New Investigator Award
These notes are intended to provide reviewers with specific guidance for the completion of the reviewer form. They should be read in conjunction with the reviewer principles. Specific guidance is available for each individual section of the report you are completing. A full justification for your assessment of the proposal should be provided. The prompts are given as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of a proposal. Please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to. You should note that your review will be sent back, unattributed, to the investigator, who will then be allowed the opportunity to comment on any factual errors and answer any specific queries you have raised.
You are asked to assess the proposal/report against a number of criteria. These criteria may vary according to the scheme or call that the proposal has been submitted to. Prompts are provided as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of a proposal. A full justification for your assessment of the proposal should be included in each section: please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to.
You are asked throughout to assess “the proposal” but please be clear that this means the ideas, concepts and approaches contained therein not the specific form of the document itself. The clarity of presentation may help or hinder your ability to review a proposal, so a comment to this effect would be appropriate, but this should not become in any form a competition in stylish writing. Elegance of presentation is not of itself an assessment criterion for an EPSRC grant!
There is no set way for answering questions on the form. However, prioritisation meetings generally find reviews most useful where they explicitly identify the main strengths and weaknesses in the proposal, while also giving a clear view on which should be accorded the greater significance and why. It is also a helpful technique to raise issues or concerns with the proposal in the form of explicit questions for the applicants. This makes it easier for the panel to assess how complete and convincing the applicants responses are.
It is important that EPSRC funds are used ethically and responsibly but this is mainly assured by requiring that universities have in place and operate appropriate ethical approval processes. Ethical considerations should not therefore normally be an assessment criterion and you should not take these into account when making your assessment.
If the proposal is in a subject or area that causes you serious personal concern, to the extent that you feel you cannot provide an objective review, then you should decline to review the proposal giving the reason as other, and stating “ethical issues” in the comment box. If you have a concern that the proposal raises ethical issues that have not been clearly identified or addressed, then you should raise this directly with EPSRC who will need to make a policy decision on how the proposal should be treated.
There is no simple definition of excellence. Proposals may build directly on prior work, or may involve a speculative leap forward. It may involve progress along an established research direction or a tangential switch into a new or different area, or may bring together expertise and approaches from different discipline areas. All of these approaches could demonstrate excellence so your judgement should not simply be based on which approach has been adopted.
A proposal that demonstrates excellence can be characterised by terms such as: novel, ambitious, timely, exciting, at the international forefront, adventurous, elegant, or transformative but need not demonstrate all of them. Normally you might expect to see a plausible hypothesis with some basis within the published literature, and some clearly identified objectives that sensibly test that hypothesis. Certainty of outcome is not an indicator of excellence, but neither is an incremental approach necessarily an indicator that a proposal lacks excellence.
Applicants are asked to set their proposal in context in terms of the current state of knowledge and other work under way in the field. You should comment explicitly on this aspect of the proposal and where possible give your view of where this work would sit in relation to related activity internationally, and the extent to which it would provide the UK with a unique capability. Note that the existence of competing groups elsewhere should not of itself be seen as a reason for downgrading a proposal.
The application should clearly demonstrate the methodology the applicants intend to use to attain their stated objectives, and you should comment on how clearly they are described, how appropriate they are for the planned activity and their scientific or technical feasibility.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to comment on the degree of research excellence of the application making reference to:
- The novelty, relationship to the context, and timeliness
- The ambition, adventure, and transformative aspects identified
- The appropriateness of the proposed methodology
(For multi-disciplinary applications please state which aspects of the application you feel qualified to assess)
The proposal should clearly demonstrate the methodology the applicants intend to use to attain their stated objectives, and you should comment on how clearly they are described, how appropriate they are for the planned activity and their scientific or technical feasibility.
Secondary Major Criterion
Drawing upon what the applicant has said, reviewers should comment on:
- How the proposed research contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other research disciplines, contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges, contributes to current or future UK economic success and/or enables future development of key emerging industry(s)
- The extent to which the research proposed has the potential to meet national strategic needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world leading research activity (including areas of niche capability)
- How the research fits with and complements other UK research already funded in the area or related areas, including the relationship to the EPSRC portfolio and our stated strategy set out in “Our Portfolio”.
The extent to which each bullet point is addressed will depend on the nature of the research proposed. Reviewers should comment on how the research relates to EPSRC’s research areas and strategies (many projects will be relevant to more than one EPSRC research area) and complements EPSRC's current portfolio. Information on the portfolio is available through the EPSRC's Grants on the Web (GoW).
