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NCCIH Research Blog

Who Reviews Your Grant Application?

October 1, 2021

Martina Schmidt, Ph.D.

Martina Schmidt, Ph.D.


Division of Extramural Activities

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Division of Extramural Activities for our readers who are applying for or receiving National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant funding. In this post, I will discuss how grant applications are assigned to study sections as part of NIH’s peer review process for applications.

Most unsolicited or investigator-initiated research applications submitted in response to NIH parent announcements are reviewed in chartered study sections. They have both regular and temporary members and are primarily organized at the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR).

Study sections that don’t have regular members and are entirely composed of temporary members are called Special Emphasis Panels (SEPs). SEPs are usually organized to review applications responding to RFAs (requests for applications) and often, PARs—program announcements with special receipt dates, referral, and/or review considerations. SEPs are organized by CSR as well as by review offices located at individual NIH Institutes or Centers (ICs).

How do you find out where your application will be reviewed?

  • Before submission, check the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for Section V, “Application Review Information.” Item 2, “Review and Selection Process,” provides the locus of review.
  • Section VII of the FOA, “Agency Contacts,” lists the peer review contact (if applicable); this individual’s organization will handle the review.

After submitting your application, you can use eRA Commons to track its status. You can see:

  • The IC and scientific review group to which it has been assigned
  • The NIH program officer (PO), scientific review officer (SRO), and grants management specialist handling your application
  • The study section composition of the panel in which your application will be reviewed (This is posted 30 days before the review meeting date.)

When you submit your application, you can suggest an IC that you think would be an appropriate “home.” If it is an investigator-initiated project, you can also suggest a chartered study section. How do you find the best fit among ICs and study sections?

  • For ICs, review their missions. When you have identified the IC that would be most appropriate, it could be helpful to first consult a PO in its extramural division who handles applications in your proposed area of science. For FOAs with a specific focus, look for the FOA’s Scientific/Research Contacts, who might be able to answer questions before you write or submit your application.
  • If you’d like to submit any ideas for a chartered study section, see CSR’s Study Sections homepage, where there is a “Find a Study Section” tool and an “Assisted Referral Tool” to help you identify sections with the needed expertise.

For applications reviewed in SEPs, reviewers will usually be recruited to serve on the panel once applications have been assigned to the study section. Composition of the panel depends on the science proposed in the applications.

For more information, please visit the NCCIH Grant Application Resources homepage. For questions, do not hesitate to reach out to the peer review contact in your FOA of interest or the SRO for your application in eRA Commons.


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