Update from Dr. Paul Kubes, Chair of the CIHR Peer Review Working Group

July 29, 2016

The Peer Review Working Group has already held two productive teleconferences (on July 22 and July 27). I’m pleased to say that we have assembled a group of talented and enthusiastic individuals who are truly committed to strengthening peer review processes. These individuals include members of the broad scientific community who are coming together to work with CIHR on the implementation of the solutions identified during the July 13 Working Meeting. They do not represent any small interest groups, institutions or regions – rather, they are a collective with the mandate to improve the Project Grant application and review process. As the Chair, I am happy to provide the research community with an update on this important work.

The scope of our work has been defined by what was discussed on July 13 (our Terms of Reference are available below). There was consensus within the Working Group that the Foundation Grant competition will proceed without changes for the fall (other than deadline dates – to be announced by CIHR the week of August 8). We realize that there are concerns with the Foundation Grant competition as it stands, but the group was also concerned that changing everything all at once may be problematic. Also, we have heard from the community that the Project Grant processes were in immediate need of attention. We hope to implement those changes first, learn from what we have done, and potentially make recommendations for CIHR and the College Chairs to consider for subsequent competitions.

CIHR is currently exploring the feasibility and timelines for several Project Grant competition scenarios, based on our discussions thus far. While we cannot provide specific dates for the fall competition at the moment, please note that CIHR has announced that registration will not open for the Project or Foundation competitions before September 1. We understand the urgency of knowing the timelines and are all working hard to make the changes so that the application process can start as soon as possible.

That said, I can confirm that the following decisions have been made:

  • Project Grant applications will be 10 pages (including figures and tables), and applicants can also upload unlimited references and letters of support. We have received a lot of feedback from the community on this point: some applicants wanted no changes to the application structure, as they felt that they were close to getting funded, while others wanted up to 12 pages. Still others noted that 12 pages was too much of a change, as there is not optimal time to write a whole new application. It was also important to note that many reviewers liked the shorter applications but did feel that they needed more information. Overall, a 10-page application structure takes the needs of reviewers and applicants into account.
  • Applications will be assessed based on “significance and impact of the research” (25% of final score), “approaches” (50% of the final score), and “expertise, experience and resources” (25% of final score). The 10 pages of the application will be “free form” (not structured), allowing the applicant to decide how much text to include to address each of these criteria, and some of the previous sections can now be amalgamated.
  • The Common CV (CCV) for the Project Grant application will include publications from the past seven years. It was deemed unfair to have just five years of publications if you happened to have one or two parental leaves, etc. These individuals would be seen as less productive with no way of redeeming themselves. It was decided that seven years was a reasonable amount of time, as evaluating someone on their entire career was not deemed the goal and disadvantaged more junior people.
  • Researchers may only submit two applications per Project Grant competition in the role of Nominated Principal Investigator (NPI). The rationale is to reduce the burden on reviewers (while most applicants submitted one or two applications, some NPIs submitted more, with one submitting seven applications in the last competition). However, we know some may need to renew more than one grant, so a maximum of two applications was deemed reasonable.
  • A rebuttal page will be included in the application structure to allow applicants to address major concerns and to demonstrate improvement. This is an important scholarly exercise and the group felt that it was appropriate.
  • Funding recipients are strongly encouraged to contribute back to the system by making themselves available to be reviewers when asked.

Establishing these details has been an important first step for the Working Group and has informed our discussions about peer review. We will meet again on August 5 for a face-to-face meeting in Ottawa to focus specifically on the peer review process and how it will move forward.

The Working Group and CIHR are committed to sharing decisions in a timely manner to ensure that researchers across the country have fair and equal access to this information. These updates will be posted on the CIHR website and then disseminated via social media and CIHR’s Research News.

We will confirm the competition dates and deadlines for the fall Project Grant competition after our meeting on August 5 (i.e., the announcement will likely be posted the week of August 8). I look forward to keeping you informed of our progress.

I have read and tried to reply to all emails that I have received and will continue to try to do so. As noted above, the Working Group is focusing on implementing the solutions identified at the July 13 meeting. If you have suggestions regarding the best way to move forward with these solutions, please contact me. I will bring all reasonable suggestions to the August 5 meeting. Thank you.

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