General reviewer guidance - EPSRC

GEN1: General

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 section of the report to be completed. A full justification for your assessment of the application 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 an application. 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.

EPSRC is committed to support the recommendations and principles set out by the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. You 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 investigator’s contributions, or to make funding decisions.

For the purpose of research assessment, please consider the value and impact of all research outputs (including datasets, software, inventions, patents, preprints and other commercial activities) in addition to research publications. You should consider a broad range of impact measures, including qualitative indicators of research impact such as influence on policy and practice.

The content of a paper is more important than publication metrics or the identity of the journal in which it was published, especially for early-stage investigators. Therefore, you should not use journal impact factor (or any hierarchy of journals), conference rankings and metrics such as the H-index or i10-index when assessing UKRI grants.

GEN2: Assessment methodology

You are asked to assess the application or report against a number of criteria. These criteria vary according to the scheme or funding opportunity that the application 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 an application. A full justification for your assessment of the application 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 application’ but be clear that this means the ideas, concepts and approaches contained therein, and not the specific form of the document itself. The clarity of presentation may help or hinder your ability to review an application, 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 application, 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 application in the form of explicit questions for the applicants. This makes it easier for the panel to assess how complete and convincing the applicant’s responses are.

GEN3: Ethics (Je-S specific guidance)

It is important that EPSRC funds are used ethically and responsibly. 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 application is in a subject or area that causes you serious personal concern, to the extent that you feel you cannot provide an objective review, you should decline to review the application giving the reason as ‘other’, and stating ‘ethical issues’ in the comment box. If you have a concern that the application raises ethical issues that have not been clearly identified or addressed, you should raise this directly with EPSRC, which will need to make a policy decision on how the application should be treated.

GEN4: Linked proposals (Je-S only)

Where two or more applications have been formally linked to form a single research project, you are requested to submit a single review covering the project as a whole.

GEN5: Web links in the application

The application 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 an application. If you do choose to look at this information, it is possible that your anonymity to the applicant will be compromised.

GEN9: Call for proposals

This application has been submitted in response to a published funding opportunity. You are asked to read the funding opportunity document and to make your assessment of the application within the context of the aims, objectives and specific assessment criteria for that funding opportunity. The funding opportunity document can be found in the UKRI funding finder.

Please also note that, as with any fellowship funding opportunity, you should make your assessment of the application within the context of the aims, objectives and specific assessment criteria for fellowships in general.

GEN10: Flexible working

It is important that researchers and their research teams are able to work flexibly and in a way that meets their personal circumstances. EPSRC therefore allows applicants to tailor the support that they request in order to facilitate this. This might include, for example:

  • part-time working for the principal investigator, co-investigators, postdoctoral research assistants, technicians or wider team costed on a grant
  • support for costs over and above standard care arrangements to allow the principal investigator or their team to attend activities associated with the grant (for example conferences) where costs cannot be met by the employer
  • support for other adjustments and adaptations that may be needed due to the personal or health circumstances of the principal investigator or their team.

You should also consider the unequal impact that flexible working, alternative career routes and career breaks might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal. Flexible working includes, but is not limited to, reduction in full-time hours, long-term partial return to work, job sharing, compressed working hours, term-time only working, annualised hours.

Where applicants wish to include details on flexible working or a career break for reviewers to take into account in their assessment, they are not required to explain the personal circumstances that resulted in the need for this. Instead, they should describe the impacts on an individual’s track record and career development. Where reference has been made to a period of flexible working or a career break, you should recognise that this is likely to affect productivity and career development, for example publication record, track record of securing funding, or the ability to build networks or to take up opportunities in a different geographical location. You should also consider that this unequal impact may continue beyond the return to work. As such, the focus should be on the stated impact rather than the duration.

GEN11: Impact of COVID-19 on track record and career development

EPSRC 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.

EPSRC 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 that any changes that the project might require in the future, which arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

GEN12: Matched funding

EPSRC does not assess the presence or value of any matched funding provided by the university before making a funding decision. Unless specified in the funding opportunity or scheme guidance documentation, EPSRC does not require matched funding, either cash or in kind, to secure funding.

EPSRC assessment processes, including expert reviewing and panels, may acknowledge the impact of university contributions, but will not consider the level of matched university funding as a factor on which to base funding decisions.

Particularly with the increased pressures of COVID-19, EPSRC would like to stress to assessors that any cash or in kind support from the university for a grant is regarded as a benefit to building partnerships but is not expected to equate to cash or its equivalent (for example, provision of studentships, secondments, training and access to equipment).

Last updated: 15 June 2023

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