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A word about two-stage review of program projects

Dr. Richard Hodes
Richard J. HODES,
Office of the Director (OD)

A few months ago, NIA decided to follow the practice of two other NIH institutes and arrange two-stage review of program projects. We have recently completed the first review cycle under this new review model. I especially want to thank all the reviewers—first-stage and second-stage—whose sacrifice and dedication to the task have made this effort work.

As some of you may remember, we launched this two-stage effort because of concern that the separate small committee reviews which each handled one program project lacked the context for scoring that is available to the customarily larger panels who review a substantial set of research grant applications in one meeting.

The second-stage panel in this new system considers all program project applications for a given Council round in the same meeting. The panel then has a context for scoring each application, and so the process captures the same sense of context that is present in most review meetings.

How scoring works

The second-stage role is to provide an overall score for each application, taking into account the reviews from the first stage, as well as the degree to which the overall program project is integrated and provides added value beyond the contributions of the separate parts. As might be anticipated, scores at this stage diverge more from the scores of the individual projects in the former small-group, one-program-project-at-a-time, mode of review.

Initial concerns are likely

We anticipate that for the first few rounds at least, scores from second-stage review are likely to generate concern among those of you who submitted applications for these rounds. The first set of scores are indeed diverging far from the scores for the individual projects obtained through the first-stage review. And we expect that pattern of scoring will continue. These scores are also very different from the scoring pattern for program project applications from prior rounds.

Addressing these concerns

As we have announced on our site, we are isolating program projects reviewed by the two-stage method when considering them for funding. It would be inappropriate to combine these scores with scores obtained from single-stage review.

As we do for all other NIA-funded research, we will continue to make our decisions on funding these program projects using the primary award criterion—which is the quality of the science determined by peer review. In making that determination, we will take into account both the ratings for the individual projects and cores provided in the first-stage review, and the score for the overall project determined in the second-stage review.

As in other areas of research, we will apply both a general allocation and an Alzheimer’s allocation to program projects when considering them for funding.

Contact us

I anticipate that a number of you will have questions about this new review process. We are happy to provide more information and context, as the new review process continues. You may contact me, Director of Extramural Activities Robin Barr, or Chief of Review Ramesh Vemuri, directly with these questions. I also encourage you to make a comment on this blog below.

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