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NCCIH Research Blog

Becoming an NCCIH Peer Reviewer, Part 2

January 31, 2023

Martina Schmidt, Ph.D.

Martina Schmidt, Ph.D.


Division of Extramural Activities

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

In my last blog post, I talked about the benefits of serving as a peer reviewer of grant applications for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Today, I’d like to explain what serving on an NCCIH review panel is like.

Our review groups are Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs) rather than standing study sections. We select SEP members on an “as needed” basis in response to the applications we receive. So, if you agree to be a reviewer for us, you’re only committing to a single review meeting. You’re not making a long-term commitment.

Each SEP is led by an NCCIH scientific review officer (SRO)—a staff scientist who’s responsible for coordinating the review of applications in a given SEP. The SRO is the person to go to with any questions you have about the review process. 

What You’ll Do as a Member of an NCCIH SEP

About 6 weeks before your SEP meets, you’ll get access to the applications assigned to your SEP. You’ll need to look through them to make sure you don’t have any conflicts of interest. You’ll also need to prepare written critiques for those applications that have been assigned to you as a reviewer and give those applications preliminary overall impact and criterion scores. 

At the review meeting, when an application you are assigned to comes up for review, you’ll present your critique and the other reviewers also assigned to this application will present theirs. The panel as a whole will then discuss the application, the assigned reviewers will give their final scores, setting the score range, and then all members will score it before moving on to the next application. Typically, only the applications in the upper half of the preliminary scores will be discussed.

Your role as a reviewer is to perform thorough and fair evaluations of the scientific and technical merit of the applications, in line with the review criteria. By sharing your expertise and knowledge, you can help NCCIH fund the most rigorous and impactful science.

It Takes Less Time Than You May Expect

Serving on an NCCIH SEP may be less time consuming than you would expect, for several reasons. 

  • NCCIH SEPs usually meet virtually, so you won’t have to travel.
  • Because of the specialized science proposed in many applications assigned to NCCIH, the number of applications you’ll need to review is usually small, perhaps 3 or 4 rather than the 10 or more you would review if you were a member of a larger standing study section. 
  • You’re not expected to check applications to make sure they follow the basic administrative rules and include the correct attachments. The SRO takes care of this part of the process. Any applications that are incomplete, noncompliant, or nonresponsive will be withdrawn before the applications come to you.

If You Want To Be a Reviewer 

If you would like to become an NCCIH reviewer but we haven’t contacted you, please send an email to Ms. Grace Lee at Include a brief description of your areas of expertise and a copy of your biosketch. We would like to hear from you, and we’re grateful for your interest. But please understand that we need to look for scientists with very specific types of knowledge to review applications for our funding opportunities. Your area of expertise may not be what we need at the moment.

Reviewers are critical to the NCCIH mission, and we truly appreciate the generosity with which our reviewers serve.

For More Information 

Read advice to novice reviewers from retired study section chairs in this NIH Center for Scientific Review’s insider’s guide to peer review.  


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