The reviewer form asks reviewers to:
please comment on the national importance of the research. Include how the research:
- Contributes to, or helps maintain the health of other disciplines contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges and/or contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry(s)
- Meets national needs by establishing/maintaining a unique world leading activity
- Complements other UK research already funded in the area, including any relationship to the EPSRC portfolio
A clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact is an essential component of a research proposal and a condition of funding.
Applicants are required to use this section of the proposal to identify the potential impact of their work and to outline the steps they can sensibly make now to facilitate the realisation of those impacts.
Identified impacts should clearly align with the case made for the importance of the research but may be much broader. If a proposal is ranked high enough to be funded at the interview stage but does not have an acceptable Pathways to Impact it will be returned. Applicants will be asked to revise the Pathways to Impact and the proposal will only be funded once that acceptable revision has been received.
A clearly thought through and acceptable Pathways to Impact statement should:
- Be project-specific and not generalised
- Be flexible and focus on potential outcomes
Researchers should be encouraged to:
- Identify and actively engage relevant users of research and stakeholders at appropriate stages
- Articulate a clear understanding of the context and needs of users and consider ways for the proposed research to meet these needs or impact upon understandings of these needs
- Outline the planning and management of associated activities including timing, personnel, skills, budget, deliverables and feasibility
- Include evidence of any existing engagement with relevant end users
It is expected that being able to describe a pathways to impact will apply for the vast majority of proposals. In the few exceptions where this is not the case, the Pathways to Impact statement should be used to fully justify the reasons why this is not possible.
More detailed information about what impact does and does not include is available on the Pathways to Impact guidance page.
You are asked to assess how effectively and realistically the applicants have addressed this issue in their proposal. For this you should consider:
- How convincingly the potential impact of the activity has been described
- How that impact compares to your normal expectations for the general type of activity proposed
- How appropriate/effective the arrangements described for facilitating the impact are
- How appropriate the collaboration arrangements in the proposal are in this respect
You should not be seeking tangible deliverables, direct return on investment or detailed routes to exploitation in making your assessment. Pathways to Impact is not synonymous with early exploitation. It can take many forms over widely varying timescales. It might involve developing a commercial product or service, or creating a new technology, but could also be about improved medical or health care, contributions to national planning or social policy or engaging the public in the outputs of research.
We don't need you to take the relative importance of the identified impacts into account in reaching your judgement. The key element to be assessed is the range and appropriateness of the activities to be undertaken to help realise them.
Proposals where impact activities are clearly integrated throughout the broader project should normally be seen as stronger than those where they are seen as an afterthought bolted on to the back of the project. As for any other part of the review please ensure you comment fully on the pathway to impact, and that your comments are all explained and justified. Terse comments are generally seen as unhelpful by panels and are often discounted. This is particularly true for tersely supportive comments.
What is the relationship between national importance and Impact?
The purpose of national importance is to encourage applicants to articulate why it's important for their research to be supported by the UK taxpayer so that the UK remains internationally competitive. National importance has a number of strands and so answers to this question might cover; why the research might benefit the UK economy, why it may lead to advances in a different academic discipline, or why it's important that an internationally leading group continues to be supported.
The Impact criterion focuses much more on how you might accelerate the route to making it happen; what activities are you proposing to ensure that the potential beneficiaries have the opportunity to benefit? Impact is about who the beneficiaries of the research might be and how you are going to work with them to shorten the time between discovery and use of knowledge.
We do not expect applicants to be able to predict the impact of their research, nor do we expect reviewers to make assumptions about the probability of the benefits being fully delivered. However, we would encourage all researchers to think at the earliest stage who might use the outputs of their research and how to make that happen.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to:
please comment on the pathway to impact identified for this work, particularly:
- How complete and realistic are the impacts identified for this work
- The effectiveness of the activities identified to help realise these impacts, including the resources requested for this purpose
- The relevance and appropriateness of any beneficiaries or collaborators
Acceptance to the New Investigator Award scheme is judged by EPSRC before the application is sent to expert peer review and is made on the basis of the content of the cover letter and the level of resources requested in the application. These will be viewed against published applicant eligibility and project suitability guidance.
We do not ask peer review to comment on eligibility. Reviewers should assess the application based on the criteria listed in the review form on the understanding that EPSRC has accepted the application to the scheme.
Please comment on the applicants’ ability to deliver the proposed project making reference to:
- Appropriateness of the track record of the applicant(s);
- Balance of skills of the project team, including academic partners.
Applicants are required to identify on the application form all resources required to undertake the project, and to clearly explain the need for these in the justification of resources appended to the case for support. You should comment on how well this has been done and on the appropriateness of the resources requested. You should draw attention to anything in your view that has been requested but not justified or conversely needed but not identified. You should also comment on the suitability of arrangements for accessing resources other than through the grant, such as by collaboration with external groups. You should explicitly consider the amount of time being allocated to the project by the applicant(s) in this assessment. Your assessment should be based solely on the resources sought and not on the costs derived from them.
