An insider view from peer reviewers

We asked two peer reviewers to share their experiences of being part of the EPSRC Peer Review College.

New Zealand-based academic, Jan Evans-Freeman, explains why she reviews UK research, and industrialist, Mick Steeper, discusses the value to a global company of having an inside view of the peer review process.

Jan Evans-Freeman

Jan Evans-Freeman is Pro Vice Chancellor, College of Engineering, University of Canterbury, New Zealand. She is a member of the current EPSRC College.

Q: What are the benefits of taking part in the peer review process? And what is the value to you as an academic based in New Zealand?

A: To me, as the overall academic and research leader of an Engineering College, the value is in assessing the relevance of the work we do here in NZ in relation to leading edge research in Europe/the UK. Although national needs can differ, global requirements are common to all, and it is essential to me to see how international researchers address common themes.

Every research proposal that comes my way offers insight, either into how research is organised in the UK, or how researchers are addressing hot topics.

Q: Describe the work that you do on the panel:

A: This is connected to my first answer, and has to do with me retaining a global perspective on research, research impacts and research outcomes.

Q: How much time commitment do you put into the College?

A: About three proposals to review per year, each one takes several hours.

Q: What attracted you to being a peer reviewer?

A: I am always grateful to receive a well thought-out and informed review of my own work, and am pleased to try to do that for other people.

Q: Do you have a message for researchers based outside the UK who may be thinking of applying to the call?

A: If you want to understand how another research economy organises itself, what is important to them, and what the best and emerging researchers are working on - be an EPSRC reviewer!

Mick Steeper

Mick Steeper has been a peer reviewer for over four years, a college member for six years and is currently on the Manufacturing the Future SAT. During this time he worked at Siemens and Primetals Technologies in an R&D group specialising in metals processing technology, and was responsible for external R&D liaison with universities, research training officers and partner companies.

Q: What are the benefits of taking part in the peer review process? And what is the value to your business?

A: You learn so much, even in the fields you thought you already knew well. Research proposals (the good ones at least) are inherently novel, and reviewing them will give you a new way of looking at their subject. For the businesses that employ reviewers, they can expect energised employees who've been exposed to novel ideas.

Q: What insights have you gained?

A: More than once, my Peer Review activity has been the source of first awareness of researchers who have gone on to become key partners in my employer's R&D. I've also improved my all-round knowledge of multiple science and engineering fields, and in my own specialist field I have found both previously-unknown research activity and early recognition of new concepts and trends.

Q: How much time commitment do you put into the College?

A: For each proposal I consider, I aim to give it at least 2 hours, though the more intriguing ones sometimes get longer. If my other work commitments allow it, I aim to read a proposal through a couple of days before working intensively on its review. So much of research is synergistic, and it takes time to consider the connections.

Q: What attracted you to being a peer reviewer?

A: My initial motivation was pretty altruistic, the opportunity to contribute something in return to my knowledge community. I didn't realise before I started how much I would learn. With hindsight, that's the greatest benefit of all.

Q; Do you have a message for other businesses who may be thinking of applying to the call?

A: The EPSRC's Peer Review College is an expert community of scientists and engineers, and any of your employees joining it will have the opportunity to access a network of experts in their field, and your business field.

The EPSRC's domain of pre-competitive research is implicitly collaborative. The Peer Review College is a door to co-operative research opportunities.