Veterans of the NIH peer review process recognize that eventually you can just as easily receive that harsh critique as give it out. Valuable lessons are learned in the crucible of the study section about various grant black holes that suck the energy out of the room and drive down scores, leading a few days later to that disappointing click in ERA commons and cry of “What could have happened?” Was your proposal killed by a fishing expedition, a descriptive or interdependent aim, overambition or failure to catch a grant-killing technical flaw? What if you could suffer this humiliation before submitting, so that these pitfalls could be avoided? The Department of Medicine is here to help with the DOM Peer Review Portal https://mygrantreview.johnshopkins.edu. This tool allows faculty to upload specific aims or research plan drafts to share with your colleagues for internal peer review before submission. In addition to the default designated peer review committee for your division, one can select any mentor or potential JHU reviewer (searchable in the JHED database) who will be sent a request to join the review process. The portal provides secure document sharing, automatic reminders of approaching due dates and a collaborative forum.
Peer review is not just for junior faculty, as pointed out in a recent discussion with Hamid Raab, professor in the Division of Nephrology and former vice chair for research of the Department of Medicine, who notes: “the increased complexity of modern science often requires conceptual and/or technical expertise in different areas. Getting feedback and advice during the early stages of grant development is crucial to improving the chances of success for the proposal.” He emphasized that getting a different perspective on your approach often leads to a better way of answering the scientific question, or in some cases, of dropping that part of the plan entirely if it does not seem completely feasible. “I have benefitted from peer review myself, having vetted two of my most recent submissions with colleagues ahead of time – I‘m sure the advice I received contributed to the positive funding outcome,” said Rabb. Both of his new R01 grants received single-digit percentile scores and were funded on first submission, demonstrating the effectiveness of pre-submission internal critique. This process is especially beneficial to new investigators or those investigators delving into emerging new technologies or analytical methods. Because there is usually a leading expert somewhere at JHU, this expert advice could give our investigators a significant edge with the review panel.
Clearly, the success of internal peer review will depend on the gracious participation of our very experienced, but very busy, research faculty. Although it is somewhat of a thankless job, the benefits are palpable in terms of potential new collaborations, the positive effect on our work environment and the good feeling you get when you’ve helped your colleagues achieve success.
-Brian O’Rourke, Vice Chair for Basic & Translational Research
-Greg Kirk, Vice Chair for Clinical & Translational Research