You are asked to comment on the project plan and management arrangements in the proposal. These should be proportionate to the scale and complexity of the activity to be undertaken.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to:
Please comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and on whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified. Please comment explicitly on the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third party contribution.
First grants cannot be used to provide support of any sort for a studentship. In some cases funds requested under the first grant proposal may be augmented by a studentship provided via other funding (often from the university but possibly through external collaboration). This is acceptable, indeed often desirable, provided the studentship is clearly complementing a discrete research activity to be undertaken using the first grant funding. If in your judgement, it appears that the first grant is essentially to supplement the student project then this should be assigned a low score and treated as a flawed proposal.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to:
- Please comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and on whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified. Please comment explicitly on the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third party contribution.
Where the applicants have ticked any boxes confirming that the proposal involves either animal research or human participation then you are asked to comment specifically on any ethical considerations and particularly on whether ethical approval procedures have been complied with. You should also comment on any potential adverse consequences for humans, animals or the environment and whether these risks have been addressed satisfactorily in the proposal. It is particularly important that resources relating to these aspects are explicitly justified in terms of need, scale and nature of resource, so for example for animal research you should comment specifically on the need to use animals, the choice of species, the number of animals it is intended to use.
CALL 4: Application Assessment - University Support
First grants are aimed at helping early career academics initiate their own independent research programme. However applicants are not expected to work in isolation but will benefit from support from the university and the environment in which they will be working. University support should not necessarily involve covering part of the cost of the grant but could include: provision of dedicated laboratory space (or equivalent); provision of materials, equipment or facility access; mentoring and professional guidance. Universities may wish to support applicants through allocation of a PhD student. Such a student may not work on the first grant, but may work in complementary areas of research.
You should comment here on the adequacy and appropriateness of this proposed university contribution.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to:
How appropriate is the level of support from the university in underpinning the first grant.
You should provide your overall assessment of the proposal. Think of this as your report to the prioritisation panel, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses you identified in the individual questions and then making a clear and explicit recommendation about whether or not you believe the proposal warrants funding.
Not all questions carry equal weighting. Research Quality (excellence) will always be pre-eminent and no proposal can be funded without clearly demonstrating this aspect. National Importance should also be a major consideration in making your assessment. The weighting between the remaining aspects will depend on the specific nature of the particular proposal. You should indicate those aspects that you accorded higher or lower priority and why.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to summarise their view of the application.
It may be that you feel you can only comment with authority on some specific part or component of a proposal, for example with a multidisciplinary project, or perhaps where there is a strong user-led element. In such a case you should identify those aspects that you are able to comment on, and then give your review on just those aspects. Different reviewers will have been asked to cover those aspects you cannot and the panel will then have the job of integrating these different comments. It is particularly important therefore that the panel have clear advice on the merits of each component. Your comments, scores and confidence level should explicitly reflect your views on those aspects you can assess, and you are asked not to moderate these in any way to reflect those areas you feel you cannot comment on.
A risk with part assessment is that it will miss the added value of the overall project (the whole ideally being greater than the sum of the parts) so even where you can only comment with authority on one aspect it will be helpful to the panel to have your views on how compelling the arguments for the overall proposal are. Other issues you might also comment on are the uniqueness (or otherwise) of the collaboration, the value of the contribution of the component you can judge, and the significance of this in terms of future potential development in your own field.
You should assign a score using the six-point scale provided. This should reflect your overall conclusion, and should be consistent with your comments on the individual sections of your review taking account of all the assessment criteria and the various weightings you applied.
The reviewer form asks the reviewer to score the proposal:
- This proposal is scientifically or technically flawed
- This proposal does not meet one or more of the assessment criteria
- This proposal meets all assessment criteria but with clear weaknesses
- This is a good proposal that meets all assessment criteria but with minor weaknesses
- This is a strong proposal that broadly meets all assessment criteria
- This is a very strong proposal that fully meets all assessment criteria
To assist the prioritisation panel in reaching their overall conclusion on the proposal, and to help EPSRC in monitoring the effectiveness of its reviewer selection procedures, you are asked to indicate your confidence with regard to this review. This should report your own confidence, or otherwise, in being able to make your assessment, not your confidence in the success of the proposal if it were funded. If, for any reason, you feel that you are not able to assess the proposal, please advise EPSRC accordingly.
The reviewer form asks reviewers to score their confidence as low, medium or high.