Message to CIHR peer reviewers

October 31, 2016

Message to CIHR peer reviewers from Dr. Paul Kubes and Dr. Jeff Latimer

Dr. Paul Kubes, Executive Chair of the College of Reviewers, and Dr. Jeff Latimer, CIHR’s new Associate Vice-President, thank all the volunteers who have agreed to be peer reviewers for the current Foundation Grant and Project Grant competitions.

Together, they reflect on the peer reviewer experience during the 2015 competitions and discuss the importance of the review process. In addition, Jeff Latimer outlines CIHR’s commitments to reviewers moving forward.


Paul Kubes: Hi, I’m Paul Kubes, and I’m a scientist and a researcher at the University of Calgary. I’ve also taken on the role of Executive Chair of the College of Reviewers, and this summer, I was also the chair of the Peer Review Working Group.

And I heard from many of you. I heard your concerns; I heard your suggestions. You’ve provided me valuable feedback for the first Operating Grant competition. We made many recommendations to CIHR, and I would recommend that you go to the website and you see some of those recommendations that we have made.

We’ve got a new a government, a government that believes in fundamental science and fundamental research, and one that’s gotten involved, and has asked us to improve the system. I felt that maybe I should help, too. So, I took on the task with a group of volunteer scientists. We tried to fix the review process. And we made many changes and Jeff will tell you about some of those changes that we made.

Now, many of you thanked me for doing this and I appreciate it. But now I’m asking you for your help. CIHR might be setting the process, but it’s really us. We are going to make it work. We are the “peer” in “peer review”. I need you to block off some time, I need you to register as a reviewer, and I need you to have a look, and read thoroughly, and review your colleagues’ grants. Give it the most thorough review you possibly can. You are the only ones with the expertise to look at some of these grants, so we need you to look at them. I think this is the only way that we will be able to change the system and improve it. A fair and rigorous review from each and every one of you will fix the review process.

Now, a number of folks have said, “no, I can’t review”. Some of you are busy and I understand that. But some of you are just angry, disgruntled, unhappy, and what I’d like you to do, what I’m asking you to do, is put that aside. What I want you to do is step up and make a difference. And I’m talking to all of you. There are four pillars and we need reviewers in each and every pillar: pillar one, two, three and four. We can’t do it without you. If you’ve been invited to review, consider it an honour. And even if you don’t consider it an honour, then at least consider it a responsibility. Consider it a responsibility to improving research in Canada. I’m counting on you, and everyone that’s submitted a grant is counting on you. So thanks, folks, for listening, and please help us to make this a better process. And please listen to some of the changes that we have made. Jeff?

Jeff Latimer: Thank you very much, Paul.

My name is Jeff Latimer, and I’m the new Associate Vice-President here at CIHR, responsible for program operations. What that means is I’m basically accountable for delivering all of CIHR’s grant competitions.

Well, we have more than a hundred each and every year. The two that I want to talk about today are the two largest ones: the Project Grant competition and the Foundation Grant competition.

Before I do that, I want to first thank each and every one of you who contributed this summer to improving the peer review design that Paul and his working group came forward with. We really appreciate the effort and we believe we’ve found a good compromise that will improve the quality of our peer review processes at CIHR.

Second thing I want to thank is those reviewers who have come forward already to agree to review for the Project and Foundation Grant competitions. We received the applications in the last few weeks. We’re just processing those now and looking for some of the gaps. We may contact others to come forward and review, so we hope that you agree to review when we approach you.

And I want to let you know a couple of key things in response to that.

First, we’ve changed the way in which we’re selecting peer reviewers at CIHR, based on the advice of the College of Reviewers, chaired by Paul. The first thing we’re doing is: you must meet strict criteria to be selected as a reviewer for CIHR. So, as Paul said, we believe this is an important step forward and an honour to actually be selected to review, so I hope that you agree to do so.

The second thing we’re doing is: we’ve dramatically improved the way in which we’re matching applications to potential reviewers at CIHR. In the previous competition, it was clear that there were some challenges in the way in which we were processing, and so we’ve decided to implement a new system. Now, we’re matching applications based not just on pillar and area of science, but also on the methodology being used with the population being studied. And even after we’re finished that process, we’re asking each of the Competition Chairs responsible for a cluster of applications to manually go through and approve each of the assignments, so that they’ll have an opportunity to comment on the reviewers and the areas of expertise that they’re covering.

So, we think those two key changes will make a huge difference this time around.

The second thing I want to be clear to each and every one of you is the fact that we’re trying to stabilize the workload and make it quite predictable for reviewers. So, for example, if you agreed to review for the Project competition, we can tell you now that you will be reviewing in January, you will have 8 to 12 applications, and we’ll give you at least five full weeks to do your review. We think that will make a big difference and improve the quality of reviews.

So, as Paul said, I really think that this can’t be done without each and every one of you, so we’re looking forward to working collaboratively with you to deliver on what I consider to be CIHR’s single largest competition, and one that’s very important for the research community, so thank you very much.

Peer reviewer recruitment continues

The application deadlines for the Foundation Grant: 2016-2017 and Project Grant: Fall 2016 competitions have passed. CIHR is now focusing on matching the right peer reviewers to each application.

The success of peer review depends on the participation of accomplished professionals with a commitment to integrity, impartiality, and fairness in review. Reviewers are therefore invited based on their solid track record and in accordance with rigorous peer reviewer criteria.

Several waves of invitations have been sent to potential reviewers who meet the criteria, taking into consideration their workloads and existing commitments to review for another CIHR competition (e.g., the 2017 Fellowships competition, etc.). As CIHR goes through its matching process to assign the right applications to the right reviewers, additional invitations may be sent to fill gaps in expertise and to recruit additional individuals identified by Competition Chairs.

We are pleased to report that most of the Competition Chairs have now been recruited for both competitions. Others may be identified over the coming weeks based on the expertise requirements for each competition. Competition Chairs will soon help us identify the Scientific Officers.

If you have any questions about the peer review process, or meet the criteria and would like to state your interest in becoming a reviewer, you may send an e-mail to

Did you know that peer reviewers now have to complete a mandatory training module on unconscious bias in peer review? Learn more about all the learning material available for peer reviewers

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