has been designed to be flexible and can be held part time, at a minimum level of 50% full time equivalent. If you are employed part time you can ask to hold your Fellowship part time when applying. Alternatively, you can convert to part time during the Fellowship, pro-rata. If an investigators personal circumstances change there is often the flexibility in our grants to enable a change. Change requests can be made on live grants through Je-S.
  • Extensions
    Grant extensions are permitted for a period of up to twelve months for maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental or paid sick leave as well as changes from full-time to part-time working. In the case of other exceptional circumstances the duration may be extended, at the discretion of the Council, please note that there are additional conditions for certain types of award. When there is a change in circumstances and the period of delay is known, grant holders are requested to make an extension request through Je-S. Further guidance can be found on the Post-award guidance page on the UKRI website.
  • Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)
    For students funded through an EPSRC grant, universities can apply to us for help with paying Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). More information can be found on the Disabled students allowance page.

Communicating your needs to EPSRC

The above sections outline the features that we offer as standard, however we recognise that there may be individual circumstances that we need to be aware of. We aim to accommodate specific needs and personal circumstances, but are reliant on applicants and panel members sharing this information with EPSRC.

If there is information relevant to your application that we may need to consider when facilitating the peer review of your application or your attendance at panel, please contact us to discuss. This should be done early in the process or updated when circumstances change. For sensitive information the applicant should state clearly whether the information is confidential.

There are a number of opportunities to raise specific requirements:

  • In your application cover letter
    We provide guidance to help applicants use their cover letter to highlight any personal circumstances that EPSRC should be made aware of. The cover letter is used for administrative purposes only and the details are not sent to panel members. It is the applicants’ responsibility to inform the panel convenor of any personal circumstances which should be brought to the attention of EPSRC or the panel.
  • In your invite to interview
    If invited to interview, there is the opportunity to raise matters with the panel convenor or supporting staff, even if it was previously highlighted in the proposal or the proposal cover letter. If personal circumstances change, applicants should inform EPSRC at the earliest opportunity.
  • When asked to sit on a panel
    Please contact the panel convenor or supporting staff, to inform them of any personal circumstances that may be relevant so that they can provide the necessary support.
  • When you are a reviewer
    Please submit a request for an extension via Je-S if required or contact the relevant Portfolio Manager for your research area, or the person identified on the call document to discuss further.