1. Purpose of triage
Medical Research Council (MRC) boards and panels usually undertake a triage stage five to six weeks before the funding meeting. The purpose of triage is to:
- ensure proposals discussed at the funding meeting are of scientific and strategic interest to the board or panel
- ensure the number of proposals assessed at each meeting is manageable and conducive to effective discussions
- identify, at an early stage, those proposals that are uncompetitive and therefore unlikely to be awarded funding.
Rejection at the triage stage is considered beneficial for applicants unlikely to be successful as it enables them to take account of external peer reviewer comments at an earlier stage.
2. Triage process
Triage is conducted by seeking board or panel members’ critical evaluation of each funding proposal aided by the comments provided by external peer reviewers. Should expertise be required from another field, guest introducers are invited to contribute. These evaluations are then discussed at a triage meeting, where the final ‘triage in’ (proposal proceeds to funding meeting) or ‘triage out’ (proposal rejected) decisions are taken.
3. Assessment criteria for ‘triage in’ and ‘triage out’ recommendations
Board and panel members consider each proposal based upon its quality, impact and productivity, as detailed in the Scoring matrix for board and panel meetings. If the proposal has the potential to be fundable and any concerns can be addressed in the principal investigator (PI) response, members recommend ‘triage in’ and provide comments to justify this. If the proposal does not have the potential to achieve a fundable score at the funding meeting or presents concerns which cannot be addressed at the PI response, members recommend ‘triage out’ and again provide justification.
Board and panel members are required to comment on information relating to the justification of methods, statistical analyses and experimental design aspects of the proposal. Members note if suitable and sufficiently detailed information is provided to convince the board or panel that the proposed experiments will be carried out appropriately to produce robust and reproducible research.
4. Further considerations
4.1 Unconscious bias
Board and panel members must maintain objectivity in their assessment and be aware of the potential for unconscious bias and the impact this may have on review.
MRC have put in place various steps to overcome bias, including:
- monitoring diversity on MRC boards and panels
- providing clear assessment criteria
- encouraging all board and panel members to attend MRC-led unconscious bias workshops.
These workshops are specifically designed to help members:
- explore the way in which unconscious biases can impact funding decision-making
- learn to identify the types of bias that impact peer review
- undertake techniques to help members protect funding decision-making from bias
- discuss the implications of this for the different stakeholders involved in funding.
4.2 Responsible use of metrics
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 the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment.
4.3 Career breaks and flexible working
The assessment of MRC proposals frequently involves an appraisal of the applicant’s track record. In making this appraisal, members consider time spent outside the active research environment, whether through career breaks or flexible working.
4.4 COVID-19: disruption and impact
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 careers 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, reviewers should consider the unequal impact that COVID-19-related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal, and should focus on the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing. Any comments made by reviewers relating to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which negatively impact their assessment of the applicants should be disregarded.
4.5 COVID-19: considerations when reviewing proposals
UKRI acknowledges that it is a challenge for applicants to determine the future impacts of COVID-19 while the pandemic continues to evolve. Applicants are 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 be highlighted in the application, including the assumptions and information at the point of submission. Applicants are 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 and you should disregard any comments made by reviewers that go against the guidance supplied by UKRI.
4.6 COVID-19: guidance for board and panel members
In their assessment, members are asked to consider likely impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and specific information on COVID-19 disruption which applicants have chosen to provide in the case for support or CVs. Please note we expect all researchers have been impacted in some way and that describing personal impact is optional.
The extent to which external reviewers have considered and reflected the impact of COVID-19 in their assessment should be part of the weighting of reviewer scores and comments.
Track records should be considered in the context of the applicant’s individual circumstances, the opportunities they have received and disruptions experienced.
Expectations regarding the development of the application, including the extent to which preliminary data has been provided, should be considered in the context of how the applicant has been impacted by the pandemic.
We expect all researchers have been impacted in some way, those most impacted by COVID-19 pandemic may include:
- those with caring responsibilities, especially women
- those who have experienced health challenges as a result of the pandemic: either themselves or their families
- frontline clinicians and those from emergency, infectious disease and intensive care specialties
- wet lab researchers and those working with in vivo models
- researchers from countries whose infrastructure has been hardest hit by the pandemic or those with the tightest lock-down rules or controls and those who collaborate with such researchers
- researchers who have been redeployed towards COVID-19 activities or where their research field has been deprioritised.
5. Communication of decisions
MRC head office communicates triage decisions within 10 working days of the triage meeting.
All applicants receive peer review comments following the triage meeting. Applicants may also receive additional feedback from the triage panel. In most cases (excluding the Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme and some managed mode funding opportunities) applicants who pass the triage stage have the opportunity to respond to all comments either ahead of or at the funding meeting.
Last updated: 28 February 2022