Panel Service: What to Expect


Are you curious about serving on a panel, but something has stopped you? Maybe you’re waiting for a Program Officer to track you down or are secretly relieved when prior commitments always seem to fall on panel dates. Or (worst of all!) you’ve allowed that dreaded imposter syndrome to outpace your enthusiasm.

Have no fear! Let’s take a moment to go over who (and how) we typically recruit panelists, what you can expect leading up to the panel, what happens on the actual meeting days, and why panel service could be beneficial to you.

Who serves on panels?

Panelists range in experience from post-doctoral scholars through the ranks to tenured faculty. They also include museum curators and researchers, and research-focused federal employees outside of NSF. This means you need a PhD and must be active in your field.

Recruitment

Program Officers review the content of each proposal and recruit panelists who are qualified to review the slate of proposals in a given panel. This can explain why you may be recruited for some panels and not others. We try our best to build diverse panels, with broad representation of men and women, career stages, types of institution (Research-1, colleges, and minority-serving), states (especially EPSCoR eligible), and membership in underrepresented groups. (With respect to the latter, we rely on you to self-identify when you register with Fastlane or Grants.gov.)

To gear up for panel recruitment/service, it is good to serve initially as an ad hoc reviewer and to have submitted a proposal (not matter its outcome) as PI or Co-PI so that you are familiar with the process.

We take recommendations from other panelists and have sign-up sheets at Evolution and ESA meetings. You can also relay your interest in serving by visiting our website and signing up using our Reviewer Survey.

Before Panel Service

So, you’ve agreed to serve on a panel*. That’s great! You’ll receive an email (a “Charge Letter”), directing you how to register for the panel, make travel and lodging arrangements, and plan for any technological or special accommodations.

After lots of communication from the managing Program Officer, and each panelist identifying their conflicts of interests, you’ll be given your review assignments – usually 4-6 weeks prior to the panel dates.

Next, you’ll write your individual reviews for 10-14 proposals evaluating the intellectual merit and broader impacts. These individual reviews are completed before the panel starts. We recommend that reviews be submitted 3 to 5 days ahead of the panel so that everyone — Program Officers and other panelists — has the chance to ponder the complete set of opinions on each proposal. (Note that you won’t be able to see other reviews on a given proposal until you’ve submitted your own review.)

*Please note that if you have a proposal currently under review in DEB, you cannot serve as a panelist during this funding cycle. This also means that if you agree to serve on a panel, please don’t then submit a proposal to DEB.

Day of Service

The panel is a multi-day discussion of each proposal’s intellectual merits and broader impacts. A panel meets at or near NSF, although virtual panels are also used. For each proposal in a DEB panel, at least two other panelists will provide reviews. You and your fellow panelists will discuss each proposal, come to a consensus, and then make a recommendation about its overall quality to NSF. It’s important to understand that the panel’s recommendations are just that — recommendations. NSF Program Officers always take them to heart but their ultimate decisions on which proposals to fund involve additional considerations, most notably what we call “portfolio balance”.

DEB tends to organize larger panels than elsewhere in NSF to tackle the broad and shifting suite of specialties and diversity of projects in our programmatic area. It’s not unusual for a DEB panel to be made up of 20 panelists (with 4-6 Program Officers and associated staff) to tackle more than 100 proposals over 3 days.

How does serving on a panel serve you?

  1. Each panel hosts a Q&A session with DEB senior leadership and representatives from the BIO Directorate Office of the Assistant Director. This is your chance to ask about upcoming funding opportunities and recent (or future) programmatic changes. We also value your suggestions for how to improve the review processes to better serve our community of investigators.
  2. You gain insight into new and emergent science in your field.
  3. You learn about grantsmanship.
  4. You learn about the merit review process.
  5. You build networks of scientists working on similar projects with similar goals.
  6. It’s intellectually stimulating. We guarantee you’ll be pushed in new directions.