After the intense hours of preparing, completing, and submitting a grant proposal, you probably want to “submit it and forget it.” But have you ever wondered what happens after the submit button gets pressed? As an applicant, it’s a good time to take a break after an application goes in. Yet, knowing what happens after a proposal is submitted can help your proposal preparation work.
Most grant and fellowship proposals are evaluated in a peer review process. Generally, program staff will conduct an initial review. This review evaluates technical questions and may confirm that you are eligible according to program guidelines, follow budget rules, and other aspects that are “matters of fact.” A second audience that may read your application are oversight advisors, such as board members of a foundation, federal oversight boards, or others who may be interested in assuring that funded projects advance the funder’s mission and programs. (If you’re applying to a competition that does not use a peer review process, try to find out from the funder how proposals may be evaluated.)
The most crucial audience to consider as an applicant is that of the peer review step. These readers are generally knowledgeable about particular disciplines, project methods or research approaches, or other areas that require specialist review. It is in this step that your proposal will be evaluated most critically to ensure that it is making significant contributions to the program area.
Federal funders frequently seek peer reviewers. The opportunity to volunteer as a reviewer offers a great way to get involved as a subject specialist. Each agency has a different process and may be looking for slightly different information. Here is a selected list of resources to help you or your colleagues indicate interest:
- National Science Foundation, “Why You Should Volunteer to Be an NSF Reviewer”
- National Institutes of Health, “Becoming a Peer Reviewer”
- National Institute of Justice (Department of Justice), “Becoming a Peer Reviewer for NIJ”
- Health Resources and Services Administration
- National Endowment for the Humanities, “Panelist Sign-Up Form”
- National Endowment for the Arts, “Volunteer to be a Panelist”
To get an idea of the general types of readers a particular funder may recruit, look at annual reports or other publications from the funder. Most applications to federal agencies are evaluated by federal advisory panels, which may be listed in agency reports, the Federal Register, or in the federal advisory committee database.
Knowing more about who will read your application is a great way to be actively involved in the funding process and to raise your understanding of the research landscape.