Guidance for reviewers - BBSRC

The assessment process for each funding opportunity will vary. Specific details on how to carry out peer review is sent to reviewers and panel members. Read about how we make decisions for more information on the peer review process, and the guidelines provided for reviewers.

The following outlines our standard peer review process for standard grants:

  • proposals are considered by three or more peer reviewers
  • applicants provide a response (principal investigator response) to the comments of the peer reviewers
  • proposals, reviews, and principal investigators’ responses to the reviews are considered by the assessment panel
  • the panel then provide a rank ordered list of proposals in order of funding priority
  • the panels’ recommendations are considered internally by BBSRC and a final decision is taken on the list of awards to be supported.

Carrying out a peer review

Peer review guidance

Most research grants undergo scientific assessment of research quality by UK and overseas experts in the field from academia, government or industry. The information provided here offers reviewers with general guidance on how to complete a review for the BBSRC.

For more specific guidance on the completion of the reviewer form for an application, please refer to the guidance documents for grant reviewers. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the reviewer protocols, in the Je-S handbook. Specific guidance is available for each section of the reviewer form that you are asked to complete.

Please find information below on keyword classifications to use when describing reviewers’ areas of expertise, and guidance on what areas to list as primary and secondary areas.

View the keyword classifications for reviewers’ areas of expertise.

View the guide to BBSRC keyword classification for reviewers.

Expectations of peer reviewers

To carry out peer review for BBSRC, make sure you:

  • keep your contact details in your Je-S account up to date at all times, including your primary email address, where we’ll send review requests
  • maintain details of your research expertise to enable BBSRC to match you with grant applications submitted via Je-S
  • provide BBSRC, when requested, with a review by the due date specified and in accordance with the reviewer guidance in the Je-S help text
  • notify BBSRC when you are unable to meet a review request by declining via Je-S within five working days of the request, so that an alternative reviewer can be sought without delay
  • adhere to and uphold UKRI’s policies, standards and guidance in support of good research practices.

The following standards are relevant to your role as a reviewer.

UKRI counter fraud and bribery policy

BBSRC is committed to the practice of responsible corporate behaviour and to complying with all laws, regulations and other requirements that govern the conduct of our operations. Find out more about the UKRI counter fraud and bribery policy.

UKRI principles of assessment and decision making

The UKRI principles of assessment and decision making explains eight core principles in detail and how they may impact you when assessing proposals. They outline UKRI’s expectations and ambition for assessment processes and provide transparency to its commitment to robust decision making.

Policies and standards

View information on UKRI’s policies and standards.

San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)

Reviewers should not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions. This is in line with our commitment to DORA.

The proposal you are asked to review includes a case for support. In some instances, the case for support may include a link to a website containing information on the research proposed. Reviewers are not required to consider this additional information when providing comments on a proposal. If you do choose to look at this information, note that it is possible that your anonymity to the applicant may be compromised.

Reviewer guidance

Reviewers may find the following guidance notes helpful for providing a high-quality review.

View the BBSRC guidance notes for grant reviewers using the Je-S system.

View the BBSRC guidance notes for Discovery Fellowship reviewers using the Je-S system.

Reasons for return of reviews

BBSRC takes great care to ensure that the reviews are appropriate and of value to both the applicant and our panels. For that reason, if BBSRC feels that there are any elements of a review that do not meet its criteria, we will return them to the reviewer for amendment.

The following is a list of common reasons why the BBSRC might return a review for amendment.

The tone and language used by a reviewer is confrontational or emotive

BBSRC’s panels can only assess applications if peer reviews received are balanced and objective. It’s also worth remembering that the principal investigator will have sight of the peer review received as part of the right to reply process and it may prove difficult for them to respond effectively if a reviewer’s tone or language is subjective or unbalanced.

The reviewer identifies themselves within their comments (inadvertently or overtly)

While the panel is made aware of the identity of our peer reviewers, applicants are not. Anonymity of peer review is important to ensure that reviewers can express their views freely.

A reviewer’s comments are too brief

BBSRC’s decision making processes rely on expert peer review of the proposals submitted. In order to moderate a proposal effectively, our panels need to have a clear idea of the strengths and weaknesses of a proposal as identified by reviewers. Comments should be justified so that the moderating panel can make an informed decision based solely on the expert peer reviews received.

The reviewer has not addressed the areas expected for effective peer review and there is little or no critical examination of the proposal

BBSRC’s panels require expert peer review that identifies both strengths and weaknesses in order to moderate a proposal effectively. It is important that research questions, context and methodologies are considered when writing peer reviews for the BBSRC.

Conflicts of interest

It is not possible to list all scenarios due to the complexities of relationships between researchers, especially in niche research areas. Some cases will be clear cut and others will need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. For further details on conflicts of interest read the BBSRC guidance notes for grant reviewers.

You should not be involved in any way with a proposal prior to its submission or once a decision has been made. For example, you should not comment on, or help colleagues in preparing a proposal, or sit on advisory boards, if you have already agreed to act as a reviewer for that opportunity or scheme. If BBSRC requests that you review such a proposal, you must decline the request promptly.

If you are approached by applicants to discuss their proposals in any way – whether it be before, during or after an assessment process that you are involved in – you should decline.

If you are in any doubt as to whether you should review a proposal due to a possible conflict of interest, you should contact BBSRC before starting the review by replying to the request to review or emailing peer.review@bbsrc.ukri.org.

Additional guidance for reviewers on COVID-19

UKRI recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities and is committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career such as breaks and delays, disruptive working patterns and conditions, the loss of ongoing work, and role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

When undertaking your assessment of the research project, you should consider the unequal impacts of the impact that COVID-19-related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal, and you should focus on the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

UKRI acknowledges that it is a challenge for applicants to determine the future impacts of COVID-19 while the pandemic continues to evolve. Applicants have been advised that their applications should be based on the information available at the point of submission and, if applicable, the known application specific impacts of COVID-19 should be accounted for.

Where known impacts have occurred, these should have been highlighted in the application, including the assumptions and information at the point of submission. Applicants were not required to include contingency plans for the potential impacts of COVID-19. Requests for travel both domestically and internationally could be included in accordance with the relevant scheme guidelines, noting the above advice.

When undertaking your assessment of the research project you should assess the project as written, noting any changes arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic that the project might require in the future. These will be resolved as a post-award issue by UKRI if the project is successful. Potential complications related to COVID-19 should not affect your assessment or the score you give the project.

Please also refer to the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

Last updated: 24 November 2022

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