COVID-19 guidance for peer reviewers and panel members - MRC

UK Research and Innovation (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 are not penalised for this. We expect that most researchers have been affected during this time.

Impacts of COVID-19

We have encouraged applicants who have been disproportionally affected to outline the impacts on their project, programme or track record. Some examples of how applicants might have been affected are below:

  • change in personal circumstances, such as illness or additional caring responsibilities
  • clinical responsibilities (for instance working on the frontline or being required to back-fill posts) and any ongoing impacts during the transition back to research
  • impact on access to facilities and normal work environment or furlough
  • impact on research (including the hiatus of research within the NHS) and the production of preliminary data, development of collaborations, or methodological or technique training and experience
  • impact on publications or other outputs, including markers of esteem, such as panel membership, presentation invitations and conference participation
  • any other way in which the pandemic or its impact has affected the applicant, their career, or their ability to deliver their research.

Applicants have the option to highlight this within their CV and complete an additional annex which forms part of the case for support. Further to the introduction of this annex, UKRI has signed the cross-funder statement on COVID-19 (PDF, 475 KB) which reinforces the approach UKRI has taken since the start of the pandemic.

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 are not required to include contingency plans for the potential impacts of COVID-19.

When undertaking your assessment of the research project, you should consider the unequal impacts 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. You should assess the project as written; any changes that the project might require in the future will be resolved as a post-award issue by UKRI if the project is awarded funding. Potential complications related to COVID-19 should not affect your assessment or the score you give the project.

COVID-19 considerations for reviewers

In your assessment you should consider:

  • those most impacted by COVID-19 pandemic, including:
    • those with caring responsibilities
    • those who have experienced health challenges as a result of the pandemic, either themselves or their families
    • front line clinicians and those from emergency, infectious disease and intensive care specialities
    • 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.
  • track records, in the context of the applicant’s individual circumstances, the opportunities they have received and disruptions they have experienced. You should consider the unequal impact that COVID-19 disruptions might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal, please focus on the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.
  • 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.

Potential complications related to COVID-19 should not affect your assessment or the score you give the project.

Additional board and panel member considerations

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. Any comments made by reviewers relating to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which ignore the UKRI guidance and negatively impact their assessment of the applicants should be disregarded.

Last updated: 28 July 2022

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