Disclaimer: The information on this page is meant to provide general guidance. Instructions and procedures outlined in the Funding Opportunity Announcement and SF424 Application Guide take precedence over any information provided on this page and should be referred to for complete and comprehensive directions.
NIH seeks the highest level of ethical standards for peer review. NIH policy is intended to promote a bias-free process that evaluates grant applications in a fair, equitable, and timely manner. Peer review is conducted at two levels as mandated by statute and federal regulation. All review criteria and considerations are specified in the Funding Opportunity Announcement.
The first level of review for the New Innovator Award is administered by the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR), which puts together a Special Emphasis Panel to review all New Innovator Award applications (applications are automatically sent to the Special Emphasis Panel). The Special Emphasis Panel is assembled by the scientific review officer, and members change from year to year. The first level of review is divided into two phases with different groups of reviewers (discussed below).
The second level of review is performed by the NIH Office of the Director’s national advisory council called the Council of Councils. The council is composed of both scientific and public representatives chosen for their expertise, interest, or activity in matters related to health and disease. Applications must receive approval at both levels of review to be eligible for funding.
Below is a diagram of the New Innovator Award review process. Each aspect is discussed in more detail below.
Role of the Scientific Review Officer
The scientific review officer (SRO) is responsible for ensuring that each application receives an objective and fair initial peer review, and that all applicable laws, regulations, and policies are followed. The duties of the scientific review officer include:
- Analyzing the content of each application and checking for completeness
- Documenting and managing conflicts of interest
- Recruiting qualified reviewers based on scientific and technical qualifications and other considerations, including
- Authority in their scientific field
- Dedication to high quality, fair, and objective reviews
- Ability to work collegially in a group setting
- Experience in research grant review
- Balanced representation
- Assigning applications to reviewers for critique preparation and assignment of individual criterion scores
- Attending and overseeing administrative and regulatory aspects of peer review meetings
- Preparing summary statements for all applications reviewed
The scientific review officer is the point of contact for all review-related questions and issues, including post-submission materials.
First Level of Review
The New Innovator Award differs from traditional NIH reviews in that the first level of review occurs in two phases by reviewers with different perspectives. Applications are reviewed by mail reviewers in Phase I and by a broad thinking editorial panel in Phase II.
The New Innovator Award supports innovative research that has the potential to produce a major impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research. The application does not have extensive background material, and the essay focuses on the goals of the New Innovator Award. Preliminary data are not required but may be included. Accordingly, reviewers will provide comments emphasizing the following: 1) the importance of the scientific problem and the potential impact of the research, 2) the novelty and innovativeness of the approach, and 3) evidence of the applicant's potential for creative and innovative research as an early stage investigator.
All standard NIH review criteria are used to evaluate applications (some are listed below), but emphases will be on the significance of the problem, innovativeness of the approach, and the qualities of the investigator.
- Significance of the problem
- Qualifications of the investigator
- Innovation of the approach
- Strength of the approach
- Environmental support and resources
Full review criteria are listed in the Funding Opportunity Announcement.
Phase I review is conducted by "mail" reviewers, who submit independent assessments electronically and do not discuss the applications with other reviewers. Phase I reviewers are assigned based on the broad science areas chosen for the application by the applicant (and designated in the "Agency Routing Identifier"). Though they have expertise within the designated broad science areas, their expertise may not be closely matched with the specific topic of the application. Each application will have three "mail" reviewers assigned to review it. Each reviewer provides scores and comments, which are used in Phase II.
Phase II is conducted by an "editorial panel" composed of scientists from an array of scientific backgrounds. The composition of the panel captures a wide breadth of scientific expertise, experiences, and perspectives.
In Phase II, the "editorial panel" uses the comments and scores from the topic experts to help identify a subset of the most meritorious applications for further consideration. Each application in the subset is assigned to three panel members and is not matched to the panelist member’s area of expertise. Panel members are tasked with reviewing the proposal from a broad viewpoint with the aid of the reviews from the "mail" reviewers.
The assigned reviewers for each application provide a preliminary overall impact score and lead a panel discussion of the application at an in-person or virtual meeting. The full panel discusses each application, followed by final scoring by panel members. The panel discussion is captured by the scientific review officer and will be summarized in the summary statement.
Scoring & Summary Statement
Each panel member privately scores each discussed application. A raw score of 1 is the best, while 9 is the worst. The scientific review officer collects and averages all the panel scores and multiplies the resulting number by 10 to yield an overall impact score. A discussed application can have an overall impact score of 10 (best) to 90 (worst). Typically, only about 18-20% of the applications are chosen for discussion; the panel has access to the full range of scores to provide discrimination among applications within this select subset.
After the meeting, all discussed applications will receive an overall impact score within three business days through the PD/PI's eRA Commons account. The overall impact score indicates the reviewers' judgment of the qualifications of the investigator, the importance of the scientific problem, and the innovativeness of the approach. There is a correlation between a strong impact score and funding. However, there is no strict cutoff or pay line for funding. And because applications are responding to a Request for Applications (RFA), the scores are not percentiled, which makes their interpretation difficult. NIH staff cannot disclose where an impact score falls relative to other application scores.
A summary statement prepared by the scientific review officer will be available within 30 days of the review through the PD/PI's eRA Commons account. The summary statement of discussed applications includes critiques from the assigned editorial panel members and a brief summary of the panel discussion. Applications that are considered "not discussed" are given a summary statement with critiques form the mail reviewers but no comments from the editorial panel. The information provided in the summary statement is valuable and provides critical feedback. However, it is not intended to be an exhaustive critique and will not contain every point reviewers found to be problematic.
After Receiving the Summary Statement
If you have any questions about your summary statement, you should reach out to the scientific contact for the New Innovator Award (listed in the Funding Opportunity Announcement). The scientific contact attends the review and may be able to provide more insight into the panel discussion and help clarify some of the comments. You can also ask about the probability of funding and get advice on what to do if your application is outside of the likely pay range. Contacting NIH staff to “sell” your application or to express differences in scientific opinion related to the reviewers’ comments will not affect the likelihood of funding.
It is best to contact NIH staff by email to schedule a time for a phone call. That gives staff time to read your summary statement and review any notes. And be patient. They may receive numerous inquiries and may not be able to respond to yours immediately.
PD/PIs of discussed applications are given an opportunity to submit an optional two-page response to their summary statement. The response may be used to address issues and concerns brought up by reviewers and reinforce the strengths of the application. The response will not be seen by reviewers and is not a part of the review. The response remains an internal NIH document used only by NIH staff during funding deliberations. The scientific contact will reach out to eligible applicants directly with more information on the response and the deadline.
Second Level of Review
The Council of Councils performs the second level of review for the New Innovator Award and assesses the first level of review for fairness and uniformity in the application of review criteria. It is meant to ensure the initial review was conducted with the appropriate expertise, procedures, and without conflicts of interest. The Council of Councils is not tasked with reviewing the applications for scientific or technical merit and is not asked to provide recommendations on which particular applications should be funded. The Council of Councils votes en bloc for concurrence with the first level review recommendations. Applications must receive approval from the council to be eligible for funding.
More questions? Contact us at NewInnovatorAwards@mail.nih.gov.
This page last reviewed on July 14, 2020