Evolving and upholding fairness in peer review

We are committed to ensuring that fairness is fully reflected in all our funding processes by advancing policy that supports equality, diversity and inclusion. We aim to achieve this in three ways:

  1. Evolving our approach to the peer review process to ensure that it is as inclusive as possible.
  2. Maintaining a fair and flexible environment for all members of our community, regardless of individual circumstances.
  3. Providing the means for researchers to confidentially inform EPSRC of personal circumstances and specific requirements so that we can discuss the potential ways to accommodate individual needs.

Features of our peer review processes

Peer review is central to EPSRC funding decisions and relies on expert advice which comes primarily from members of the EPSRC Peer Review College. Peer review ensures integrity and consistency to a robust, quality process for all EPSRC funding initiatives. To allow us to implement the best processes, peer review is continually evolving. Some of the changes we have implemented as part of our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy are as follows.

Fairness

Fairness was added as a principle of peer review in 2017, and has now been replaced by the UKRI equality, diversity and inclusion principle of assessment and decision-making. The principles of assessment and decision making are highlighted at the start of all EPSRC’s peer review meetings.

Mixed gender panels

Our guidance states that all prioritisation and interview panels must be mixed gender. This is to ensure that every funding panel offers a broad range of perspectives. Exceptions to this policy are very rare and only when, for example, a panel member is unable to attend at short notice and there is no available replacement. We aim for 30% of the underrepresented gender to be represented across all panels in a financial year, as outlined in EPSRC peer review participation.

Transparency on reviewer and panel guidance

We are committed to ensuring that the peer review process is open and transparent. In addition to applicant guidance, we publish reviewer guidance and general panel guidance, including reviewer and introducer forms. Interviewees are made aware of the panel membership before their interview. We also publish the composition of our panels on Grants on the Web (GoW) within a month of the panel meeting.

EDI strategy on large grants

Equality, diversity and inclusion considerations are now included in the monitoring and evaluation of a number of our large grants. We expect our CDTs, research centres and hubs to act as beacons for good EDI inclusive practice, with a dedicated EDI plan.

Safeguarding peer review training

EPSRC staff complete unconscious bias training that is tailored to their role as a panel convener. All panel members are provided with an unconscious bias briefing to help raise awareness of the impact it has on decision making and how to manage this in panel meetings.

Equality impact assessments

These are used in the early planning stages of new calls, policy changes and activities. Find out more about equality impact assessments.

Removal of the time-bound eligibility for New Investigator Awards (NIA)

We have increased flexibility in eligibility requirements for our New Investigator Award scheme to reflect the aim of the award, which is to provide new investigators with experience of leading their first research group as an independent academic investigator. The aim is to better support different career paths and working patterns, taking account of periods of extended leave due to maternity and paternity leave and illness. Find out more about New Investigator Awards.

Maintaining a fair and flexible environment

We are committed to maintaining a fair and flexible working environment for all members of our academic community. To achieve this, we aim to provide greater flexibility in our peer review processes and throughout the grants lifetime.

Fair and unbiased panel meetings

To ensure fair and unbiased panel meetings, the chair appointed to lead the panel must have experience of EPSRC prioritisation panel meetings, and the meeting is overseen by an EPSRC representative. Our panels are governed by EPSRC’s code of practice that embraces the Seven Principles of Public Life to ensure that all applications are treated fairly. Panel members are required to declare anything that could be perceived as a conflict of interest, and leave the room while affected proposals are considered. Panel members and reviewers accept an obligation of confidentiality when dealing with proposals, and with respect to the original ideas research colleagues have disclosed. During the panel meeting, all members are invited to question and challenge any cultural stereotypes and bias, and to be prepared to be challenged.

Alternative participation options

We can offer alternative options for participation (such as virtual video conferencing). It is always best to discuss your requirements with us as early as possible in the process. Considerations of attendance accessibility are made for all funding calls using equality impact assessments, which are published with the opportunity on the Funding Finder.

Support for Daphne Jackson Fellowships

We work with the Daphne Jackson Trust to provide financial support for fellows returning to work after a career break of two years or more due to family, caring or health reasons. A Daphne Jackson Fellowship provides mentoring, retraining and research opportunities to enable fellows to rebuild the confidence and skills they need to successfully return to a STEM research career. Fellowships are flexible and part-time, usually completed over two years at 0.5 FTE, and include at least 100 hours’ retraining per year. Find out more about the Daphne Jackson Fellowship.

Support for people with caring responsibilities

We may be able to offer support for those with caring responsibilities to cover caring costs where participation in an EPSRC activity would involve additional care requirements (though we expect the employer to be approached in the first instance to meet such costs). We also allow applicants for funding to request additional care costs as part of research grant proposals. See our guidance for applicants for information about the support available for people with caring responsibilities.

Maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave

EPSRC provides support for students and grant holders with parental responsibilities. There are specific terms, conditions and guidance for these members of the research community.

Flexible circumstances

On a standard grant you can apply for a proportion of your time that meets your needs, allowing you to build the project that works for you. Our fellowships policy has been designed to be flexible, and can be held part-time at a minimum level of 50% full-time equivalent. If you are employed part-time, you can ask to hold your fellowship part-time when applying. Alternatively, you can convert to part-time during the fellowship on a pro-rata basis. If an investigator’s personal circumstances change, there may be flexibility in our grants to allow for this. Change requests can be made on live grants through the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

Extensions

Grant extensions are permitted for a period of up to 12 months for maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental or paid sick leave, as well as changes from full-time to part-time working. In exceptional circumstances, the duration may be extended at the discretion of the council. Note that there are additional conditions for certain types of award. When there is a change in circumstances and the period of delay is known, grant holders are requested to make an extension request through Je-S. Find out more about managing your award.

Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)

For students funded through an EPSRC grant, universities can apply to us for help with paying Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). More information can be found on the disabled students allowance page.

Communicating your needs to EPSRC

We realise that our standard services may not cover everyone’s individual needs. While we aim to accommodate specific needs and personal circumstances, we are reliant on applicants and panel members sharing this information with EPSRC. If there is information relevant to your application that we may need to consider when facilitating the peer review of your application or your attendance at the panel, please contact us to discuss. This should be done early in the process or updated as soon as your circumstances change. Let us know if the information you provide is sensitive or confidential.

There are a number of opportunities to raise specific requirements.

In the application cover letter

We provide guidance to help applicants use their cover letter to highlight any personal circumstances that EPSRC should be made aware of. The cover letter is used for administrative purposes only: the details are not sent to panel members. It is the applicant’s responsibility to inform the panel convener of any personal circumstances which should be brought to the attention of EPSRC or the panel.

During interview

If invited to interview, there is the opportunity to raise matters with the panel convener or supporting staff, even if it was previously highlighted in the proposal or the proposal cover letter. If personal circumstances change, applicants should inform EPSRC at the earliest opportunity.

When asked to be a panel member

Let the panel convener or supporting staff know if there are any personal circumstances that may be relevant so that they can provide the necessary support.

As a reviewer

You can submit a request for an extension via Je-S if required, or contact the relevant portfolio manager for your research area or the person identified on the call document.

Last updated: 24 November 2022

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